24 hours with … Dean Cherny

Every time you enter a shop, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a variety of music accompanying your purchases. There’s also a good chance that Dean Cherny curated that music.

You probably don’t think much about the tunes playing in the background when you’re buying a new pair of jeans, getting your hair cut or waiting in line for your morning coffee. But 50-year-old DJ Dean Cherny has been obsessing about it since 1989. That’s when he did a group assignment on the impact of music on consumer behaviour as part of his Bachelor of Business.

“The assignment barely got a pass mark,” Cherny laughs. “The two guys I did it with – who are still friends – didn’t see any potential in my idea of launching a retail- music business.”

Three decades on, however, and Dean’s company Marketing Melodies now grosses more than $3 million a year and supplies music to companies including Optus, Jeanswest and Bed Bath N’ Table. He has also recently developed his own retail technology – storePlay and storePlay Connect – which helps retail businesses drive traffic into their stores and create engaging experiences.

We follow him through a day in his life.

5.50am: I drive to the gym for one of the 6.15am classes I do with my workout buddy. After 45 minutes of intense exercise, I reward myself with a coffee. Then I return home and help my wife get the kids (who are five and seven) ready for school.

7.40am: My workday starts. I’m lucky it’s only a short walk to the office – Marketing Melodies HQ is an architect-designed studio in what used to be a six-car garage in my home! My first task for the day is always to achieve ‘zero inbox’. Customers often email late at night after their restaurant or shop has closed so I like to respond to all these enquiries before starting my other tasks for the day.

9am: Our Head of Curation Sasha comes in. Sasha’s a full-time employee although he’s only in the office three days a week. A balanced lifestyle is something I value greatly, which is why we’ve worked hard to create a flexible working environment at Marketing Melodies. On the days Sasha’s in the office, we start with our ‘daily huddle’, to connect and ensure we remain focused on achieving the business goals.

9.30am: The workday clicks into gear as I make calls to the contractor in charge of Marketing Melodies’ online marketing, speak to some software developers about the latest technology they’re developing for me, and ring customers to check they’re happy with the service we’re providing. I’m always thinking about how the business needs to evolve and what threats and opportunities are emerging. When I got into this industry three decades ago, it consisted of shops buying a handful of cassettes labelled ‘Easy listening’, ‘Jazz’ or ‘Pop’. At most, each cassette would have 25 songs on it, and it would get played again and again. Then came CDs, then music streaming. Now there are apps that let not just business owners select songs but also their customers. This evolution is what inspired me to create storePlay and storePlay Connect.

11am: I head out to see how Kookai at Chadstone is going with storePlay, which is essentially an app that provides legal in-store music for retailers. As online retailing continues to grow, it’s even more important that bricks-and-mortar outlets provide customers with a memorable experience. A subtle but important part of that is a pleasant ambience. Research by Soundtrack Your Brand and HUI Research, the Swedish Retail Institute, shows having the right soundtrack can, depending on the circumstances, boost sales by an average of nine per cent. The wrong music – for example, heavy metal blaring in a bridal shop – can result in customers turning around and walking out.

11.20am: Kookai’s happy with storePlay. I’m particularly excited about our new app, storePlay Connect, which allows customers to choose the song they want from a pre-vetted playlist. That means they can, for example, listen to their favourite song while lining up at the register to pay. Kookai says more than 30 customers have so far been spotted using it to act as the in-store DJ. There’s also an offers component on the app and I’ve just inked deals with several fintech companies that will allow shoppers to use it to make purchases. It’s innovate or die in this industry.

12.30pm: I’m back in the office and answering an email from someone at Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed streaming service for commercial and public spaces. Many business owners don’t realise that it’s not legal to play music for commercial purposes without paying for it. Musicians and writers are entitled to a fee for the use of their songs. Industry bodies APRA AMCOS and PPCA monitor retailers’ music use.

1pm: I head back to the house for some chicken schnitzel leftovers.

1.30pm: To broaden my skill set in a way that would help me scale up my business, four years ago I joined Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) and shortly after I was invited to join the board. Not too long after that I was encouraged to become the President of the Melbourne chapter and I now spend at least an hour every day coordinating and overseeing various chapter and regional events. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, so I’m loving all the advice and support I can now access. Plus, the experience I’ve gained heading up a chapter of 140 strong-willed entrepreneurs has been invaluable.

3pm: I call one of the DJs who works for me to discuss a fashion-parade gig. I’ve had a DJ business – Dean Cherny’s DJ Dimension – since my late teens. Before the kids came along, I’d often fly interstate and sometimes internationally to play at events. These days, I prefer to spend that time with the family. I’ve also noticed clients seem happier when a glammed-up twenty-something turns up to DJ rather than a middle-aged businessman.

5.30pm: When they were younger, the kids would rush into the studio to see me after school. Now I’ve got to go to them. Working from home means I’m always home in time for dinner with my family. At this point, the workday’s more or less over. I’ll spend the next few hours playing with, bathing, feeding and reading to my kids and catching up with my wife. If necessary, I’ll do a bit of work after the kids are asleep.

10pm: I like to spend 30 to 60 minutes winding down while still feeling I’m achieving something, and I do that by reading business books. I’m yet to work out how to achieve a four-hour workweek but I live in hope!