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getting the background music right

I went with one of my daughters' to a bar in Delray Beach last night near where we live. It's a buzzing lively bar and we had a drink and apps and then just couldn't stand it any longer. The music was not especially loud but it was opera. And it was annoying. Very annoying. For me it was inappropriate and it drove us out in the end even though it was happy hour and we were sitting out at the inside outside bar.
We asked them to change it which they did for one song then it was back to opera. The bar staff said it drove them crazy too but management wanted it.
So how does music and the decibel level affect you? My old dad can't stand music of any type in restaurants. I don't mind it as long as it's not opera (!) or hip hop or acid/house. And not too loud so you have to yell.

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  1. Any music which is not "interrupting" is fine. Most bars are loud and you just have to yell. I always think of it as a privacy tactic. With really loud music, only the person next to you can hear you. A person 2 feet away from you cannot hear a word you are saying. You can yell that you want to rob a bank tomorrow and only the person next to you can hear you. No one else can. Privacy.

    1. Given the usual choices I prefer the French practice of no music at all. I don't mind classic rock with a diner meal, and enjoy jazz or old pop standards in a bar, but if it's too loud to converse over at normal tones it's unacceptable. One of our favorite upscale restaurants plays classical chamber music at background levels, which I find delightful; a cute brunch place we went to once in Chicago had a live string quartet, and that was great. As for opera, I like it, but Mrs. O doesn't. That means we'll have to stay out of Figaro, that famous Italian coffee bar in San Francisco's North Beach, since that's ALL they play!

      1. For background music, I think it should be instrumental, not vocal. And it should be melodic rather than percussive.

        1. I find a couple of things in your post interesting. You describe the place as "a buzzing lively bar." Then you say that the staff says the music format drives them nuts (meaning it's the standard music for the place) but that management wants it that way.

          Businesses, including bars, want to find a niche that turns a profit for them. Sounds as if the management of that particular bar has done just that. It also sounds as if you have found out that it's not the bar for you. Personally, I like live soft music, preferably jazz, and tend to search out places that offer that. I particularly do not like loud, live heavy metal, so I don't go to places that offer that. But if I did find myself in such a place, I would be flattered as all get out if I asked that they play "Moonlight Serenade," and they did it just for me! So you may not have found the music to your liking, but they did go out of their way to give you a song. Good show!

          1. I think musical taste is pretty personal, which is why it can be problematic in restaurants if they try to find a style to suit everyone. I am really not a fan of smooth jazz, so I'd get annoyed pretty quickly if that was the style every restaurant chose as a "safe" style. When I lived in Japan I went to a small ramen restaurant that was playing death metal and I still talk about it to this day because I found it such an amusing experience. I think the only off-limits music is anything with inappropriate themes/language as long as the volume is quiet enough that I can hear myself think.

            In a bar, I don't really think there should be any limits. Each bar is designed to appeal to a certain niche, so some will go for live music, others will pipe the music in as loudly as possible, and still others will prefer a low key, more intimate environment. I've certainly been to all types and it just depends on the mood I'm in. If there's a type of music played one night I know I won't enjoy, I just avoid the bar.

            1. "So how does music and the decibel level affect you? My old dad can't stand music of any type in restaurants."

              i´m the same. prefer no music at all. it´s one of the many reasons my hotel-restaurant Mi Casa is the only place for me. however while travelling it´s out of my control. i have a choice to find another restaurant or pub...

              1. I prefer no music to most of what is played in restaurants. But, I agree that if a restaurant decides to play a certain type of music they are telling you that you are not welcome there if that isn't your taste. There are so many restaurants out there that don't want my business. Perhaps we should all make musical ambience part of our reviews.

                We had been regulars at one place when we walked into rap music. When we asked about it and asked if it could at least be turned down, one of the owners told us it gave the place 'Just the edge it needed."

                We never returned. We also stopped going to a second restaurant in this group because of the music.

                I really find it strange when a place plays a mix that I call "something for everyone to hate."

                And, vocals are not background music. That is foreground music. A lot of what is played to day is foreground music, demanding your attention.

                Why are so many people terrified of calm and quiet?



                1. In the industry, it's been proven over and over again that instrumentals, not vocals, are the best background music for restaurants. The Muzak corporation, the folks who pioneered "elevator music," did a lot of research into what makes customers happy. For years after they ditched the Lawrence Welk-esque backgrounds, they provided pleasant but unintrusive ambience music for restaurants, hotels and retail locations.

                  Muzak was overtaken by the cable-music providers, most notably MusicChoice, because it became more affordable for restaurants to simply add the feature to their cable lineup, rather than purchasing Muzak's expensive receivers or pre-recorded "loop" tapes.

                  With cable music, one must settle on a genre of music to play in the restaurant. It's hard to select an appropriate category when they're so narrow in scope. And often when management/ownership isn't in the restaurant, the "jazz classics" genre is forsaken for whatever the staff wants to listen to (anyone ever hear ear-pounding bass coming from the hip-hop channel -- in a fine Italian restaurant? We have.)

                  Then there are the owners who choose their own CDs and put 'em in a changer. Sometimes it just doesn't work. There was a place in our town that was a popular after-work watering hole that transformed into an upscale-ish restaurant for dinner. The music was a combination of power-rock anthems and very up-tempo blues. It ended up that people would show up looking to just relax and cool off after a long day at work and the music was just hard to relax around. The bar's been sold.

