Better branding through music: Original airport theme songs

In 2003, inspired by Eno's effort, the Cologne based band plus49 (the country code for Germany) teamed up with a design firm to create music specifically for the Cologne-Bonn Airport. They wrote on-hold music for the telephones, special elevator music and an airport "gong," a four-second piece of music called Happy Sky played before every overhead announcement in the airport. The band's song Symbols & Gateways, written to honor the launch of the Germanwings-Airbus "Spirit of Cologne," is now the airport theme song and included on an album of airport-inspired music.

Terminal tunes

In some cities music promotes the airport, but in some airports music promotes the city.

Live and recorded mariachi music was playing throughout Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport earlier this month in honor of Charro Days, an annual week-long fiesta celebrating the border towns of Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Mexico. And there are three stages at Nashville International Airport where top notch local country, folk and jazz groups perform.

Audio recordings of Chicago-identified artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Patricia Barber, Dinah Washington and Gene Ammons can sometimes be heard playing between public address system announcements in the terminals at O'Hare International Airport and at Midway International Airport. But Karen Pride from the City of Chicago's Department of Aviation says the airport recently formed a partnership with a new Chicago-based agency to provide local artists' music in the terminals. Stay tuned for an announcement about that new service.

The airport with the most ambitious music program is definitely Austin- Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. Each week the airport's music coordinator, Nancy Coplin, not only books up to a dozen live performances into the airport's four performance venues, she plays DJ for the airport sound system. "It's all Austin music," says Coplin, "made by musicians who perform in the airport, who live in Austin, or who have an association with Austin."

Coplin changes the pre-recorded music playlist often, choosing from a music library that includes artists such as Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Marcia Ball, Stevie Ray Vaughn, W.C. Clark, Ruben Ramos, Los Lonely Boys, Lyle Lovett, Freddy Powers, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Sahm, and Carolyn Wonderland. And while copies of Coplin's mix-tapes aren't for sale, travelers can buy CDs by most featured musicians at an Austin-centric music store right in the airport.

Travelers, have you heard any of these theme songs? Which airports give travelers the best music experience? Share your picks and pans below.

Read previous columns

Harriet Baskas writes about travel etiquette for and is the author of Stuck at the Airport.

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