Music and a quality sound system can enhance the experience in your business for both employees and customers alike. Music sets the scene. It can create atmosphere and promote brand recognition as well as positively influence moods and behaviors.
It is important to understand how a commercial sound system works. It is different from your at-home components, and there are additional factors and considerations to take into account.
You need to be sure to have the legal rights to the music you are going to play in your business, and you need a quality sound system that is easy to use and unobtrusive. Music and the right sound system can help to create a positive environment that benefits your business.
Components of a Commercial Sound System
A commercial sound system differs from a home-use sound system in that it needs to cover more ground, sound professional, and be more out of the way for the public but still be accessible to employees.
A commercial sound system has the following components:
- Sound source
- Mixer or volume control
- Music provider with a public performance license
The sound source is the actual device the music is being played and controlled from. This can be a laptop or desktop computer that is designated for this purpose or a portable device such as a tablet or smartphone.
The sound source you choose to use for your business will often depend on the music provider you are using. Some have the ability to be managed through all of your devices.
The speakers are what plays the sound, and they are one of the most important components of a commercial sound system. Speakers dictate the quality of the sound.
Speakers can have built-in amplifiers that can receive the signal from the sound source to play the music. Speakers can be wired or wireless depending on your setup.
There are four main types of speakers used in businesses and commercial sound systems:
- Surface mount speakers: These are a popular choice in businesses, and they are often found in hairdressers, retail stores, and gyms. Surface mount speakers can commonly be mounted anywhere since they come with brackets to mount the loudspeakers. They are not as decorative as some of the other options, but they are easy to install.
- Ceiling speakers: These speakers are mounted between a load-bearing ceiling and a false ceiling. They are good for businesses with sloping ceilings. They are unobtrusive and aesthetically pleasing.
- Pendant speakers: Pendant speakers are great for spaces with high ceilings that don’t have a false ceiling. These speakers hang from a long cable and come in a variety of unique designs and looks.
- Horn speakers: Mostly used for verbal announcements, as they are best for mid-frequencies associated with human vocals, these speakers are water resistant. Because of this, they can work well for outdoor businesses, such as swimming pools or stadiums.
Speakers do not always have a built-in amplifier, which is necessary to receive the electronic signal from your audio source. You can often control the tone and volume of the signal before sending it to the speakers.
The amplifier will need to have the necessary power to push the signal to all of your speakers, and the impendance (measured in ohms) needs to match your speakers. The output impendance of your amplifier, for instance, needs to line up with the input impendance of your speakers.
Mixer or Volume Control
A mixer is not always required, as the amplifier can be used to control volume, but it can be helpful when you have several groups of connected speakers in your business. The mixer can allow you to control each group of speakers on their own after receiving the amplified signal, supplying each group of speakers independently.
Traditional commercial sound systems require cables that transmit the signal from the audio source to the speakers playing the music. Wireless systems will need fewer cables or even none at all.
In the event that you do need cables, you will choose the type of cable based on how it transmits signals — that is between analog and digital cables. Analog cables are more common as they transmit electronic signals instead of computer-type code. They are either unbalanced (can receive external noise interference) or balanced (interference is canceled out).
There are three main types of analog cables used:
- RCA: This is an unbalanced stereo cable with red and white connectors for each side. It is widely used in DJ sound systems.
- TS/TSR: TS jack connectors (tip-sleeve) have two wires inside (a conductor and a ground) and are unbalanced cables. TSR (tip-ring-sleeve) cables have three wires and can be either balanced or unbalanced.
- XLR: Commonly used for concerts and live performances, these cables are thick and balanced. They can be used to connect to a wide variety of musical devices, making them a popular choice for commercial sound systems.
Music Provider With a Public Performance License
One of the most vital components of a commercial sound system is the music itself, which is most commonly offered through a music provider. To play music in your business, you will need a public performance license, and this is most commonly provided through a performing rights organization (PRO).
Music streaming services for businesses already have agreements with the major PROs. They can cover the legalities of playing music in your business for you, making them a good choice for your commercial sound system.
Installation & Configuration
To install your commercial sound system, you can choose to go with a professional or do it yourself. When configuring and setting it up yourself, follow these steps:
- Choose a music provider with the licensing you need to play the music you want in your business.
- Decide on the sound source you will use to play and control the music, often a tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone.
- From the sound output, use a cable (commonly a mini-jack TS/TSR cable) to connect to the audio input of the amplifier.
