What Music Works Best in Bars and Pubs? (& Playlists)

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Related Reading

What Are the Best Bar Songs?

Classic bar songs include hits such as:

  • "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey
  • "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
  • "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks
  • "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
  • "and more!

But playing these songs without a license could put your bar in deep legal trouble. Keep reading to find out how you can legally play music in your bar and pub and find some great suggestions for songs and playlists that will have your patrons tapping their feet.

Music directly influences whether patrons have a good time in your bar or pub.

The perfect bar soundtrack can seem to make time fly by. Patrons may sing along, order another drink, and spend a little more money. Adding in that good music could be crucial to your bar’s success.

But you'll need to take very special steps in order to find the right music, and you'll need to make sure you have a legal right to use that soundtrack.

What Music Can You Play?

Songs aren't created by algorithms. They're created by real people, and those people expect to be paid for their work.

The fees they pull down don't end when their recording hits the airwaves. Each time that piece of music is played, either in its original form or by a cover artist, the creator of the piece should get a fee.

The Texas Music Office reminds us that certain bar and restaurant owners aren't exempt from paying license fees in order to legally play music in their establishments.

The Texas Music Office says there are exemptions for food and drinking establishments under 3,750 square feet. If you own a business of this size, you can play a public radio station. But you still must follow the rules about recorded and live music.

It can be tempting to blow off these rules and play whatever you'd like to play, but the fines for non-compliance can be steep. The Daily Beast reports that a bar in North Carolina was fined $30,450 for playing just four songs without a license. The bar was also hit with $10,700 in attorneys’ fees. The owners of that bar had to close it down.

There are three major organizations that track licensing issues, and they don’t work together. In order to play any recorded piece you'd like to play and to let a live band do the same, you would need a relationship with all three entities, and each entity would require a separate fee.

Commercial music streaming services work with these organizations to offer clear, complete background music licensing for businesses.

Choosing the Right Music

Once you've determined that you would like to play music in your establishment, you'll need to find the right tunes to set the mood. The ambiance in a bar or pub is crucial to its success.

For example, in a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers attempted to break down the connection between bars and violence. Did violent patrons make the space violent?

In this study of 327 frequent bar patrons, researchers found that the characteristics of the bar predicted violence. In other words, the violent people didn't enter a peaceful bar and transform it. Instead, these people chose bars like them.

Music helps to create a sense of affiliation. Spaces in which familiar music is playing seem somehow familiar. That means choosing music your ideal patron might like is absolutely vital to your long-term success as a bar owner.

The experience your patrons expect can also influence the music you should select. When your customers come into your bar, they may be expecting any of the following:

  • Low light, loud music, and dancing
  • Kid-friendly, light-drinking patrons
  • Spirited conversations and loud cursing
  • An experience similar to one they might find in an English pub

In a study in the Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management, researchers found that people in bars like music that helps to amplify their current mood. If they're feeling quiet and calm, they'd like similarly quiet and calm music. If they're feeling excited, they'd like exciting music.

Think about what sorts of activities your patrons engage in right before they come to your bar, and then think about what they tend to do while they're in your establishment. You should be able to use that research to find music that matches the vibe your patrons are hoping for.

Don't forget that the volume of the music matters just as much as the music itself. In a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, scientists found that loud music led to increased beer consumption regardless of the type of music played.

In other words, the volume mattered more than the beat, the words, or the feeling. Just sheer noise made people drink more. Don't forget to factor that into your research.

Choosing a Background Music Provider

Playing the right music in bars and pubs is essential. But finding the perfect playlist isn't easy, especially when you’re busy running a business. A background music provider can help.

A professional background music provider can survey your patrons, staff, and stakeholders to determine the right songs for your brand. This team can set up a playlist for you and get the songs playing almost immediately. A dashboard puts you in control, so you can change the sounds at any point.

A background music provider works directly with song copyright holders, ensuring that everything you play is legal. Never worry about surprise visits and associated fines. You’ll always be in compliance.

Variety Is Key

Just like every bar is different, so is the playlist at every bar. Music that seems perfectly aligned with one type of customer might seem inappropriate for another. Since there are so many bars and different bar patrons, it's impossible to create a single playlist that’s right for each environment.

In addition, many bars rotate their music selections throughout the night. They might play quieter, blues-type music early in the evening when the party's just starting, and they might play dance classics late at night when patrons feel tipsy and nostalgic.

That’s why having a wide variety of music in bars and pubs is so important. When you have many options to choose from, you’ll be able to keep the party going.

Why Where You Play Your Music From Matters

You already know that you can’t just play music from your phone or personal music streaming account in your bar or pub. You must have a commercial streaming subscription to legally play music in your bar.

