at the Waterfront

Designing and installing a custom music delivery system for Seattle's Pier 70 restaurant.Jutting out into Elliott Bay at the end of Pier 70 is one of
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at the Waterfront

Oct 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Charles Conte

Designing and installing a custom music delivery system for Seattle's Pier 70 restaurant.

Jutting out into Elliott Bay at the end of Pier 70 is one of Seattle's newest restaurants. People come here for the freshest catch of the season, the New American and Pan-Asian cuisine. They come to sit on the deck with rum drinks, watch the water and listen to the piano player. Some may even drop by because Pier 70 was home to the Seattle cast of MTV's "Real World." It is fairly certain, however, that they do not come for the sound system - not to hear it and certainly not to see it. Yet, the sound system is an important part of the overall ambiance that brings people back to Waterfront.

Waterfront is the latest concept from the Seattle-based El Gaucho group. Their restaurants include El Gaucho (in the Belltown area of Seattle) and one in Portland, OR, as well. Located on the last of Seattle's piers, Pier 70, Waterfront restaurant can accommodate 160 patrons in its main dining area and in its two private dining rooms - the South Bay Room seating 12 and the North Bay Room seating 60. An 85 foot (26 m) serpentine bar appears to float on fiber optic lighting from beneath. A 4,000 ft squared 2 (372 m squared 2) waterfront deck surrounds the restaurant on three sides. Windows all around offer a 280ø panoramic view that arcs from Mt. Rainier through the port, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains beyond to the Space Needle. Waterfront offers a meld of international cuisines - Thai, Northern Italy, Caribbean - featuring seafood prominently, but not exclusively. "Classy but unpretentious," is how one review described both the cuisine and the restaurant's ambiance.

Because of its concept, location and cuisine, Waterfront required more than generic background music to realize its intentions. Partners Paul MacKay and Chef Vicky McCaffree chose well-known Seattle nightspot pianist Dahner Franks as the primary source of evening musical entertainment for the establishment. A sound system, designed by PlayNet-work, actually supports the live entertainment, both technically and artistically with regard to program selection. Music from the grand piano is distributed throughout the entire installation, including outside on the patio. In a nice turn, PlayNetwork has included some of pianist Franks' recorded selections in its specially selected music programs for the restaurant.

"Dahner actually worked directly with the PlayNetwork team to select the music program for the restaurant," said Waterfront's business manager, Britt Mennen. "He plays everything from jazz standards like `Satin Doll' to his own arrangement of `Stairway to Heaven,' so this is not cocktail piano. The owners like his style and trusted him completely with the music program."

PlayNetwork is a combination of experienced industry talent, proprietary technology and, as they like to say, people who love music. The emphasis on talent, technology, and a passion for music sets the company apart from other service suppliers in the commercial music business. PlayNetwork is an audio systems design firm for commercial establishments, and it is a supplier of customized music programming for businesses. What is perhaps most proprietary, which is to say unique, about PlayNetwork's approach to the commercial music business is its individualized approach to their clients' needs.

"Our professional programming staff sits down with each client," said Senior Project Manager Mark Sorensen, "and discusses the general atmosphere they w ant to create in their workplace and for their customers. Then they build a song structure that segments or partitions the establishment's business hours according to predictable fluctuations of activity in a typical day."

System basicsThe Waterfront sound system is based upon PlayNetwork's 4.0 CD Player feeding a large and regularly updated digital music program to a zoned system of 28 Tannoy loudspeakers - CM S55 and CMS65 ceiling loudspeakers and i-5AW wall-mount loudspeakers - driven by a Biamp CMA350 commercial mixer/amp with six mic/line inputs and 350 W of amplification. The system is divided into seven zones, all of which have localized volume control. A wall-mounted switch, placed next to the piano, allows Franks to transition smoothly between his live performances and the PlayNetwork sound system.

At the center of PlayNetwork's technology is the CD player that plays their proprietary custom disks. Each PlayNetwork CD contains approximately 16 hours of music in compressed format - approximately 300 songs. Initially, clients receive a four-disk opening music library (64 hours of music). Subsequently, PlayNetwork mails out a new disk every month filled with music that continues to support each client's business profile. Each PlayNetwork CD player features: song and program display, on-premise dayparting with autoplay (more on this later), random shuffle, one-push play and song-to-song volume balance.

Drawing upon its immense music library - the licensing division, dealing directly with the record labels, is in constant search of new material - PlayNetwork's musicologists build a profile of the client and the client's business week and then assemble a musical program dayparted to match varying levels of activity.

"Our CDs are encoded for each specific client," said Sorensen. "The internal clock on the PlayNetwork CD Player understands what time of day it is and what day of the year it is, so the music tempo and mood are always on target and in line with our client's requirements.

For Waterfront, with its piano-based trademark ambiance, this meant creating a jazz program for the lunch hours that does not include a piano, then for the dinner hours, moving into a jazz program that does include a piano - thereby preparing the way for the pianist, Franks, who plays in the evenings, Wednesday through Sunday.

