Tips for Selecting Music for the Best Massage Experience [Interview]

Massage and music seem to go hand in hand. Music is one of the elements that complements the relaxing process perhaps more than anything after the massage treatment itself. A while ago, we wrote a popular article on Unique Music Recommendations for Your Massage Therapy Sessions to inspire outside-the-box music ideas. What is it about music that makes it a vital part of the massage therapy experience?

I was trying to wrap my brain around this topic and wanted to talk to an expert on relaxation and massage music. Fortunately for me (and you) I happen to know someone who has been working in this industry for many years, Sherry Donovan with At Peace Media. I rang her up and asked if I could interview her for the blog. She was kind enough to say yes!

First a quick introduction: For more than seven years Sherry Donovan has been building relationships with music artists around the world, creating playlists on a monthly basis, and building a huge listenership of massage clients and their massage therapists. In 2013, At Peace Media’s digital subscription music service played tunes for more than 14,000,000 massage sessions around the world.

John Gelb began At Peace Media back in the late 1990’s with a focus on massage music. Since then, Sherry has overseen the truly dramatic increase in their listenership. Sherry cooks up the secret sauce and she knows what massage therapists and clients want when it comes to music for the massage treatment session.

On with the interview!

Benjamin: Sherry, you’ve had years of experience in the massage and spa music industry. Why do you think music is such an important part of a massage treatment?

Sherry: It’s very simple: the right music relaxes people. Most therapists enjoy working with music, and massage clients are often able to relax more easily with music as part of the ambience. Music transports people. Music sets the stage for a massage therapist to do his or her work. But it’s meant to be in the background, as we see it. The focus should always be on the work of the massage therapist.
Benjamin: What should an independent massage therapist consider when selecting the right music for their clients?

Sherry: Remember this: although an MT may be listening to the music all day, and may want music that pleases her or him, the music is there for the client’s benefit. You want to make your client calm and relaxed. And keep your client calm and relaxed.

Steer clear of music with jarring tempo or instrument changes. You also don’t want your client to think about the music so I would recommend avoiding music with prominent melodies, lyrics, or musical covers of well-known songs that may evoke memories and feelings. This is massage therapy, not psychotherapy! Familiar old songs might have emotional associations unhelpful to the massage session.


Benjamin: Do you have any tips for massage therapists who are building their music library or wanting to branch out into new music for their clients?

Sherry: Buy albums with run times of  60+ minutes that’ll take you through an entire massage. I prefer albums which are consistent in style and feeling. The tracks should blend to create a seamless soundtrack. If you’ve got assorted music tracks on your iPod, make sure they’re sequenced in a pleasing way and the volume levels are consistent.

As for new music, I would recommend selecting a couple of artists or styles to satisfy different client tastes. Also, be careful about buying very inexpensive CDs at big box stores where you may be able to listen to only a short audio clip. One usually gets what one pays for. We have heard from so many MTs who have purchased cheap music CDs only to find they cannot listen to them more than once.

I should point out that some massage modalities may lend themselves to a much more active form of music. For example, clients receiving more vigorous types of sports massage may want more of a “pop” music feel.


Benjamin: I know some massage therapists who are tired of what you might call “cliche relaxation music” such as wind and nature sounds, or zen/asian style instrumental albums. What other “out of the box” styles or genres are popular, in your experience, with massage therapists?

Sherry: A massage therapist works with all sorts of people every day. And different people each respond to different music styles and different instruments. We’ve known people who use jazz, classical and pure nature sounds during session. It’s worth asking your client what he or she prefers. We also suggest experimenting with music from other cultures. Try an album featuring Tibetan bowls, sitar, or a Balinese gamelan. There’s a whole world of music out there.


Benjamin: What are currently your top 5 favorite CDs or artists in the genre of relaxation and meditative music?

Sherry: We love Chris Ho. We’re bowled over by his brand new music. It’s both lush and understated at the same time. Art Lindemanis, under the Artful Touch label is also great..  Michael Benghiat, who’s created twelve albums for At Peace Media, was the first artist we ever worked with, and continues to be one of our favorites. His first album “Harmony” was the soundtrack to the Esalen Massage video that John Gelb and his brother Richard produced back in 1996.


Benjamin: What kinds of music services are available to the massage therapy community? I know there’s free streaming through services, but you usually have to deal with ads, if you don’t pay, or maybe not a big selection. What are your thoughts about streaming services?

Sherry: Well let me ask you, if you were lying on a massage table and heard an ad for auto insurance in the middle of your massage, how would you feel? Streaming is tricky. You never know what you’ll get. A good curated playlist is always best.

Thanks, Sherry and At Peace Media!

What are some of your favorite CDs, artists, musical styles that you and your clients prefer to listen to during massage sessions? I would love to hear your recommendations in the comments below!


Comments from original Massamio post:

I used to use water, nature sounds (tropical rain forest, water/ocean, whale), and “spa” music. Now I use my own music on my phone. I use jazz and classical music, including some lesser known movie sound tracks. I amplify it through Jawbone and turn the volume down. The jazz tunes might be familiar to some (especially if you like Miles John Coltrane or Alice Coltrane) but it has worked so far. — Posted @ Monday, February 03, 2014 12:11 PM by Davida Williams

Great post! Been reading a lot about massage lately. Thanks for the info here, good think to think about! — Posted @ Monday, February 24, 2014 2:58 PM by Studying Massage

Thank you for your post and my gratefullness for the aid is comming from they to me. — Posted @ Tuesday, March 25, 2014 7:17 AM by Xiao Ying Massage

music is one of the elements that complement the relaxing process perhaps more than anything. I am also very fond of music. I use to listen jazz and classical music, including some lesser known movie sound tracks. Thanks for the info here. — Posted @ Monday, July 07, 2014 12:47 AM by David Miller