A guide to playing music in your business: From beginner to pro in less than 10 min

A café just doesn’t feel right without some sort of music playing. The same goes for stores, diners, restaurants and salons. They feel kind of sad without music to set the mood. That said, most business owners don’t have time to give a lot of thought to what music they play—or how they play it. They switch on the radio and leave it on all day. Or pop their smartphone into a speaker dock and play from their personal Spotify or YouTube accounts. On a loop.

If that sounds like you, this guide will help you get smart about music. It will help you boost your business sales by teaching you how to pick and play the right music for your specific business, and help you understand what your customers might want (and need) to listen to. It'll also help you stay on the legal side of things.

1. Remember, you’re playing for an audience

When you’re playing music in a public space, like a retail environment or a coffee shop, the first thing to remember is you’re not playing for yourself. You’re playing for an audience.

Magnus Rydén, head of music at Soundtrack:

“Music can make a big difference to how customers perceive your venue. The right music can make people like your space more – and spend more money in it.”

Besides affecting the overall experience, studies have also shown that music influences customer behavior. For instance, high energy music makes people move and do things faster while slow music makes them dwell. Hit songs make people spend less time in a shop but may influence them to order another drink in your bar.

2. Know what you want your customers to love you for

Playing the most popular music isn’t always best for business. It’s more likely to distract from what you want your customers to feel and do. So if it’s not about playing the music you like—or your team picks—how do you know what kind of music will make people fall in love even more with your business?

A good starting point to knowing what kind of music to play—and what kind of experience to provide—is jotting down what makes your business amazing and special for your customers. Do you always cheer them up? Do you provide a relaxing environment? Do you want them to move quickly through your venue or spend more time there? Are you luxurious? Do you provide a space for customers to think and reflect? Or do you energize everyone who steps through your doors?

3. Find an amazing source of music for business

When you’ve defined your mood, your next step is to find a reliable source of amazing music. If the word “Spotify” has crept into your head, stop right there.

While Spotify might be great for personal use, it was never intended for business. This means, for one, its music isn’t licensed to play in business premises. For two, it isn’t designed to give you complete control over what’s playing, especially if you’re not on your premises on a particular day. The same goes for other personal services, like YouTube and Apple Music.

But if you sign up to a service like Soundtrack—the music streaming service designed for business—the music you play will be licensed. In the U.S. this means no more worrying about ASCAP or BMI. On top of that, you’ll be able to schedule what’s playing, when, from the app, so you’ll be in control of the music playing in your store or coffee shop, ensuring it’s always setting the right mood. (And your teams won’t be able to crank up the volume to listen to profanity-laden rap or other types of music that could harm the popularity of your business.)

4. Choose your mood and get technology to help choose the songs for you

One of the easiest ways to choose your music is to sign up to a service like Soundtrack and click on the characteristics that best represent your business.

Once you’ve selected genre and sound, the technology will step in and choose from a vast database of over 40 million songs to give you a perfect soundtrack, including hundreds of tunes your customers will love. You can choose different energy levels, so you can keep things lively during the day and more chilled out in the evening—or change up the tempo at any time that suits you and the needs of your business.

With Soundtrack, you can quickly create your own Soundtrack based on mood and genre or choose from over 300 ready-made Soundtracks, curated by experts. You can apply a profanity filter, so you don’t get inappropriate songs playing to your customers. You can select (or exclude) specific genres, so you can choose Country, for example, for your family diner or East Coast hip-hop and old school rap for your snowboard store.

If you want to use a Spotify playlist you can do that too—you can upload this direct to Soundtrack, we’ll match a selection of the songs you upload and produce an infinite Soundtrack of music based on that.

5. Keep it legal

You know if you’re playing a radio at the back of your store, you have to pay the licensing authorities? That’s because you’re using someone’s song to enhance your own business—and that someone is entitled to a tiny amount of money from you every time you play their music.

Of course, Taylor Swift is hardly likely to come knocking at your door for that dime you owe her.
But that’s why all musicians are represented by licensing bodies whose sole purpose is to make sure artists get paid when their music is played in public.

In the U.S. there are two main licensing organizations—ASCAP—the American Society of Composers, Authors and Performers, and BMI—Broadcast Music Incorporated. Between them, they represent the vast majority of musicians. And if you want to play your own CDs in your workplace—or the radio or Spotify or YouTube, you will also have to pay annual licensing fees to ASCAP and BMI. If you don’t, they could fine you. In November 2017, for example, ASCAP sued 11 different bars, restaurants and other business premises across the U.S. for not paying to play. Fines can reach thousands of dollars per song.

6. Sound quality

Your best option is always to hire a sound consultant. But that can be pretty expensive, and you can get far by using basic common sense and these pointers:

  • Your music needs to be loud enough so that people can hear it, but not so loud that it overpowers conversations.

  • Think about placing speakers in changing rooms and restrooms too – just to keep the vibe flowing. But make sure the volume is a little lower than in the rest of the venue.

  • Placing a speaker by the cash register isn’t a great idea. Your customers may have difficulty hearing what you say to them.

  • A tiny speaker sound can make your business sound cheap.

  • Consider playing different music in your interior and exterior areas. And play different music in reception areas and restrooms. That is, zone your music.

  • The sound in your venue depends on the space. Hard surfaces or soft surfaces? These affect the sound more than you might think. Experiment.

  • If you’ve got the budget, buy more speakers and play music at a lower volume. That’ll make the sound less intrusive.
    Consider playing the music in mono. That way you get a less scattered sound image.

7. How fashion store Oak + Fort does music

Oak + Fort wanted to create a fun and lively atmosphere, and they wanted to be able to crank up the energy levels at times when there are more people in store.

Soundtrack makes it super-easy to select a “mood” and have the technology source hundreds of appropriate tunes. It makes it easy to control what’s playing, where and when—so the music your customers hear is a great expression of your brand, rather than your team’s taste.

In a matter of minutes after they signed up to Soundtrack, Oak + Fort created a handful of soundtracks for all of their stores to use at different times of day. Then they used the app to give teams across their stores permissions to schedule and play the soundtracks.

Oak + Fort’s Devon Aubert says:

“At a glance, we can see what’s playing in our stores—and we have control over what’s playing. It also saves time and money that all licensing fees are included. This, along with the easy-to-use dashboard, means we can scale up quickly—and we don’t need help from the IT team to do it.”

To conclude:

When it comes right down to it, you only have five things to think about when it comes to finding the best ways to play music in your business. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • First, think about what you want music to do for your business and what mood you want it to set.

  • Choose an amazing source of music that lets you control the mood and schedule changes easily.

  • Move beyond playlists so you don’t have to worry about spending valuable time updating songs to avoid repetition.

  • Make sure you’re paying licensing fees—or that you choose a streaming service that includes licensing fees.

  • Stay in control—your music has an important effect on your customers, so don’t leave the choice of tunes for your premises in the hands of just anyone.

Most of all, enjoy it! Music is one of the best things in life—and getting it right in your business could see you attracting more customers and encouraging them to spend more when they’re with you.


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