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Music in restaurants


jayandstacey
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I was in a restaurant tonight that was noisy- lots of hard surfaces. Worse, there was only one other occupied table in our section with 3 female friends catching up... So my wide and I talked but found ourselves listening to the other table between exchanges.

Then music came on the sound system mid-meal. It was soft and didn't drown out or even barely compete with the other table. But it was a god-send, as it allowed my mind to turn to something other than the conversation at the next table.

I just read a diner's comment elsewhere asking that restaurants not have music... But to me that's the audio equivalent to saying "I want no windows and white walls only- no pictures" - don't you need something passive for your senses when they become unengaged?

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I definitely pay attention to what music is playing in a restaurant, and it can be one of the factors i consider when deciding where to go.

A few places where I've liked the music is at Graffiato (when you can hear it), Fireworks in Courthouse, Green Pig, Boulevard Woodgrill, Mussel Bar in Ballston, and Boqueria.

This Washington City Paper had an interesting article about music selection in restaurants.

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Thanks for the article, very interesting.

When I wrote the first post, the only thing on my mind was a knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone else say "no music" in restaurants.  Didn't make any sense to me.   However, there's much more than meets the eye here.  A few other thoughts on the subject:

1. There are a minority of people that have music issues - where music sounds like an annoying mess in their ears.  I'm reading the book Musicophilia right now about such maladies.  What's interesting isn't so much the maladies themselves, rather how primal and ingrained music can be to the core workings of our brain.  I think that the net is that music of some sort is a necessary part of almost any restaurant.  In most cases, it should support the meal/experience without being a major part of it (there are exceptions to this, like the Hard Rock Cafe) and that's not an easy task.

2. Many years ago I was tasked with making the background music for a new restaurant - a California Coast themed place in a hotel somewhere in Asia.  That wasn't easy...songs can be too fast, too slow...stick to major chords....and you can't simply put Beach Boys songs on there and call it a day.  You can't appeal much to lyrics, but rather instruments and arrangements.  An interesting effort.

3. Meanwhile, in my 'today' neighborhood I live near a 50s style diner that has a jukebox with 45s.  There are selection boxes at every table...yet the diner owners don't do much with the jukebox.   Background music plays until someone selects a song from the 80 hit records that never change.  My idea is to approach the owner and suggest jukebox themed promotions:  I have tons of 45s, and would volunteer them - so September might be "60s month" and January might be "Summer Songs" and April might be "80s month."  I'd swap in the records, then swap them back out at the end of the month.

 

What do you all think - would a music-based promotion for such a diner be worth it?  Or will it only be as good as the money spent to advertise it and be mostly a waste of time?

(note - I'm aware there may be licensing questions, that the jukebox might be owned by a vending company, etc.  Set those aside for now...)

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...

 

What do you all think - would a music-based promotion for such a diner be worth it?  Or will it only be as good as the money spent to advertise it and be mostly a waste of time?

(note - I'm aware there may be licensing questions, that the jukebox might be owned by a vending company, etc.  Set those aside for now...)

Sounds like a fun experiment.  Assuming no licensing issues, and assuming no risk to your records; that they would take care of them as if you were standing right there...

  • The diner should consider promoting and marketing each month's theme using social media.  If the business does not yet have a social media presence tied to what residents in a ten-mile radius care about, now is the time to build that. 
  • The rarity of hearing old tracks in their original medium could draw new, curious customers.  Rather than having them ride into the sunset soundtrack once the promotion is over, consider how get them to return the following month once the promotion has ended.  Building that thinking in early will ensure this is not just a one-time business boon.
  • Remember that the ubiquity of instant online music is in competition with the novelty of "wait in line" jukebox queues.  Other on-site draws, like staff dressed in clothing from that era/season, simply printed posters capturing scenes from the decade or theme, would enhance the attraction and effect.
  • Consider a simple tracking mechanism for how often patrons choose the jukebox.  Low tech, i.e, the staff can keep a white board and make a tick mark whenever they hear a track.  This data can inform future actions, i.e., "those 60s songs are getting a ton of play the past two weeks, should we extend this promotion a month?".
  • What method of payment do the jukeboxes accept?  If it's coins, make sure there are signs that say "ask us for coins!" or other inexpensive enticements for first-time users.
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Sounds like a fun experiment.  Assuming no licensing issues, and assuming no risk to your records; that they would take care of them as if you were standing right there...

