Equinox fitness chain pumps up celebrity playlists

Sun Jul 19, 2009 10:03pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Billboard) - Music can be as crucial to exercise as water and spandex, and a spinning instructor's playlist or an iPod's inventory can make or break a workout. As part of its branding strategy, the upscale fitness club chain Equinox has enlisted artists like Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Cyndi Lauper and Michael Buble to submit their own playlists for EQ Sessions Celebrity Sets that will launch at Equinox.com this fall.

Equinox pays close attention to the connection between music and fitness. In addition to programing the music played in the clubs, the company's creative director curates monthly playlists -- EQ Sessions -- that, like the celebrity playlists will be, are available through the Equinox Web site. Links take users directly to iTunes, where the playlists are organized through iTunes' iMix function for purchase at the tracks' standard price.

Equinox creative director Bianca Kosoy says the company's approach to music is part of a broader strategy to curate a lifestyle experience for members.

"On the whole our target demographic is successful, and they are more drawn to making a purchasing decision, including joining a gym, based on the feeling that they are going to be introduced to the new and noteworthy," Kosoy says. "Music is obviously a very high-profile touch point for them."

The monthly 15-song EQ Sessions, which launched in April 2008, are often built around a musical or seasonal theme (such as "House Call" for a DJ mix or "Heartthrob" for a list of love songs released in February).

"The whole thinking behind them was to give our members a place to go every month where they don't have to look for new music," Kosoy says. "It's our branded point of view on what music we think people should be listening to. It's all uptempo, but it's not what I would call 'workout music.' Workout music is different for everyone."

ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE

Kosoy says that as the playlists evolved, she began to receive e-mails praising the concept, including from the club's celebrity members and their colleagues. The first to offer his own playlist was DJ Paul Sevigny, and others followed. In addition to the aforementioned artists, Equinox confirms the participation of Cher, Dave Navarro and producer/manager Benny Medina.

There isn't a financial arrangement between Equinox and participating artists, beyond the promotion of the lists using the celebrities' names. "One of the great things about this is that these celebrities are proactively wanting to participate in this brand without any type of formal endorsement," Kosoy says. "There's no financial or contractual anything. This is just them sending us music that they think is aspirational or good to work out to."

The Equinox point of view is "discovery-focused," Kosoy says, emphasizing that even playlists submitted by celebrities will be subject to the brand's review. Participants are asked to send a list of 20 songs that Equinox will cull to around 10 or 15. Madonna's playlist, for example, includes "Superfine" by the Hong Kong Blondes, "Do You Feel Me" by Tiesto featuring Julie Thompson and Daft Punk's "Television Rules the Nation."

Equinox's strategy for introducing members to new music involves integrating more obscure tracks from familiar acts, like U2 and Oasis, with tracks from such lesser-known ones as the Arch Cupcake and N.A.S.A. The same approach applies to the music programed for the clubs' common areas; Kosoy works with a consultant to build rotating playlists of several hundred songs, and she reviews each track.

"Music is so high-profile and passionate, but if you walk from gym to gym, you can pretty much predict what's going to be playing," Kosoy says. "We want everything we play to have a point of view that's distinctly Equinox that no one can replicate. For example, last summer our playlist included a Jason Mraz song, and you might not think of that as the most aspirational workout music, but the point is to make people smile, make them tap their foot, remind them of something -- it can't all be heart-throbbing workout music."

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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