- Connect the output of the amplifier to the input of the mixer with a cable. For the most professional sound, use an XLR, but a TS/TSR or RCA cable can also be used.
- Connect the output of the mixer to the input of the first speaker and then the output of that to the input of the next speaker and so on.
How to Determine What You Need in Your Business
Sound can directly influence sales, customer behavior, and attitudes of both customers and employees. It is important then to have a quality sound system in your business.
When deciding on what you need, you should consider the type of sound (or music) that you are looking to play. This can influence your decision on a music provider.
The space you are looking to fill with sound is important to understand as well. You will also need to determine your budget and then what types of components you will need.
What to Consider During the Setup of Your Commercial Sound System
There are several things to consider when determining your commercial sound system needs and how to set it up.
- Acoustic properties of the space: Sound waves can be impacted by the porosity, density, and stiffness of the elements in a space, which will determine how they are absorbed and how sound is reduced. A carpeted room, for example, will muffle sound more than a hardwood or concrete floor. Take the acoustic conditioning of your business into account regarding how it will impact the music played.
- Ceiling height: High ceilings in enclosed spaces can cause a reverberation effect that can negatively impact the way music and sounds travel. To improve acoustics, it can be helpful to reduce the height of your premises with false ceilings.
- Music type: Determine the type of music that is best suited for your business. Then, choose a music provider that is licensed to provide that type of music for public consumption.
- Music volume: It is also important to the customer experience to play music at the proper volume for your business. For example, music is likely to be louder and more upbeat at a gym than it would be in a restaurant.
- Type of speakers: There are a variety of speaker types to choose from. You should choose speakers that will suit your business best, both in terms of aesthetics and sound quality. Typically, wireless speakers are not ideal for large open spaces due to the high probability of signal loss, but they can be great in small, enclosed spaces.
- Number of speakers: Think about your layout and what you are trying to accomplish with your sound when determining how many speakers you will need. There are two main schools of thought on this. First, use fewer speakers of higher power that are strategically placed. Secondly, use more speakers of lower power to cover more area. Both can be effective depending on your specific business.
Tips for the Best Results With Your Business Sound System
Here are some tips to consider when configuring your business’s commercial sound system:
- Do a thorough evaluation of your business’s needs. Think through the size and acoustics of your space, the right kind of music to play, and the proper volume. Then, assess how many speakers and what type and size you will need to achieve the sound you are going for.
- Choose a quality sound system that will serve you long term. High-quality, well-known, and durable brands of commercial sound system components can cost a little more up front, but they can save you money in the long run by lasting longer, having better after-sales service, and being better quality and easier to update.
- Consider speakers and their placement similar to how you consider lighting. Placing speakers on the ceiling, spreading the sound evenly from top to bottom (much as you would a spotlight) can help to promote sound continuity and minimize dead zones.
Using too few speakers can create a spotlight effect as well, where there are areas that are bright, or loud, and areas that are dull, or quiet. Generally, choosing smaller speakers is a good decision. Speakers should be a little bit higher than what you actually require as well to ensure an even and continuous sound.
- Choose the right spacing and speaker configuration. Using different kinds and sizes of speakers effectively and strategically placed throughout your business can create a uniform and quality sound. Listeners should always be able to hear from more than one speaker at the same time.
It is important to ensure that there is the right amount of overlap between speakers, but not too much either. A general rule is to take the height of the ceiling in feet, subtract 5, and multiply it by 2 to find the proper speaker distance.
- Consider hiring a professional. A professional company or individual can properly assess your business and facility and help to determine the best fit for your business’s needs. They can also professionally install your commercial sound system, leaving you time to focus on other aspects of the business.
What Music Can I Play?
Music is copyrighted and because of this, you will need the proper licensing to play it in your business. For example, you cannot use your personal music streaming service for this purpose.
You can obtain copyright licensing for specific songs one by one, but this is cumbersome and expensive. Another option is to get public performance licensing directly from the PROs, but you will be limited to each specific PRO’s catalog. As a result, you will generally need to obtain licensing from more than one PRO.
Typically, the best option is to use a business music streaming provider that already has the licensing for the music you wish to play. These are generally subscription-based services, and you will pay an annual or monthly fee for unlimited use of their music catalog and playlists.
With these services, you can set up specific channels and customize your music selection. Since you’ll have access to so much variety via these services, you’re bound to find the right music for your business.
Music Licensing: The Difference Between Public Performance and Synchronization Licenses. (May 2017). Copyright Clearance Center.
How to Drive Sales Using Sound. (August 2022). Business News Daily.