Do You Have a Professional Music Mixologist Helping You Craft Your Brand?

You may have heard about mixology before; Merriam-Webster defines it as “the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks.” But the term is used in the music industry, too. It can refer to the act of mixing live or recorded performances, but at Control Play, we attach the title to the curators of our playlists. 

What’s a Control Play Mixologist?

“Other than a fancy term for someone who plays with music, it’s someone who’s hyper-focused on finding and programming the right music for the right crowd,” says Chris McEwin, a Mixologist who’s worked for Control Play since November, 2014. “While a skilled bartender can create the perfect drink for the occasion based on what you like and don't like, a Music Mixologist gets to know your business, its clientele, and your personal music interests, and then creates the perfect music blend for your bar or restaurant.”

Control Play Mixologists identify and acquire the new music our subscribers will love, but they also do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes. "We do everything from sourcing new music to fielding song requests and building playlists. But in actuality, it goes deeper than that,” McEwin reveals, “Starting with the actual song and video. Everything is reviewed in real time, which is how we get our songs ratings. On top of that, every track in our library is tagged with a ton of metadata; from things as simple as album and artist info to assigning energy ratings and multiple categories for each song.”

But why would anyone put in that much effort to simply upload new music to a database? McEwin explains, “It may seem like extra work, but it’s also the key to creating those playlists, because now we’re not just dealing with a great big bucket of music we hit shuffle on, we actually have multiple ways to drill down into any particular sound.  Not only does this feed directly into our signature mixes, but it also means when someone calls asking for help creating everything from a really hip, chill alt mix to a big, fun retro mix, all the tools are in place to get it done quickly, and get it done right.”

Over the years, McEwin has made productive relationships with several of our subscribers, helping them curate the best possible playlists for their brand. He’s been guiding restaurateurs and bar owners who’ve made the switch to video, and a lot of the expertise he brings to the turntable today comes from years of listening to diverse requests from the many niche proprietors we serve. 

One of the most interesting subscriber relationships McEwin has is with John Plew, the CEO and Founder of Concept Entertainment Group and the mastermind behind the Thirsty Lion Gastropub brand. Thirsty Lion currently has eight locations spanning Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Texas, and the brand is getting ready to open three more locations in the next two years. 

Plew’s been in the industry since 1981. “I’ve done many different creations of brands,” He tells me: “restaurants, bars, nightclubs, bowling alleys…over the years, we continue to develop different concepts.”

One of those concepts was an underage nightclub in Portland, Oregon, which demanded good music before companies like Control Play even existed. 

Life before Control Play

“Back in the ’80s, I was flying to L.A. … to get the best music. That was our product, especially with the teenagers. Back then, if you could get the best and newest music, you were ahead of your competition.”

But he grew tired of L.A. music and traveled east in search of new tunes. “New York had much more of a European influence and was more forward-thinking. So, I started shipping records back to Portland because you didn’t have the internet. You had MTV, but they weren’t playing dance club music.”

With an extensive background in entertainment and hospitality, Plew understands the impact music has on a business’s atmosphere better than anyone. He’s crafted his own guidelines on what kind of music works for Thirsty Lion, and he’s been working with McEwin for the last couple years to ensure his brand is reflected in every song. 

“When Control Play came out with a dedicated service person to assist someone like myself, it was a godsend because I literally went through all of the music genres that we play, put them in our own bucket, and then I would build the back end of what I wanted and where, and I found myself not being able to stay current enough because I’ve got a company to run.”

The method behind the madness

So many companies boast that they have the largest database of songs. But your brand cannot and should not use every one of those songs—there’s always some that are inappropriate, vibe-killers, incompatible with your brand, or just plain terrible. Plus, anyone can upload them, so there’s very little quality control. Thankfully, every song in Control Play is reviewed and rated by our Mixologists, whose metadata points determine which playlists they show up in. 

“Spotify has such a big catalog and Apple Music has such a big catalog,” Plew states. “They don’t have video catalog, or they do but not the way you guys deliver it in the system.” 

McEwin and the rest of our playlist team add new music and videos to the database daily. They review every song and music video and apply separate ratings so you can filter your background music appropriately. They also set manual transition points, so you never have that annoying delay between songs. 