  • The diner should consider promoting and marketing each month's theme using social media.  If the business does not yet have a social media presence tied to what residents in a ten-mile radius care about, now is the time to build that. 
  • The rarity of hearing old tracks in their original medium could draw new, curious customers.  Rather than having them ride into the sunset soundtrack once the promotion is over, consider how get them to return the following month once the promotion has ended.  Building that thinking in early will ensure this is not just a one-time business boon.
  • Remember that the ubiquity of instant online music is in competition with the novelty of "wait in line" jukebox queues.  Other on-site draws, like staff dressed in clothing from that era/season, simply printed posters capturing scenes from the decade or theme, would enhance the attraction and effect.
  • Consider a simple tracking mechanism for how often patrons choose the jukebox.  Low tech, i.e, the staff can keep a white board and make a tick mark whenever they hear a track.  This data can inform future actions, i.e., "those 60s songs are getting a ton of play the past two weeks, should we extend this promotion a month?".
  • What method of payment do the jukeboxes accept?  If it's coins, make sure there are signs that say "ask us for coins!" or other inexpensive enticements for first-time users.

Agreed on all points.

I want the owners to succeed as their business (and their house) is in my neighborhood - and my neighborhood is better when they succeed.  They do some self-promotion but not much...I wonder if they're just in a rut.  They have a Greene-Turtle-like sports bar coming in across the street soon and I suspect that will hurt their business in the short run.   I'll talk to them; see what's possible or not; see if there's interest. 

Anyway, as for music in restaurants...

This should be as thought out and consistent as the lighting and air handling.  Volumes should be consistent, the system should be periodically checked, employees should be trained on how to use music throughout the night - for instance, to transition late focus to the bar if the place has one.

I wonder if any restaurants use automatic feedback loops - where they take measurements in a room of the ambient sound level, then adjust the music volume accordingly.  That way, as a room got busy the music volume might rise a little bit to compensate for voices.  Of course, this can "run away" if not programmed correctly but the concept is pretty simple. 

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In 1992 a bit of good fortune and hard work paid off and we took a dream vacation to Hawaii, something that I had never imagined we'd be able to afford (my husband was a university employee and grad student at the time).  We had dinner at what was considered the finest restaurant on Kauai, where we had an hour and a half meal on the lanai facing a garden backed by mature Norfolk Island pines.

What music could be finer than the breeze in those trees and exotic birdsong?

I'll tell you what wasn't finer: a 10-minute long sappy easy-listening instrumental cover of the Gershwins' "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'" from Porgy and Bess, played slightly too loud for comfortable conversation.  And, it was the only song on the soundtrack.  Yes, we got to listen to it nine times.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Gershwins' music and most of the Great American Songbook, but how incredibly inappropriate that was.  The same song, over and over.  :wacko:

Management was incredulous when I asked them if they could at least turn down the volume.  Apparently no one ever complained.

Music is important.

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I can't imagine how the employees at Kotobuki don't revolt. They have played the same now-scratchy Beatles tape on a loop for seven or eight years. Every night, always, no respite.

I love the Beatles. I can sing a harmony part to every song they ever recorded. But if I had to listen to the same few songs every day for years on end I would go mad.

Elizabeth-- I have had the experience (more than once) of being on a train, and there is background music playing over the sound system and there is a slight glitch or wow in the playback. And it drives me crazy. I find a conductor and complain, ask for them to turn it off, and they have no idea what I am talking about. It sounds fine to them. I find it literally nauseating.

I worked for an insurance company many years ago, and the employees had lobbied and gotten Muzak--which played instrumental versions of American standards like Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and pop songs from the forties and fifties. It was loud enough to be intrusive and extremely distracting to me, because I knew the words to many of the songs, and couldn't help singing along in my mind. Which made it impossible to concentrate--paradoxically, the research supposedly showed that Muzak improved productivity. When I complained, the company "compromised" and had the music going for 30 minutes out of every hour. I found another job pretty quickly.

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I can't imagine how the employees at Kotobuki don't revolt. They have played the same now-scratchy Beatles tape on a loop for seven or eight years. Every night, always, no respite.

I love the Beatles. I can sing a harmony part to every song they ever recorded. But if I had to listen to the same few songs every day for years on end I would go mad.

Elizabeth-- I have had the experience (more than once) of being on a train, and there is background music playing over the sound system and there is a slight glitch or wow in the playback. And it drives me crazy. I find a conductor and complain, ask for them to turn it off, and they have no idea what I am talking about. It sounds fine to them. I find it literally nauseating.

I worked for an insurance company many years ago, and the employees had lobbied and gotten Muzak--which played instrumental versions of American standards like Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and pop songs from the forties and fifties. It was loud enough to be intrusive and extremely distracting to me, because I knew the words to many of the songs, and couldn't help singing along in my mind. Which made it impossible to concentrate--paradoxically, the research supposedly showed that Muzak improved productivity. When I complained, the company "compromised" and had the music going for 30 minutes out of every hour. I found another job pretty quickly.

Maybe a forever-repeating Beatles cassette is some sort of feng-shui? or zen?

