5 Common Mistakes Businesses Make When Picking Background Music

Author: Stratton Date: October 18, 2013

The right tunes can mean more money in the cash register.

"Music in the soul can be heard by the universe," wrote the philosopher Lao Tzo. And the universe whispers back: Go shopping.

With the right music playing, "we have seen 16 and 17 percent growth quarter over quarter. So we know it does have an impact," says John Crooke, VP of global development for PlayNetwork, a Seattle firm that uses media to enhance brands and businesses.

How to bust a groove to drive bigger bucks? Avoid these common errors:

1. Playing your favorite music, not your audience's.

Every store has a sweet spot in terms of its ideal clientele, the biggest of course being age and gender. Music needs to reflect that group’s tastes. "You need to choose music based on customer demographics," says Doug Fleener, president of music consultancy Dynamic Experiences Group in Lexington, Massachusetts. Music should support the store's product premise and meld seamlessly with the physical setting, it should reflect the overall vibe, "but you need to start with who your customer is. Am I targeting families, or tweens, or someone else? Each one is going to have a much different music set."

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2. Using a cheap stereo.

"You need to invest in a quality sound system," says Fleener. "If you are playing the right music from a boom box with cheap speakers, that isn't going to work. You can go to a professional and get something designed for the space, or you can just go into the local audio store. You don't have to have the fanciest system there is, but you need to buy a quality system."

3. Not letting employees pick the music.

At his Great Harvest Bread franchise in Lafayette, Louisiana, J.P. MacFadyen lets employees choose the tunes. Using a commercial version of Internet service Pandora, employees can choose from a range of styles and artists as suits their tastes within limits. "No thrashing, no head banging, and you can't drop the F-bomb. As soon as you rule out profanity, that just takes out whole categories," he says. He's always encouraging tunes that are light and upbeat, that boost the energy levels. "Most of my workforce is under 30 and music is such a key part of their existence, I just look at it as a crew benefit."

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4. Not paying royalties.

Music seems free: It comes out of the radio, the TV, the iDevice with no strings attached. But when it plays in a business setting, it comes with a price tag. Crooke has seen big brands presented with bills up to $1 million for unpaid royalties. In principal, a business owner needs to approach the three big publishers – ASCAP, BMI, SESAC – with a playlist. Realistically, most business owners today find it far easier to subscribe to services like Pandora, SiriusXM, and Muzak (yup, they are still in the game). However you do it, you've got to pay to play.

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5. Setting the wrong volume level.

It's not just the song but the volume that matters. Depending on the decibels, music can entice customers to linger or it can send them scurrying. There’s no right or wrong here: The proper decibel level depends mostly on the setting. "Some brands will want to play it on '11' because that is their audience, that's their market," Crooke says. "In other places the music weaves within the orchestration of the experience."

Sometimes the wrong music will be just right. "I went into a teen store and saw a mom who had to leave the store because the music was way too loud," Fleener says. "She thought it was stupid but I said no, they want you out of there, and they want you to leave your credit card behind."

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