Charlie Reyes of Audio Culture
Charlie Reyes has loved music his whole life. Since he was a kid listening to Motown while cleaning the house with his mom in Spanish Harlem or old Spanish music as his dad worked on the family car, Reyes has been musically inclined, but his passion especially grew for New York hip-hop.
After working his way up the front of house ladder up to bartender, Reyes joined the Delicious Hospitality team in 2013 as they prepared to open Charlie Bird. Delicious founders Robert Bohr and Ryan Hardy are major hip-hop fans themselves (their restaurants, including Charlie Bird, are known as much for their soundtracks as their food and drinks), and they discovered a kindred soul in Reyes. One night they gave him a shot at creating a playlist for the bar. It was a rounding success, and Reyes has been in charge of tunes there ever since.
“Just like there’s a genuine, cohesive thought process to conceptualizing drinks behind the bar, that’s the same way you should approach creating a playlist,” Reyes says. “Drinking is such a personal thing, especially when you’re drinking with friends, that the wrong song, the wrong beat that you put on, can totally kill that mood. … You have a hand to play in how the night will turn out for everyone in the room. There’s a lot more to putting together a playlist than just looking up what’s hot on the radio and hitting shuffle.”
At Charlie Bird, the music focus is on golden era ‘90s hip-hop, with hit after hit by Jay-Z, Wu-Tang and Nas. With these familiar artists in his toolbox, Reyes controls the pace and mood of the dining room and bar. For example, he can hit especially high notes when the crowd needs some energy. “Jay, Tribe and Outkast … all have something that you can drop, and everyone in the room will be able to relate to it. I know that anytime that I play ‘Spottieottie’ by Outkast, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you’ve ever listened to any Outkast, if you’ve ever gone to college, if you’ve ever hung out with friends and had a drink, you’ve heard ‘Spottieottie.’ The brass in that song is unmistakable. The minute anyone hears that bad-duh-dut-duh-deh, everyone knows that song,”
Looking a bit deeper, Reyes’ mastery for musical flow reveals itself further. “A dining room has about three turns of about two-and-a-half hour intervals. From beginning to end that’s the length of someone’s meal,” he says. “What I do is set up three different peaks of energy, reflected in the BPMs or the tone of the music I’m playing to round out the individual experience and reset the room for the next wave of guests coming in.” Not only does Reyes’ music make guests feel good, but it subtly provides queues to pace their dining experience. Like an appetizer, salad course, entree and dessert, Reyes builds playlists with lighter tones to welcome guests, upbeat tracks to raise the energy level during the peak of their meal, and finishes with happy, nostalgic songs to, essentially, show them the door. He adds, “The last thing you want to do in a restaurant is make the music too good, so people don’t want to leave. It’s a tightrope. It’s a balance. It’s about giving enough energy and nostalgic motivation to enjoy the moment and value it, but then want to move on.”
While he remains loyal to old school hip-hop, Reyes was excited when Delicious Hospitality recently opened a new restaurant Legacy Records, where they would focus on contemporary music. “As much as I loved that, I wanted to play contemporary stuff because I’m a huge fan of music today. I love Jay but I also love Kendrick. I love Nas but I also love Cole,” he says. At Legacy Records, Reyes pulls together tracks from major label artists with lesser known underground artists releasing mixtapes and tracks on Soundcloud. He’s especially enthralled with producers like Apollo Brown and Statik Selektah, whose sounds emulate the style of the ‘90s. Younger artists like Aminé, Abhi the Nomad and Little Simz make appearances as well.
After producing killer playlists for the Delicious Hospitality restaurants and bars, Reyes launched Audio Culture to expand his business to other venues. He’s worked with both other restaurants like Quince in San Francisco and exceptionally cool brands like Verve wine stores launched by sommelier Dustin Wilson. Even as his client list and his reputation grow, Reyes stays humble and wants to keep Audio Culture fairly constrained. “I tend to like the personal touch to the music I put out, and I pride myself on the fact that I know where a song is being played, and why it’s being played, and how long it’s going to play in that space,” he says, so he’s cautious about growing a team or outsourcing any of the work.
Reyes simply hopes to keep designing music that’s personal, soulful and absolutely integral to the experience it accompanies. And you’ll still find him behind the bar at Legacy Records.