There is a radio station in south Jersey that plays hits from the 70s/80s/90s and speeds them all up by about 5%.  There's a threshold (for me) of about 2-3% where I can't really notice it - it might sound more "urgent" (both from the speed and the change in pitch)...but I probably can't say for sure if it is sped up.   This station is DEFINITELY sped up and it drives me bonkers.

As for Muzak...maybe you know this already, but a piece of newer recorded music generally has 3 rights holders:  the music writer, the lyrics writer, and the performer.   Sometimes those three people are all the same (like Springsteen) and sometimes all three royalty earners are different (like many pop or country songs).   Muzak is appealing simply as it cuts out 2 of the 3 royalties.  They record their own versions using only the music - and can therefore offer a music service that's likely less expensive than a business paying ASCAP/BMI fees.  Which is why you hear them in places that have thin margins, like grocery stores and ...cheap insurance companies I suppose.

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I have had the experience (more than once) of being on a train, and there is background music playing over the sound system and there is a slight glitch or wow in the playback. And it drives me crazy. I find a conductor and complain, ask for them to turn it off, and they have no idea what I am talking about. It sounds fine to them. I find it literally nauseating.

When I was in grad school, I volunteered with a concert series. The woman who ran the series had perfect pitch, and was an amazing musician. One night, she was in such pain, she had to leave.

The band sounded fine to me. Apparently, they had all tuned to the lead, who was half a tone flat. I couldn't hear it - they were in tune. She couldn't not hear it. They were OUT OF TUNE.

I finished the night for her.

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I used to wait tables and tend bar.

No matter how good the variety on a jukebox is, the staff comes to hate it unless it rotates. Things jukeboxes have made me hate include:

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

I Feel Good

Touch of Grey

And a number of others.

For several years, I could not abide "Strokin'," but a few years ago, in a bar in Memphis, the band played it and I enjoyed it again, so I guess I'm over that.

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I worked in a cafe in Dublin that had three CDs and that was it. But, I grew to love them and to the day I continue to love Burt Bacharach's greatest hits (sung by the original artists, including Dionne Warwick, who I also grew to love when I heard what really made her famous beyond Psychic friends), Sinead O'connor's jazz album Am I Not Your Girl, and the Carpenters. I am about to turn 36 and I'm so grateful that I was exposed to this music, and worry that younger people (like my 30 yo sister) will never hear it and it will be lost to history.

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As for Muzak...maybe you know this already, but a piece of newer recorded music generally has 3 rights holders:  the music writer, the lyrics writer, and the performer.   Sometimes those three people are all the same (like Springsteen) and sometimes all three royalty earners are different (like many pop or country songs).   Muzak is appealing simply as it cuts out 2 of the 3 royalties.  They record their own versions using only the music - and can therefore offer a music service that's likely less expensive than a business paying ASCAP/BMI fees.  Which is why you hear them in places that have thin margins, like grocery stores and ...cheap insurance companies I suppose.

Actually, BMI and ASCAP royalties are divided into the author's share and the publisher's share. Artists make money on record sales, not radio plays, much to their frustration, which is why artists often demand to own a piece of the publishing, or to be included as an author of a song they record.

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Actually, BMI and ASCAP royalties are divided into the author's share and the publisher's share. Artists make money on record sales, not radio plays, much to their frustration, which is why artists often demand to own a piece of the publishing, or to be included as an author of a song they record.

Yes, this is the same pie sliced at a different angle.   Not disagreeing with you.  So if I'm a songwriter working for a publishing house, or a performer working for a label (or both) - then part of my agreement with that company is a share in the rights and royalties that come with the song.  The lyric writer's royalty is likely shared with a publishing house, as is the music writer's, and the performance part might be shared with a label or management team.

So Springsteen, for instance, will share his royalties with other companies - Thrill Hill publishing (which he owns, to your point), probably the label or management team in some cases, and of course ASCAP takes a cut of sorts, as they don't work for free.  They are both a beneficiary and the police, which means restaurants need to be mindful of their licensing, as they can be pretty agressive. 

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There's another slice to this...the different 'types' of royalties, like mechanical vs. performance and others.  Each is a little different - so to your point, the record sales (mechanical licenses) will pay the recording artist and writers, while a radio play will not benefit the artist unless they are credited with some sort of writing credits.

There's even another slice to this, and that's how the venue pays their royalties.  A bar/restaurant might pay by a formula based on their size and hours of operation.  But if they have a jukebox or DJ, it changes a bit.  Likewise with live music.

The current state of music distribution - with digital copies, few CD sales, many "radio" paths and such...I believe artists have figured out that they must make their money through concerts and ancillary sales (t-shirts, etc).  I'm not an expert in this field at all - but for a while in my career it was swirling around me.

Back on topic - Music in a restaurant works (IMHO) like the service - it should complement the meal, serve its purpose but not really "stand out" except to be considered perfect.  That means very different things in L'auberge Chez Francois vs. The Hard Rock Cafe, but both can achieve this goal.

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