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El Media Group Redefines the Meaning of Muzak
El Media Group is a new power player in the entertainment industry
By Mi2N
(more articles from this author)
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El Media Group is a new power player in the entertainment industry.

With diverse projects such as the media installation at Jet Blue's new Terminal 5 at JFK International Airport and their recent re-build of the Muzak empire, Ernie Lake and Josh Katz are indeed two of the new media power elite. We visited with them in their Manhattan offices recently for a sit-down with

El Media Group is a multifaceted entertainment company. Tell me about the different roles the company plays.

Ernie: The company has four divisions: Music Styling, Audio & Video Design and Installation, Branded CDs, iPods and USB Sticks and Custom Video Production. We are the total solution for all audio and video needs within hospitality, lodging and retail.

Josh, surely your background in the record industry has helped with the company's success. What did you like about the business; what did you dislike about it; and, where is it going?

Josh: I very much enjoyed working within the record business. The people I met were terrific and I am still friends with many of them. I enjoyed working with many of the artists and the creative aspects of marketing music and lifestyle. I found the challenge of breaking an artist to be very fulfilling when success was achieved. Some examples of artists I marketed from unknown to superstar include Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, No Doubt and many others.

I disliked the closed-mindedness of some of the older executives. As digital downloads emerged as the new format, I found that many of the executives I worked with were stuck in the past world of CDs, which was a dying format. The factor that made me leave the industry was the inability of many of the top people to see the future and embrace it. I think they got badly burned because of that. I wish they would have listened to some of the fresh ideas from younger executives at the time. They could have prevented the rampant piracy had they embraced digital download earlier then they did. Now it seems they have finally gotten it together. I hope it is not too late.

The dissolution of Muzak certainly caught everyone by surprise, and became quite a story. Tell me the backstory that led you both to re-inventing that wheel, so to speak.

Josh: Everything we have done has been an organic evolutionary process. We started with branded CDs for clients such as Tao, St Regis, Hotel Gansevoort, Morgans Hotel Group and many others. Those same clients then asked use to program their background music and that led us into the music styling. Our music styling is 100% custom to each restaurant, hotel or store. Many of our clients had Muzak prior to working with us and they all complained that the music selection was bad and the sound quality was even worse.

We made an effort to bring in amazing DJs who are our music stylists to always make sure that the music is amazing. Importantly, we also use internet technology versus the satellite technology of Muzak which is very outdated and does not sound good. We also only work in stereo and Muzak is mono. These things make a big difference in the quality of our product. Our music service has tremendous quality and always has the goal in mind of enhancing the client's environment.

Ernie, tell us about your award winning background as a record producer. What have been your favorite recording projects and why?

Ernie: Remixing Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" and seeing the tremendous success of that record all over the radio and then watching her open up the show with my version at the American Music Awards. I truly enjoyed also working with Pink, The Backstreet Boys, Cyndi Lauper and remixing for Usher.

How did you meet Josh? Obviously, it's a match made in heaven. Give us the back-story.

Ernie: Josh was spearheading marking campaigns for Jive Records. He was launching Backstreet Boys and then Britney Spears. And, I was doing remixes for both artists for Jive and a mutual friend at Jive Records, John McMahon, who is now a VP at Atlantic Records introduced us.

All these discs for the various hotels and restaurants; did they start off as a one-time thing and it just grew from there? And, how does the interplay work between them and you, or is it all you?

Ernie: We work with each client on an individual basis to create the perfect sound of their brand. We then manufacture product for them. The CDs are theirs not ours. We make the product look like they created it. Without reading the credits there is no way to know that we had any involvement in the process.

Give us your perception of why hotels and restaurants have become such important destination-points these days for so many.

Josh: Hotels and restaurants are more than just places to sleep and eat. They have become lifestyle destinations. Many taste-makers now work and play at these hotels and restaurants. Many hotels have integrated nightlife and restaurants within their concepts to create a total experience. We are a big part of that experience. We are the Soundtrack of the experience.

You guys were involved with the Jet Blue Terminal 5 at JFK ... right? Tell us exactly what was involved.

Josh: We did all of the audio planning and installation of speakers and audio equipment for all of the f/b and restaurant spaces at the new T5 terminal. We then programmed all of the music for the spaces and currently update the music every month to keep it fresh. Rick Blatstein, who is the CEO of OTG Management (they own all of the restaurants within the terminal) hired us to do this job. Rick is a tremendous visionary and fully understood how important music and audio is to the overall customer experience.

Where is the entertainment business headed in this downsized economic situation?

Josh: Hard to say, but we believe that it will remain strong because in good times and bad people want entertainment. I think most companies need to correct or re-adjust their pricing. This way they can keep their customers happy. To us, keeping the customer happy is the No. 1 most important aspect of our jobs.

What do you like that's going on in the entertainment business?

Ernie: I like that change is happening and developing; this is a good time for visionaries.

What's next up for El Media Group?

Josh: We recently launched a lower-tier product called iStyle Music. This is a very high quality product for chain stores with a lower price point. We believe this product will be a very well received.

Ernie: We also have a streaming music channel with amazing music that I have hand selected from our catalog and some of the best independent artists from around the world. This will also a lower price point for these economic times.

What would you both like to do that you haven't yet?

Ernie: Become a household worldwide name like Muzak but not categorized like Muzak.

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