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Streaming, streamlined with RetailPlayers

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Streaming, streamlined with RetailPlayers
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Story: Swedish audio branding provider Music in Brands is accelerating the transition from store-and-forward to live streaming to simplify multi-site music distribution.

Headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, Music in Brands provides customised background music services to fashion retailers, physical fitness facilities, restaurants and bars and healthcare clinics. Hailing from the worlds of radio, television, and musical production, its leaders aim to marry music with their clients’ branding.

Their job, in essence, is to answer the question "what does a particular brand sound like?" The goal: to heighten both the customer and employee experience at client sites, and thus, their engagement with the organisation in question. "For us it’s really important to get to know the brand and develop its music profile in the best possible way," comments Anders Ekström, owner, Music in Brands. "It has grown increasingly important for brands to really understand the benefits of playing music in stores, as it truly affects sales." KICKS, a Swedish cosmetics retailer, is among the company’s clients, as is sportswear and equipment retailer Intersport.

But Ekström adds that this facet of branding also contributes to the creation of a calming environment in places where people don’t necessarily want to be, such as dental clinics and hospitals. "Here, we use music to create a good vibe when you are sitting and waiting for the doctor. Instead of hearing the annoying dentist drill, you can listen to some nice tracks," he describes.

Music in Brands long favored store-and-forward architectures to optimise bandwidth over congested retail and business networks. Over the course of the past year, Music in Brands has accelerated away from these systems and toward live streaming, due to improved network conditions and advances in IP and cloud technologies to facilitate music delivery.

The ‘sonic branding’ specialist is currently relying on key technologies from Barix, Loud of Sweden and RCS to bring his in-store audio vision to life for his customers. Ekström recently oversaw the deployment of roughly 500 Barix RetailPlayer systems at customer locations. RetailPlayer is promoted as a seamlessly scalable audio over IP streaming solution comprised of one piece of hardware (the playout device itself, located at each customer site), and a cloud-based portal (which serves as home to customised streams). The playout devices were designed with ruggedness and security at top of mind, while the RetailPlayer portal gives users centralised configuration, management, monitoring, as well as stream switching – all through a web browser or mobile device.

The design also takes IoT into consideration, especially when it comes to security. While some organisations may authorise local users to change streaming channels, for example, that same user does not have control over the hardware endpoint. Instead, local user commands are transmitted to the central server, which then connects to the local device. These communications remain fast and highly responsive, as if the local user had direct control of the hardware. However, the system remains secure and protected against unwanted interactions thanks to its centralised design. At the same time, local end users benefit from user-friendly QR code-based smartphone control, eliminating the need for time-consuming software or app setup to gain access to streams.

"We have a few customers that use the QR code feature, which is really great if you have a bar and you are paying for, maybe, five different types of music channels. The bartender can use his or her phone, take a photo of the QR code, and then change the channel or the volume," Ekström explains. "It’s a really neat [feature] because it’s really responsive. If you changed the channel in an older player, that could take up to one minute. In this case it’s instant, which is really impressive."

Ekström notes that initial set-up and configuration is much easier than it is with traditional store-and- play systems. "You input the MAC address of the player, and then the player pops up in the system," he explains. Each streaming channel features its own URL, which is inputted into the system as well. "Then there are backup files that are also tied into the customer’s interface so that if the network connection disappears, the music continues to play." Barix’s centralised approach with RetailPlayer also facilitates setup and management, Ekström adds. "The biggest difference between this solution and a store-and-forward system is that you don’t have to do the configuration in the player," he says. "Once the player is added into the portal, it is configured on the web. Any further changes are done through the portal instead of in the player."

And, once again, the centralised portal removes potential security issues. "With the old players, if you knew the IP address of the player, you could reach them if you didn’t have a password, and you could change the settings of the player. With RetailPlayer, even if you know the IP address, you cannot go into the player and change channels. The changes are done in the player through the portal, instead of in the player."

At Music in Brands, music streams are at 128kb/s, and Ekström relays that most of his company’s clients have the bandwidth for two megabytes per second, or more robust fiber connections, rendering this a viable solution. The playout devices are connected to clients’ local loudspeaker systems from Loud of Sweden. "Loud of Sweden offers a wireless system that you connect to the track lighting system," he said. "The Barix device the connects into the volume control and music transmitter. There are no cables to pull for the installer, and it is possible to set up a 300 square meter store with music in 15 minutes."

Music in Brands also utilises GSelector multi- station scheduling software by broadcasting software developer RCS, which Ekström said adds to the broadcast-workflow feel of his architecture. RCS is used by radio stations worldwide to automate programming; Ekström interfaces this system with RetailPlayer to schedule and insert advertisements between music tracks. This adds to the value of sonic branding inside KICKS and Intersport, which have now transitioned from store and forward to live streaming in the majority of stores.

Ekström also comments that streaming solutions for background music can enable users and companies like Music in Brands to collect meaningful data that can be applied to further shape and improve sonic branding. "With streaming, we know exactly what song has been played at what time and we can schedule messaging," he explains." Since his company’s inception back in 2008, Ekström concludes that streaming has been the organsation’s exclusive method for music distribution. "As I see it, it’s the future for many years to come," he says.

"It’s hard to image a better way to distribute music."

This article was published in the Installation May 2020 magazine. Original Source: