Downtown El Paso: Creating an Ambience

This morning I posted a piece about Sense of Place. Now I’m going to tell you about something similar: Ambience.

I have a lot of experience creating an ambience. That’s what bars offer. You’re not really buying the drinks. The drinks are pretty much the same no matter where you go. What you’re paying for is the vibe, and the chance to hang out with people who appreciate the same vibe that you do.

The vibe, the ambience, is multi-sensory. It’s even extrasensory. It’s what you sense, and how you feel about what you sense.

In that way, it’s like a brand. A brand is a product, and how you feel about that product.

In Downtown El Paso, except for the vacant lots, we’ve done a good job of managing the visual environment. And the visual environment is the most important. But the audial landscape shouldn’t be ignored.

Have you ever seen a movie before it’s scored, or with the sound turned down? Movie producers know that music creates emotions.

Think about your favorite bar. How much of your bar experience is determined by the soundtrack in that bar?

I never had a jukebox in Wildhare’s. I always felt like the soundtrack was too important to leave in the hands of the public. I curated the tunes. Sometimes, when business was slow, I’d go over to the King’s X, and play all the worst songs on their jukebox, and then go back to Wildhare’s and wait for the people to show up. (Don’t tell them I did that, even though I know that Gil would look down and smile.)

Some downtown business owners understand this, even it they haven’t realized it. Anson 11 has music on the sidewalk outside. (Truthfully, the sound quality could be a little better.) That record store on South El Paso Street jams some tunes, but they’re in the music business.

If we really wanted to create a sense of place in downtown, we would locate hi-fidelity speakers at strategic locations, and get someone to curate the tunes. A music savvy curator could practically do it with Pandora, or some of the streaming radio services, like SomaFM.

In the wrong hands, it would be just as easy to blow it. Let’s not blow it, okay?

I was excited to hear that the ballpark was getting a State of the Art sound system, till I realized that they weren’t using it to play music. If you really wanted to change the feel of downtown overnight, you could crank up that sound system every day, and get someone to curate the music. Maybe that Jack DeDogg guy. He gets it.

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