McEwin and Plew are a formidable combo, and with Control Play’s resources at Thirsty Lion’s fingertips, they do more than curate music together—they create the soundtrack for the Thirsty Lion brand.

“It starts with myself and Chris building out our own catalog from Control Play’s catalog,” Plew reveals, “because I’m that particular about wanting to know that if I’ve approved the song, I’m not surprised when it comes on in the restaurant.” 

But it’s not all determined by Plew’s personal preferences. He relies on data, too. “I have a spreadsheet that I use that identifies who the guest is for each meal period: lunch, happy hour, dinner, late night, brunch…and I build the back end with Chris.” To the best of his ability, he chooses genres and songs that resonate with his guests. “I build it around the age of the [demographic] that’s there primarily during that time, and what the social patterns are for the meal period.” 

Learning from one another

Plew’s relationship with Control Play has been a mutually beneficial one. “We’ve been working together on all kinds of features—even on today’s Control Play! It’s kind of fun to work in tandem with the people that are building the software and controls and grow it, you know? Based on collaboration.” 

Several of Control Play’s features have been added thanks to subscriber feedback. As our subscribers succeed and evolve, so does our software. But one thing that doesn’t change is the dedication our Mixologists have when it comes to assisting subscribers like Plew.

“Chris and I go through an exercise,” Plew describes. “We first spent, gosh, probably four hours reviewing the strategy, revealing my philosophy of what gets played and when, and then after that, we set up a call to have him pick out all the newest music that came out in the last quarter that was based on the buckets that I’d built prior, myself. And he would sit them on the side—he wouldn’t stick them right in the bucket the first time. He’d say, ‘Here’s the ones, let’s get on a call,’ and we’d listen to them together.

“He’d play [one song] and I’d go, ‘Oh, that’s perfect. That could go in this bucket’ … and so then he’d throw another one on, and I’d go, ‘Uh, that’s a little too hard,’ like, especially when you get in the active rock or hard rock or alternative rock, it just kind of blends, and so I’m like, ‘That’s a little too aggressive for us, so let’s not put that in,’ and then we’d keep going down the line for pop and hip hop.

“We did that, and then each time, each quarter, it took a couple times for him to really get the real rhythm of it. He would hold them off, we’d dump them in. And now he’s got it to a point where he basically puts them into the mix because I don’t want to micromanage it, and then we listen to it and if it doesn’t qualify, then we pull it out. He hits most of them now, and that way, on a go-forward basis, what he’ll do when he gets ready to submit them, he can send me a list or link.” Plew summarizes it perfectly: “It’s a refined relationship.”

Part of the brand

Thirsty Lion Gastropub has incorporated Control Play into its brand vision. Plew knows some of his patrons are there to view sports, so he’ll put on whatever game is on at the moment. But he knows the rest of his guests are there for a fun, immersive atmosphere, so he plays our music videos alongside them. 

“We have eight TVs and we say, ‘Here’s the ones that are on at lunch. Here’s the ones that are on at happy hour. Here’s the ones on at dinner. Here’s the ones on late night… And we only play sports when they mean something. We don’t play ESPN or things of that nature, you know?” 

You do know. You’ve probably lost count of how many restaurants you walk into that have music coming through the speakers, but sports commentators muted on the TVs (without closed captioning, by the way). It’s just a bunch of talking heads that are completely disconnected from the vibe the restaurant is clearly trying to create. They do everything else right—great food, friendly service, amazing décor—and then there’s a commercial for a direct competitor splashing lower prices across their TV screens

It doesn’t take much to jolt you out of the moment. Our goal at Control Play is to keep guests immersed while they’re patronizing your venue. 

A side-effect of playing music videos at your venue is automatic ad-blocking. You’ll never see external ads on any screen displaying Control Play content—in fact, you can do what Plew and thousands of other subscribers do and implement your own marketing materials to play between music videos (or during songs that don’t have an accompanying video). Promote your drink specials, upcoming events, contests, offers, etc. all on your own TVs!

Curious about what Control Play can do for your brand? Schedule a live demo today to learn more!

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Nicki Ogaki

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