What do a rock band strumming live on stage and a nightclub have in common? The answer is that both can now be found at an airport as gateways across the globe look to enhance the traveller experience, boost non-aviation revenues and raise their profiles.
Whether it be pop, rock, jazz or country and western, the sound of music now literally fills the air at many gateways.
Sense of place
One of the leaders in this new musical trend is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), which has launched a three-year music programme called Experience the City of Music to showcase the city’s musical heritage.
Indeed, the Port of Seattle has rubber-stamped the permanent staging of live music performances after a pilot in 2013 earned rave reviews from passengers.
Artists now put on two live music shows a day (Monday to Friday) at the airport, with each performing three 40-minute sessions during peak passenger traffic times in genres including blues, folk, rap, rock and pop.
And Port of Seattle commissioner and programme creator, John Creighton, believes that it is already a big success, having “captured the public’s imagination”. “It has been really well received and this is great, as part of our goal is to get away from the generic airport experience,” says Creighton. “We want to create a sense of place here. We want people to know that they are in the Pacific Northwest and we want it to feel like Seattle.”
He continues: “We are acutely aware that the travelling experience has become more and more of a hassle over the years, so are constantly looking at ways in which we can make the airport experience more enjoyable for visitors, and music definitely helps.
“In addition to hopefully reducing stress for passengers and improving the mood, we also want to promote the region’s diverse music scene as we have such a rich musical heritage.”
Music is a strong part of the identity of Seattle, and the likes of Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana all hail from the city.
Creighton freely admits that the airport’s concessionaires have played an integral role in getting the music programme made permanent at Sea-Tac, and its F&B and retail operators have agreed to match the $125,000 per annum the Port of Seattle is investing in the programme – largely due to the hugely positive impact last year’s live performances had on sales.
Indeed, the dwell time in the outlets nearest to where the performances are staged increases dramatically during shows.
Musicians also do public announcements on the tannoy at Seattle-Tacoma, and among those doing them have been the legendary music producer and instrumentalist, Quincy Jones.
Creighton told Airport World that Sea-Tac has plans to grow the programme, by introducing 30 to 60 second music videos in security areas and baggage claim zones to help relax passengers.
It has also developed an app where passengers or visitors can listen to music performed by bands and artists who have performed.
In fact, such has been the success of the programme that the airport hopes to build permanent stages to accommodate its guest bands.
“We plan to build some permanent stages and are going to have one in the North Satellite Terminal, so watch this space,” he says.
“We have had 90% positive feedback since we introduced it and it has really enhanced the experience and ambience and helped boost revenues.”
His dream is to one day see big names performing gigs, such as Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl, who has told him how he enjoys the musical vibe at Sea-Tac.
Another US gateway that has benefitted from live music is Tampa International Airport, which admits that its monthly Friday Flight Nights have gained nothing but positive feedback.
So much so in fact that they are drawing in crowds of non-flying locals who fancy chilling out to some live music as well as ticketed passengers.
Launched more than two years ago, bands and solo artists showcase their diverse talents on a stage located landside between A and C gates inside the main terminal building. The original concept and goal was to entertain travellers and show what music the area has to offer, but it has been extended due to it success.
Enthused music programme leader, Emily Nipps, explains: “Part of the reason is to create something fun for passengers, and it is a good way to relax people and add to their experience.
“People are quite surprised we hold events, while it has also been a great way to attract people to the airport who are not flying.
“You do not think about going to an airport to hang out, but we want people to, as it is very easy to get here, being close to downtown and beaches, and people from outside the airport, if it is a popular band, there is always a small crowd of them.
“It is live music performed in a unique background, within the hustle and bustle of the airport and aircraft taking off nearby.”
Each Flight Night has a different theme, and past events have included a German night, St Patrick’s Day Irish music, a Bollywood theme and a reggae session.
And as in Seattle, its music programme has attracted positive exposure for Tampa International Airport at the same time as helping boost concession revenues.
“The exposure we get is great as people post pictures on social media of the events, while there are always freebies given out by concessions,” notes Nipps.
She adds that live music is also used in other ways to enhance the passenger experience, with live saxophone players performing airside to add a bit of ambience and lighten the mood.
From east to west
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport remains one of the leading lights in music programmes in the US.
Indeed, live music is a key part of the airport’s customer service strategy, its importance being noted in its slogan, which reads: ‘We are the Live Music Capital of the World and there’s Music in the Air the minute travellers step into the terminal’.
Passengers can catch local musicians strumming away at one of several venues from Monday to Friday.
Other US airports filling the air with genres include Nashville International Airport, which claims to have hosted some of the best local talent the ‘Music City’ has to offer as far back as 1988.
It welcomes about 80-100 bands and solo artists yearly with music from all genres played across four separate stages in the terminal.
Over in Asia, at Singapore Changi and Seoul Incheon, the piano has become a firm fixture to sooth the minds of travellers in the main terminals.
Meanwhile, China’s Shenzhen International Airport recently started hosting the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra every Thursday, which welcomes passengers after their long journeys and performs pieces by Johann Strauss and Bach.
The idea came from Shenzhen Concert Hall to try to make travel less stressful for passengers while also promoting the venue and classical music to the general public.
Live performances were introduced in April, only a few weeks after angry travellers wreaked havoc at the Chinese gateway after delays and cancellations caused tensions to boil over.
All that jazz
In Switzerland, the Montreux Jazz Café concession club concept, brought by F&B firm SSP, has proved a winner at Geneva and Zurich airports.
The cafés aim to recreate the glamour of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival and stage live jazz music concerts, while travellers can enjoy a meal and drinks, establishing their reputations as must-visit venues for music fans keen to discover new jazz musicians.
Celebrities have even got in on the act, and rap mogul Jay-Z, has had a version of his New York City 40/40 Club opened at the world’s busiest hub Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Airport concessionaire, Delaware North Companies, has opened a 40/40 Club under a licensing agreement, and the venue is situated in the Concourse D concessions area.
The club is for ticketed passengers, and is a swanky one-level sports bar, and lounge, that houses sports memorabilia.
Victoria Hong, director, adds: “There are plans for a 40/40 Club VIP Lounge which are part of an on-going discussion. The targeted space is on the second level of Concourse D and would include a smoking lounge with a club-like atmosphere.”
Over on the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, at Ibiza Airport a nightclub lets holidaymakers party right up until they board their flights.
DJ David Guetta and wife Cathy run the ‘F*** Me I’m Famous’ lounge club in the gateway’s airside area, which opens 24 hours a day playing different genres of dance music.
The sound of music in gateways across the globe seems to be growing all the time, whether it is to relax stressed-out passengers or to add a bit of variety and imagination to the experience.
Who knows, maybe in the future a familiar sight will be terminals staging concerts by some of the world’s most revered bands and artists. Let the music play.