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Q&A with Lori Hon of Gray V

Lori Hon of Gray V talks music, business, and the horror of smooth jazz on airplanes.

I was surrounded by music as a child and always wished someone would give me songs for moods or events like they did in the movies. Admittedly, ipods and the like have made this easier to do on a smaller scale, but Gray V takes the concept to another level. How has the importance of music in your own life translated into a business?  

Music has always been a driving force in my life. In my early twenties I owned a snowboard shop and was a partner in a few restaurants, and it became really important to tailor the music to the business. We tried a number of music services but they never seemed to work in our spaces, so it propelled me to want to start my own service with my current business partner, Paul Marais. After some brainstorming, we determined that our venture would truly have to be a custom service in order to accommodate a client’s sensibility and needs. We wanted to be the company that someone could turn to for expertise in an area that’s often subjective and hard to pin down, and to be able to offer them seamless and eclectic playlists.

What is the starting point for a specific project, both in terms of discovering the aesthetic and in sifting through the millions (billions?!?) of songs out there? 

It comes down to communication. Our team will get direction from the client of what the general sound should be like and then we work on creating a playlist from there. We really value constant feedback and encourage a sense of collaboration in order to get the project right, but also appreciate it when people have a level of trust in our abilities.

What are some of the projects that have been the most challenging?

It is most difficult for us to work with clients that don’t have a clear direction of what their brand is about yet; when they have a clear vision and sense of their brand we can be even more accurate with our selections.

How do you deal with the personal and varied nature of musical tastes, especially when some spaces cater to hundreds or thousands of people a day? 

You can’t please everyone from the owners to the staff to the customers at all times and if you try, you will fail. If you’ve done a great job the music should be a seamless part of the experience. Variety, tempo, context, and taste level are all requirements for a great playlist in a business environment. As a business owner, the worst thing you could do to your staff is to have a CD on loop over and over for month on end (yes, this happens). When you’re running a business you don’t have the time it requires to find new music and keep your playlists up-to-date. That’s why we’re here – it’s the only thing we do, and it’s our job to keep things current and exciting for staff, guests, customers, and clients alike.

What do you do to keep up with new music, and how does that change with new technologies?

As more and more music is accessible to the consumer, people are expanding their tastes which has really broadened the breadth of playlists we get to create. In the early days it was more of a Buddha Bar, Hotel Costes, downtempo electronic sound that was requested – pretty much across the board. Now we seek out music from a whole array of genres, decades, and levels of popularity and we find it through many sources. It is much easier now to dig deep and find some hidden gems if you know where to look, and what you’re looking for.

Any industries you haven’t tackled yet but would like to?

Great music should be everywhere and there’s really no excuse anymore not to pay attention to this element of business, no matter what that business is. I was recently on a flight that was playing horrible smooth jazz piano covers of popular songs like “Gold on the Ceiling” by the Black Keys and “Timber” by Ke$ha. I was embarrassed for them.

Photograph by Martin Crook