For many, 2020 could easily be referred to as the year of Zoom. According to a study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 44 percent of the U.S. labor force was working from home by June 2020 — and many companies are exploring continuing their remote work policies even post-pandemic. Virtual meetings are now a key part of a typical workday, making reliable technology, creativity, and employee connection more important than ever.
We talked to Jonathan Levine, CEO of Master & Dynamic, a luxury audio company, about the role audio will play in the travel industry, as well as the new workplace, moving forward.
SkiftX: Master & Dynamic recently announced a partnership with JetBlue Mint that gives travelers a better way to enjoy in-flight entertainment. Can you tell me more about it?
Jonathan Levine: In travel — and in air travel in particular — there’s a direct connection between personal audio and headphones and earphones. It’s hard to remember in our Covid-19 year, but typically, you board a plane, and 80 to 90 percent of travelers are wearing headphones. JetBlue Mint has been updating the air travel experience with better food, wine, and bedding. Now, every flyer has access to the Master & Dynamic headphones for in-flight entertainment, listening to their favorite playlist or podcast, or tuning out the sounds of the plane.
SkiftX: How is sound connected to travel?
Levine: Sound is tied to memory, and travel is about creating memories. Our emotions are triggered by sounds connected to particular circumstances such as the sounds of cars honking in a city, or the sounds wildlife critters make at night. A lot of products, whether overtly or inadvertently, relate to travel. For instance, we’re also the audio partner to Louis Vuitton, which is often described as a luxury travel company. That’s where the brand started: making trunks and bags for people to travel with. There’s a connection there between travel and the experience of people planning their trips and deciding what to take with them. Headphones and earphones allow you to customize what you hear during your travel experience, whether it’s local music or your favorite audiobook.
All this is a way of coming back to the role that travel plays in our lives, whether we realize it or not, and pre-Covid-19, a lot of us took it for granted.
SkiftX: In what ways will audio redefine the future of work, and why is sound so important here?
Levine: Here’s what our office typically looked like before March 2020: You’d have one or more of our wireless speakers playing, and somebody would control the playlist. Then, employees would put on and off their headphones for their own personal music or telephone calls, etcetera.
But I’ve learned that working remotely we can actually function very well, and in certain cases, maybe better, than in-person. This trend of working remotely is going to continue, and I think personal audio will become even more important. Seldom do you get on a call and hear somebody listening to a speaker in their home. Usually, it’s the opposite. They’re working at home with a roommate or a spouse or whomever, and they really have to create their own personal space. People are spending more time on their headphones and earphones than ever before.
The future of work will be some sort of hybrid model, where some employees work fully from home, and some commute to work in offices, but not five days a week. Either way, they will want to personalize their audio experience to be most productive.
SkiftX: A lot of working professionals have shifted to remote work this year with little end in sight. How do you stay motivated and creative while working from home?
Levine: This was a big concern of mine when we shifted to remote work in 2020. I wondered how we would make this part of the machine work. But we’ve actually done beautifully without missing a step. As a product company, there’s a lot of coordination needed, and we now speak to each other even more often than we did when we were all in the same office. We’ve gotten better at making decisions virtually. When people have the chance to incorporate getting fresh air outside and exercise into their day, they are happier and more productive. We actually designed and developed five new products that will launch throughout 2021, which is remarkable when you think about it. I hope that we don’t unlearn what we’ve learned this year as things start to normalize.
SkiftX: Master & Dynamic works with musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, and other creatives. What role does sound play in the creative process?
Levine: Let’s focus on music, for example. People use music to tune in and focus, and to tune out and relax. In addition, some people believe that certain songs or genres of music make them more productive, while others make them more relaxed.
The lack of sound plays a role as well. For example, sound pollution is often a big issue in crowded cities, which affects people’s health and wellness. Many people didn’t have to deal with that this year. I think creating sound-free, healthy environments could be something that people will be cognizant of going forward.
SkiftX: How do you think creativity and sound will come into play for the travel industry in 2021?
Levine: I’m certainly not an expert on herd immunity, but I think it will be a slow return to normalcy and people will travel again for live music, live theater, live performances of all kinds, but perhaps at less than full capacity at first. I expect just as restaurants have worked to creatively provide safe outdoor dining, the live entertainment industry will find ways to provide life performances in a safe way. Many of us are dreaming of all of our travel plans as things get back to normal — I know I am.