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Musical Motivations

Lauren Williamson June 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Spa owners have long known that music can create a pleasant ambiance in the treatment room. Studies show music is inextricably tied to memory and emotion—and that it can even lower blood pressure and help manage pain. Now, spas across the country are taking the therapeutic benefits of music to a new level, bringing sound to the forefront of spa services.

“We’ve always been very good with smell, sight and touch,” says Blake Feeney, spa director at Canyon Ranch’s SpaClub at the Las Vegas Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, where music plays a key role in the newly expanded space that opened in April. “The last sense that has really been impacted in the industry is hearing. We know what sounds good. But now we know you should listen to these things at this time because of the benefits for healing.”

Canyon Ranch’s Las Vegas site, which will total 134,000 square feet when all renovations are complete in August, is a pilot space for its new approach to music, focusing on creating different “intention zones” throughout the spa. “We want to figure out what kind of intention we want for that space—the ambiance, the energy, the feeling,” Feeney says. “Sound creates the ambiance of a space immediately.”

In the fitness areas, the music is upbeat and energizing, while music in treatment rooms is slow and calming. Clients receive a menu of six pre-selected music channels to choose from prior to treatments, with options that include classical or aboriginal music as well as sounds from nature. However, if a patron prefers music from one of the 10 other stations that service different areas of the spa, it can also be channeled into the treatment room.

Suzanne Hanser, PhD, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, says this individualized approach to music selection is crucial for creating a truly peaceful experience. “It’s not so much about music that’s marketed as being relaxing,” she says. “It’s more about music that has personal associations.”

Wanting to get the feeling just right, Feeney worked with Prescriptive Music of Woodland Hills, California, to create music channels that matched the intention zones Canyon Ranch planned for the SpaClub, and Prescriptive Music CEO Allen Klevens says he and his team search for music from all over the world to create a unique sound for each client that matches the spa’s goal. “We want to make sure that when the spa director says, ‘We want X style of music,’ we understand what X is,” Klevens says.

For example, if the director says she likes jazz, Klevens will find 10 to 15 different styles of jazz. “We’ll say, ‘Which of these do you call jazz?,’” he says. “And based on the tracks the director selects, we’ll go back and build a playlist.” He also visits the property, taking into account who the clientele is, what colors are used in the spa interior and how music interacts with specific treatments. At SpaClub, for instance, a seaweed wrap might be paired with the sound of crashing waves.

Music and relaxation

Hanser, a past president of the World Federation for Music Therapy, says the relaxation you feel when you listen to your favorite concerto is no accident. “Music really does affect our nervous system,” she explains. “It goes right to the seat of emotions in the brain, and it brings up memories that we have with this music by activating the hippocampus.”

The hippocampus is the area of the brain that stores long-term memories. Once triggered, it sends signals throughout the nervous system that in turn activate the respiratory and circulatory systems. “We begin to breathe slowly and deeply in rhythm with the music,” she says. “It slows down the heart rate. It’s an anti-stress agent.”

Kathy Pappas, co-owner of Egéa: The North Shore’s Wellness Spa in Evanston, Illinois, considered incorporating music by getting mobile ditigal devices so clients could program their own soundtracks. But she soon found that being taken care of in every way was one of the spa’s primary attractions. “People want to come and just leave everything behind,” Pappas says. “They don’t want to make any decisions, not even on the music. Once they walk in—all the music, the service menu, how it smells—everything is an entire package.”

Kohler Waters Spa in Burr Ridge, Illinois, literally packages music with the service in a bath treatment where music plays not just an aural but a physical role in relaxation. Jean Kolb, director of wellness business and product development for Kohler Waters Spa and Kohler Co., says special tubs equipped with underwater speakers play music that balances and calms the client from head to toe. “As the music has different tones—the bass, crescendos and decrescendos—you actually can feel that throughout your entire body,” she says.

Clients are able to select from a menu of music channels, and the variety of beats and tones plays a key role in the treatment’s effectiveness. “Just like when you have a massage,” Kolb says, “if you feel the same stroke over and over again it’s not as interesting as when that massage is mixed-up and the strokes are long and smooth in one way and then a little bit more rapid and quicker in others. The same thing happens with music.”

Bringing it home

The soothing sounds don’t have to stop at the spa, either. Both the Kohler Waters Spa and Canyon Ranch SpaClub sell CDs in their gift shops of the music played in the treatment rooms. “You can bring it home or give it as a gift, and it’s a way for you to reconnect with your spa experience,” Feeney says.

Canyon Ranch was one of the first spas to market its own private label CD, before Kohler followed suit. Kolb says Kohler originated the idea of bringing the spa experience home with its collection of scented bath products. “And then from there we said, ‘Well, let’s personalize the sense of sound throughout the spa with this CD,’” she explains. The Kohler CD features music that integrates water sounds ranging from subtle raindrops to a rippling stream. “When people come to our spa,” Kolb says, “they want to feel like this not just for an hour afterwards, but want to go home and recall the experience and just feel a sense of peace and wellness.”

Because the initial CD was so successful—selling 1,578 copies since 2004—Kohler developed a second volume, which has sold 807 copies. “We have people coming back, and they’re like, ‘Oh, do you have another CD?,’” Kolb says. “It was really by popular demand that we said, ‘You know what, we need to do another CD because they love the first one, and they want to bring their next experience home.’ I’m sure we’re going to have a third one.”

And though the Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Kohler Waters Spa are among the first facilities in the country to boast this level of music specialization, others are certain to follow. “What it comes down to is the brain is able to focus on sound and silence the mind,” Feeney says. “Music brings you back to times you felt good.”

So the next time your client hears the gentle strings that played during her last rejuvenating facial, she’ll be transported back to that blissful moment—and be that much more eager to return to your spa for more rest and revitalization.