                  At our restaurant, we played a mix of instrumental jazz for years. Occasionally, between lunch and dinner, I'd play tunes from my collection of old-school R&B, and customers eating late or drinking in the bar would comment positively on it. Now we play the same at dinner, and for some reason our demographic actually comments positively on the pleasant, nostalgic music. I'd rather that the diners not noticed the music at all, but hey, at least they're not telling us to turn it off.

                  My last word: why do some places that have expended a fortune on fixtures and equipment fail to spend any good money on sound? Quality sound equipment produces less distortion. Distortion is what makes sound seem abrasive and unpleasant. A restaurant is no place for a scratchy, low-fidelity portable stereo.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: shaogo

                    shaogo-when you play your own collection and it is sent to speakers throughout the restaurant, as opposed to coming out of only speakers dirctly attached to the cd/boombox/stereo you are VIOLATING copyright laws. What is being done is a 'rebroadcast' and the composer is entitled to royalties. That is why MUZAK came into existence. Even sending radio out through speakers around your restaurant is subject to royalties.

                    BMI and ASCAP have 'Music Police' who check for violations. Business people can be subject to large fines for rebroadcasting. You can turn a radio on, but as soon as you amplify it and send it to additional speakers there are strict rules.

                    I used to be in the Music on Hold Business for Telephone systems, and had to develop licensing for the music we sold.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      Given shaogo's experience in the restaurant business, perhaps he simply has taken the steps to pay independently through BMI and ASCAP's processes. Both companies have the requisite forms available on their websites.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        to bagelman01:

                        My business is licensed by BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. We happen to also offer live music a couple nights a week, and it's a cost of doing business. We also pay for the CD/recorded music option. It's calculated by the number of seats in the restaurant.

                        I've never heard of there being any difference with regard to the device; I just thought one was liable for royalties whether playing a CD through a boom box or through a $10,000 sound system.

                        Edited to add: juke boxes require a recorded music license, too, unless the company that leases out the juke boxes pays for it. I've heard plenty of restaurateurs relate horror stories about the vigor with which BMI and SESAC, in particular, pursue royalty scofflaws.

                        1. re: shaogo

                          The license for the jukebox should be held and paid for by the owner of the jukebox, not the lessee, unless so specified in the lease.

                          I'm glad that your business is one of those abiding by the licensing rules.

                          There really is a difference in the device. If you merely have a radio playing at the front desk and the sound is coming out of the radio's self contained speaker(s) no license is required. IF you plug the radio into an amp and send the sound to speakers throughout the premises, then you are rebroadcasting and need a license and owe royalties.
                          I had a small restaurant in the early 1980s with 40 seats. We had 5 small FM radios placed throughout and set to the same easy listening station, all playing through their own soeakers. We were 'shopped' by BMI, but found to be in compliance and not liable for licensing or royalties.

                          1. re: bagelman01

                            Indeed, BMI in particular was getting really aggressive around '82-'83 because they saw the writing on the wall vis-a-vis Hi-quality reproduction (the CD). Perhaps because it wasn't in their interest, neither BMI nor ASCAP will mention anything about it being legal if it's coming right out of a radio.

                            Lately, the most aggressive party in the game is SESAC, once the Country & Western clearinghouse of choice. About 6-8 years ago, they went out and actually bought the rights to some songs in the Pop, Rock & Roll, Jazz, R&B and Classical genres. Then they started going after restaurateurs with aggressive tactics that would make even the most hard-boiled BMI auditor blush. The SESAC people were going around threatening restaurateurs by saying things like "you'll lose your store if you get arrested for royalty violations." It did not make them loved in the industry, I can tell you. To this day, it is with great reluctance that I part with my money for SESAC. For awhile, we rejected their offers and told them "send us a copy of your repertoire so we know which songs not to play in here." Finally it became cheaper just to pay them off to shut up.

                      2. re: shaogo

                        There was a cowboy-themed bar and large restaurant that played country music. Unfortunately the announcements used the same system, so -- MR. JONES, PARTY OF FOUR, YOUR TABLE IS READY! JONES, PARTY OF FOUR, COME TO THE RECEPTION DESK YOUR TABLE IS READY! -- went blasting all over the entire dining room. The place was popular and usually had a number of waiting folks, so these announcements were made with great frequency.

                        My companion and I made jokes about how the restaurant held auditions to find the person with the most annoying screech to get the microphone duty.

                      3. I prefer music over silence. A little background noise works as a buffer between conversations going on around you. Have you ever been in a silent restaurant with a fighting couple sitting one table over? So awkward!

                        I agree that instrumentals are best.

                        1. I read a study that opera music actually does keep folks from hanging around a restaurant over-long (it was specifically used by some fast-food owners in tough neighborhoods to keep the thugs and homeless drug-addicted from turning their shops into their "office". Sounds like the bar you went to knows that after the first drink or two, most people slow down consumption considerably and this moves the customers on out the door so other patrons can take their places.

                          On an unrelated note, "not the right background music" happened to me one time years ago when I was in a poor stretch of life and was on hold with a bill collection agency. Eric Clapton's version of "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out" started playing. I mean, c'mon, kick a gal when she's down why dontcha?

                          1. How about the old hillbilly diners years ago with the juke box menu/player right in the booth, 3 for a quarter, Walking in at 7am with a hangover ready for breakfast and Nancy Sinatra blaring out "These boots are made for walkin " ,now there's some backround music!