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