China, India and the U.S. markets are the current expansion focus of Imagesound, the Chesterfield, U.K.-based company that now supplies the music tracks, in-store radio and digital screen content in retail outlets and leisure outlets in some 70 countries worldwide.
Launched in 1998 by Michael Clark, managing director, the company has grown to encompass a staff of 60, including an in-house team of six people whose job it is to literally listen to music all day long in an effort to compile the most relevant play lists for clients – tough job, but somebody has to do it I guess, Ed
Added to those folks are four full time music consultants who roam the world seeking new music, and several part time consultants and DJs in specific countries who compile relevant music selections and send them to Imagesound on a quarterly basis to keep the company aware of music developments around the world.
Add to this new releases which are sent to Imagesound by record companies themselves and you have a pretty comprehensive music package.
Imagesound provides individual playlists for no less than 60 different retail groups, each one with individualized music based on the brand, target customer groups by age and lifestyle, store design, atmosphere the store wants to create, product merchandising and other factors. These can include, for example, whether the brand management wants to use music to create an exciting, loud and busy feel, or perhaps a nostalgic and more relaxed atmosphere.
For chains operating worldwide brands, music playlists are created to reflect regional and even local differences.
“For example, through Imagesound’s sister company MusicStyling we work closely with many Five Star hotel chains like Hyatt,” says Clark. “While a percentage of the music will be consistent throughout the Hyatt estate in accordance with Hyatt brand values, the music collection supplied will also reflect the unique aspects of the hotel architecture, decor and geographic location. So in the new Grand Hyatt in Delhi, we add in ‘contemporary Indian lounge’ while in the Hyatt in Chicago, the emphasis will be on the traditional ‘Beale Street blues’. “
For Imagesound, working with a fashion chain focusing on jeans and contemporary clothing to young people, it’s important to have the most current tracks and remixes well ahead of the curve and, importantly, to change the music often. For an adult fashion chain, the music collection could be much larger, cover a wider range of music genres and perhaps cover the last 10 or 20 years, with classic tracks remaining in the collection longer.
“Many tracks of today, contemporary RnB, Indie and even Pop tracks can have unacceptable lyrics that, for example, we wouldn’t play in a family restaurant or high street store but which might be acceptable in certain bars and restaurants catering to an older crowd in the evening,” says Clark. “We are also sensitive to the fact that consumers now in their 60’s and 70’s grew up with The Beatles and The Stones while the generation currently in their 30’s and 40’s have fond memories of The Sex Pistols and Duran Duran. Understanding the target customer of retail brands is all important.”
The vast majority of outlets serviced by Imagesound and MusicStyling have a hard disc player connected via the Internet back to Imagesound which then remotely manages the music collection and daily playlist for each individual outlet. The company’s approach is very much hands-on.
“The client’s brand is our core focus,” says Clark.
The six in-house profilers specialise in particular music ‘families’ so can recommend quickly according to the needs of each client. Imagesound has recently introduced a highlighted ‘Music Track of the Week’ to keep clients coming back to Imagesound’s own Web site (www.Imagesound.co.uk) to hear what’s new.
For clients such as B&Q, retailer of do-it-yourself and home improvement tools and supplies in the U.K., for whom promotions and specials are an important part of the mix, Imagesound provides a pseudo-radio station so that the daily playlist actually sounds like a radio station with the promotional messages and editorial pieces sequenced to repeat as and when required – “a highly effective and important client communication channel delivering right at the point of sale,” says Clark.
For leisure, retail, entertainment and fitness clients with digital screens, Imagesound offers music videos and bespoke graphic content with or without sound, depending on requirements. A fitness centre may only want a full pop video service in the gym area but may want sound only in a locker room or at a juice bar, for example.
International growth has been the business’ main focus for the past two years.
“We’re now the largest supplier of in-store music in the Middle East via Imagesound Arabia.” says Clark. “We are also expanding quickly into the growing markets of China and India, as well as continuing to expand in the more mature market of the U.S. and Europe.” Regional music licensing is key to this expansion, “For the past three years we have been working hard with both established and emerging music licensing authorities around the world to make sure the services we supply are 100% legal.”
To handle the growing markets, in addition to its offices or agents in Madrid, Budapest, Dubai and Montevideo, the company also has opened offices in Vancouver (for the U.S. and Canada) and expects to open in Hong Kong or Shanghai before the end of the year.