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10 tips for rocking your restaurant’s soundtrack

What restaurants need to know about music in their venues

Music in your restaurant helps set the mood. But unless you’re in the mood for lawsuits, malfunctioning sound systems, mismatched music or worse, there are some things to consider.

The internet has made it easier than ever to curate a great sound — moving restaurant operators away from physical CDs and into the realm of the Cloud. But it’s not as simple as opening a music app and hitting “play.”

Creating a music program has become somewhat of a minefield for restaurants. Operators are increasingly turning to third-party music providers to help navigate licensing rights, intellectual property and copyright issues.

“Every restaurant has nuanced needs when it comes to music,” said Danny Turner, global senior vice president of creative programming of Mood Media, an in-store media solutions company. “The same care that goes into curating a menu should be applied to feeding your customers’ musical appetites.”

Here are some tips from some of those third-party music providers for creating the right soundtrack for your restaurant:

Know the PROs

Performing rights organizations, or PROs, work as watchdogs and intermediaries between restaurants and songwriters to protect musicians’ intellectual property. Examples of PROs include Broadcast Music Inc., or BMI; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP; Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, or ESAC; and Global Music Rights, or GMR. Restaurants pay licensing fees to these organizations, and get permission to use all of the music represented by that entity. The PROs distribute the fees to the composers, publishers and musicians they represent, minus operating costs. Music system providers often have contracts with several or all of the PROs that are out there, saving the restaurant owner from having to pay each one.

Streaming may not be wise

“While some restaurants opt for streaming apps like Spotify or Pandora, both platforms violate federal copyright laws and leave business owners open to penalties and fines. Up to $150,000 for each song, to be exact,” said Turner of Mood Media. 

Partnering with music service providers

Music service providers should be music partners, essentially, but many restaurateurs consider curating their own music. “Going it on your own carries with it the benefit of individualized control, Turner said, “but also a significant licensing and performance liability. Commercial music partners can provide blanket licensing protection.”

Get into the cloud

“The music platform should be cloud-based to ensure you can remotely control the music,” said Garrett Dodge, CEO and founder of Rockbot, a music delivery platform. From an app on your mobile device, you should be able to assign permission to people on your team who are authorized to manage the music, set up different music for different times of day — or “day parting” — and control multiple locations from a single dashboard, said Dodge.

Select the right tunes

Choose the music that fits your brand. “Music drives who are and can shape the brand experiences you create for your customers, thus perfecting your overall brand experience,” said Dodge of Rockbot. “The use of the right music is proven to keep customers staying longer and can be used to set a mood and provide a soothing ambience.”

But what’s your signature sound? Dodge suggests starting by asking yourself what kind of mood you want to create (happy, relaxed, energetic, nostalgic, bustling, aggressive, chill or even aggressively chill?) And then ask yourself if the vibe changes throughout the day and how? Next, make a list of broad music genres that you absolutely want to include (pop, rock, Latin, hip-hop, electronic, R&B, reggae, country, world music, 90’s alternative, 70’s singer-songwriter?)


Consider the children

“Cueing up tracks with inappropriate lyrics is a surefire way to alienate customers and tarnish the dining experience,” Turner said.

If your location is family oriented, you can curate playlists that are G-rated (only kids music), PG (all family-friendly, no adult subject matter), PG-13 (clean versions of adult songs) or R (explicit lyrics allowed). Rockbot, for example, offers a clean hip-hop and R&B playlist with 212 songs by Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Chance the Rapper, Drake, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and more.

React in real time

Sometimes, even with carefully curated playlists, it becomes necessary to skip a song or ban a song or playlist. Even “clean” versions of songs can’t guarantee that “it won’t be offensive,” Turner said. “We’ve learned that the language does not have to be blatant; nuance and context matter. Buttons don’t filter nuance. That’s one reason it’s paramount to employ a professional music provider that proactively filters content.”

Remember, there’s no accounting for taste.

You may like it, but does everyone? “One of the most challenging things that confronts people when trying to create that perfect musical accompaniment to your brand experience is that it’s not about you,” Turner said. “Make that separation between what drives and motivates you personally at the gym or on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and what is needed to create a desired experience in your restaurant.” 

Make sure the system fits the infrastructure.

“Access to great music is just one part of setting up the ideal vibe in your venue,” Dodge said. “You need speakers, mixers, amplifiers, cables and more. Your music-for-business solution should have a curated list of the best partners to work with for your individual needs. Be sure you don’t get stuck with an AV solution that doesn’t fit your needs (i.e. too complicated). The vendor should integrate with Sonos and POS systems like Clover. Make sure it works with your existing infrastructure.”

Think before you sign

Long-term contracts have been the norm with music vendors, but that’s changing. “The music-for-business landscape is changing fast,” Dodge said. “You don’t have to get stuck in a long-term contract if you don’t want to. There are plenty of vendors who will let you sign up for a month-to-month or annual subscription at a perfectly great rate.”

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