There are a lot of commercial streaming services out there, such as Soundtrack Your Band, Pandora for Business, Cloud Cover Music, and Rockbot. With all these services, you’ll get a public performance license to legally play the songs in your bar or pub.

The key is to choose a service that makes the entire process easy for you.

For example, some services make it simple to customize playlists, and you can schedule playlists for certain times. This ensures the music fits the time of day perfectly, helping to promote the best atmosphere that will encourage patrons to stay and order more drinks.

Top Songs People Never Get Tired of Hearing in Bars

Some songs are just classic bar songs. When people hear these songs, it makes them want to belt out the words, sway to the music, and order another round.

Here are a few of the top songs people never get tired of hearing in bars:

  • "Don’t Stop Believin" by Journey
  • "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
  • "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks
  • "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
  • "Raise Your Glass" by Pink
  • "Closing Time" by Semisonic
  • "Pour Some Sugar on Me"by Def Leppard
  • "Bohemian Rhapsody’ by"Queen
  • "American Girl" by Tom Petty

Best Playlists for Bars & Pubs

These are some of the best playlists you can find for your bar settings:

1. Dance



  • "365" by Zedd, Katy Perry
  • "Ain't My Fault" by Zara Larsson
  • "All Good" by Ciara
  • "Charisma (feat. Jamie Lidell)" by Oliver, Jamie Lidell
  • "Clap Your Hands (feat. Ava Max)" by Le Youth, Ava Max
  • "High and Low" by Empire of the Sun
  • "Hotter Than Hell - Matoma Remix" by Dua Lipa, Matoma
  • "I Need Your Love (feat. Ellie Goulding)" by Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding
  • "I'd Do It Again" by Gigamesh, Gavin Turek
  • "Jackie Chan" by Tiësto, Dzeko, Preme, Post Malone

2. Aggressive



  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Mono Version" by The Rolling Stones
  • "Any Way You Want It" by Journey
  • "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz
  • "Baba O'Riley" by The Who
  • "Ballroom Blitz" by Sweet
  • "Born To Be Wild - Single Version" by Steppenwolf
  • "Edge of Seventeen" by Stevie Nicks
  • "Facing My Fear" by Cortes
  • "Go" by The Black Keys
  • "Ready To Let Go" by Cage The Elephant

3. Relaxing


  • "All Blues" by Miles Davis
  • "So What" by Miles Davis
  • "(Love Is) The Tender Trap" by Frank Sinatra
  • "Beautiful Love (Take 1)" by Bill Evans Trio
  • "Darn That Dream" by George Shearing, The Montgomery Brothers
  • "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" by Nat King Cole
  • "Pick Yourself Up" by Gregory Porter
  • "Autumn In New York" by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
  • "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" by Billie Holiday
  • "Prelude To A Kiss" by Sarah Vaughan

4. Country


  • "Drinking Class" by Lee Brice
  • "Buy My Own Drinks" by Runaway June
  • "Drink All Day" by Jake Owen
  • "Drink in My Hand" by Eric Church
  • "Drink Myself Single" by Sunny Sweeney
  • "Drinkin’ and Dialin’" by Darius Rucker
  • "Drinkin’ Town With a Football Problem" by Billy Currington
  • "Fix a Drink" by Chris Janson
  • "If You’re Drinkin’" by Ryan Robinette
  • "One More Drinkin’ Song" by Jerrod Nieman

5. R&B/Neo-Soul/Hip Hop


  • "Didn’t Cha Know" by Erykah Badu
  • "Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)" by Four Tops
  • "All My People" by Kindred the Family Soul
  • "Love Again" by Daniel Caesar, Brandy
  • "Nakamarra" by Hiatus Kaiyote
  • "Cure" by Moonchild
  • "All Falls Down" by Kanye West, Syleena Johnson
  • "Another Life" by D’Angelo
  • "Apartment (feat. Benny Sings)" by Free Nationals, Benny Sings
  • "Can I Kick It?" by A Tribe Called Quest
  • "Getting Up" by Q-Tip

Let Us Help You

At Cloud Cover Music, we specialize in matching the right music with the right venue, at prices that are reasonable and easy to understand. We take care of all the legal issues, so you can focus on growing your bar or pub.

We are connected with hundreds of bars and pubs across the country, and we'd love to work with you. Contact us and let's get started.


What Every Bar and Restaurant Owner Should Know About Playing Music in Their Establishment. (March 2012). Texas Music Office.

BMI Reminds Ohio Bar: Cover Songs Don't Come for Free. (March 2014). Daily Beast.

Characteristics of Violent Bars and Bar Patrons. (January 2015). Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The Combined Effect of Color and Music on Customer Satisfaction in Hotel Bars. (November 2009). Journal of Hospitality Marketing and Management.

Sound Level of Environmental Music and Drinking Behavior: A Field Experiment with Beer Drinkers. (September 2008). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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