You walk through the door of Sacred Society on the corner of 38th and Julian in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. After soaking in its upscale spa atmosphere, you’re guided to a room toward the back of the verdant space.

Once inside, you take a seat. Before you lies an assortment of ceremonial relics: wind chimes, singing bowls, and a hand drum. As you glance around, however, you notice the true novelty of the space. 13 Kali Audio speakers point at you from around the room, allowing immersive, 360-degree spacial audio playback through a technology called Dolby Atmos.

This 7.2.4 overhead installation is necessary to hear Sacred Society’s sounds the way they were meant to be heard. The market for ambient music is estimated to grow 7.5% annually, ballooning from its 2022 market evaluation of $1.8 billion to $3.21 billion in 2030. Sacred Society aims to offer the proper setting for these therapeutic frequencies — plus a more intuitive discovery platform than Spotify playlists.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Sacred Society is not only the name of a brick and mortar wellness spa, but also the proprietors’ artist project. Sacred Society Music Group (SSMG), meanwhile, is their record label. It’s entire discography is mixed and mastered for Atmos thanks to a studio they purpose-built for such recordings.

Atmos recordings are also backwards compatible with other systems. “Atmos is the first really futuristic thing in digital music since the MP3, in our opinion, because it’s future proof,” said SSMG Co-Founder and CEO Brad Roulier when Party Guru Press attended its exclusive Denver launch event ahead of the February 2024 grand opening.

“If you create a track in Dolby Atmos and it’s 9.1, it’ll play it like that,” he explained. “If it’s 5.1, it’ll play it like that. If you have an analog system at your home, it’ll play it like that. It tells the receiver of the file to play it in its optimal format.”

Roulier, whose own hard work to find a functional sleep routine led him to meditation, has made lucrative bets on emerging technology in the past. Alongside Jonas Tempel and Eloy Lopez, he founded the download store Beatport in 2004 — a pivotal time when more and more electronic music DJs were ditching vinyl records for MP3s.

His new venture sees him partner not only with musicians, A&Rs, and audio engineers, but also a wide range of wellness practitioners. Together, they’ve built a website similar to Beatport, but with key differences tailored to their consumer base.

“Beatport was successful because we knew our audience: DJs,” said Roulier. “DJs know the difference between house, techno, trance, psytrance, happy hardcore, tech house, and everything in between. When you go to iTunes or Spotify, they just put it all in one category — dance music — and they’re doing the same thing with ambient.”

“When you go to our website, we put niches within the niche,” he continued. “We break up tracks by soundwave: alpha, beta, theta, gamma. Breaking it up by time of day is the easiest way to do it. We do it in three sections: ‘focus’ for when you’re working, ‘enjoy’ when you’re partying and having fun, and rest. Each is eight hours of your day.”

After Roulier’s introduction, the speakers turned on and a woman’s voice softly led a guided meditation. As gentle melodies wafted into the dynamic range, a screen in front displayed an AI-generative visualizer depicting nature settings.

Over the next 20 minutes, a medley of ambient and downtempo played out, each selection serving a different wellness function as the images ahead grew more surrealistic. At (relatively) more intense moments, those present could feel the bass in their chest as they would in a nightclub even though the volume never broke 80 decibels.

Toward the end of the presentation, SSMG staff flexed the truly immersive capabilities of the bespoke sound system. With the help of an onscreen visualizer, they demonstrated how Atmos can be used to make sounds — in this case, a heartbeat and buzzing insect — travel to specific places in the room.

Indeed, the applications of Atmos extend far beyond health and wellness. One staff member excitedly pointed out that in a large festival setting, a DJ could point to different areas around a crowd as sounds would seem to erupt from those very locations. The stereo image projected by a regular sound system gains new dimension and depth when the audio fed into it is engineered for an Atmos setup.

But therein lies the biggest hurdle on Atmos’ path to proliferation. Not only does it require a costly installation on the part of organizers or venues, but any music must be specially mixed and mastered for it in order to take advantage of its immersive playback. No matter how good it sounds, considerable inertia prevents Atmos from penetrating the live music industry.

Sacred Society has arguably honed in on a more immediate niche, along with a multifaceted onboarding process.

Consumers looking for functional ambient music might come across the SSMG website and eventually decide that they want to hear the tracks living there the way they were meant to be heard. Others might pursue sound therapy at their Denver, LA, or NYC location and end up committing to an install of their own. If the brand grows in step with the market, perhaps ambient artists will even pay to have their music engineered in Atmos.

With so many possibilities on the horizon, it must be hard for the minds behind Sacred Society Music Group to avoid getting too ahead of themselves. Fortunately, they possess the very tools one needs to ground themselves in the present moment.

Photos by Kyle Brim

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