"We've just started serving lunch," said Mennen, "and we're working with PlayNetwork to establish the tempo and feel that we want for the music program."

Over a year, a client's customized library of music builds up, month-by-month. Each PlayNetwork CD is encoded with an expiration date at one year from the day it was burned, and the player will not play an expired disc. In this way, clients maintain control of what otherwise might become an unwieldy library of outdated material.

"What we've done," said Sorensen, "is put together a system that gives clients all the options, control and flexibility they've always wanted - coupled with disc play-time that is four times longer than anyone else in the business music industry."

The installationInstallation of the Waterfront PlayNetwork Audio system was completed in early June with help from two installation teams - Commercial Sound & Communications, Seattle, and American TechCorp, Tacoma, WA. Commercial Sound's operations manager, Mark Bellesiles, oversaw all pre-wiring and product placement. American TechCorp's commercial service and installation manager, Alan Damrau, oversaw the finishing touches and last-minute customized changes. American Tech-Corp, in addition to being a network design and installation firm in its own right, is also an authorized PlayNetwork "G.I.G.S." contractor. The PlayNetwork G.I.G.S. program - Great Installations, Great Sound - is the invention of the company's engineering team, which they term the first and only standardized quality service and installation program in the business music industry.

"We developed the G.I.G.S. program so that we could deliver extremely high-quality commercial music systems efficiently and cost effectively," said PlayNetwork President and CEO Adam Brotman. "Essentially, G.I.G.S. is an authorized network of service and installation contractors whom we've selected and profiled, and monitor to ensure consistent, quality system installations."

"With the G.I.G.S. program as a tool for the management of installations," said Brotman, "we are raising the bar for all such installations in the industry."

PlayNetwork and its chosen installers worked as a team, with Sorensen visiting the Waterfront site many times to monitor the installation process. Bellesiles and Damrau had worked on a number of projects for PlayNetwork, but Waterfront was the first involving the various Tannoy products.

"There are 12 Tannoy CMS55s, 13 i-5AWs, and three CMS65s in the PlayNetwork system," said Damrau . "The four CMS55s are above the length of the bar; five more plus the three CMS65s cover the main floor. Each zone has its own local attenuator. The private dining rooms [with two and one CMS55 each, respectively] also have their own local volume controls."

The entry (two i-5AWs), the wrap-around deck with nine i-5AWs, the kitchen and the restrooms are the other Waterfront zones, all with local volume control.

"The piano has its own Beyer MPC65VB condenser mic," said Damrau, "and Dahner has a toggle switch that he can throw either to turn on his mic or go to the PlayNetwork program. The system automatically fades, both ways.

Alhough local volume is available in the seven restaurant zones, volume settings, in general, remain constant throughout the day. On occasion, sound may be turned down or off for a function in one of the private dining areas or lowered on the deck area.

"Perhaps our greatest challenge," said Sorensen, "was running a 4-conductor (2+2 shielded) 22-gauge wire from our wall-mounted Lowell rack toward a customized toggle switch, set delicately inside an elaborate pillar next to the grand piano.

"Placing a single-gang wall plate and toggle switch onto this beautiful pillar meant that our pre-wire measurements had to be precise. We also used great care in cutting a small hole into the copper when it was time to pull the wire through and mount the toggle switch plate."

Damrau, regarding the ceiling loudspeakers, said, "With most ceiling-mounted speakers, essentially what you are dealing with is an infinite baffle space. Whatever ceiling space is above becomes the resonating cabinet space, but the Tannoy CMS product has its own, specifically designed enclosure. This loudspeaker produces a deep, rich bass and sounds very good at low volume as well as high volume. No need to cut back the bass. These speakers can handle it."

PlayNetwork-Tannoy allianceThe Waterfront Pier 70 installation is the first completed of a number of new and ongoing installs, the result of a strategic alliance formed last spring between PlayNetwork and TGI-Tannoy, NA. The agreement combines PlayNet-work's on-premise customized music programming services with Tannoy's loudspeaker technology to create music delivery systems designed specifically for the commercial music industry. The Tannoy alliance is in some ways an outgrowth of PlayNetwork's original thinking regarding the delivery of their systems and services to the marketplace via the G.I.G.S. program.

"The Tannoy name is highly regarded in the studio market, in studio monitors and commercial sound applications as well as for home theater," said Brotman. "That's what attracted us to the company initially. Its ability to customize products to our specific needs, combined with the ability to private-label products with our own PlayNetwork logo, will play a much bigger part in our dealings with Tannoy as the relationship develops.

"We have deep roots in Seattle and its music community. We see PlayNetwork as the culmination of a long line of commercial music suppliers who have ties here. In fact, the pool of talent we've drawn on here to assemble our staff is a big selling point for us with our clients."

PlayNetwork's client list includes a number of multi-site businesses, but its technology and business model allows it to offer the same level service to one-location spots, such as Waterfront, efficiently and economically. By location, architectural design, cuisine, and ambiance, Waterfront announces that patrons should not expect the usual when dining out, but that is just fine with PlayNetwork, a company taking a fresh new approach to delivering business music systems and programming.

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