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 bar and restaurant owners that they aren't exempt from this rule even if they're playing music from a personal player like an iPhone. License fees paid when you purchase that music apply only to personal use, not music played publically. 

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 licensing for businesses. 

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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.

Variety Is Key

Just as every bar is different, so is the playlist at every bar. Music that seems perfectly aligned with one type of consumer might seem totally inappropriate for another. Since there are so many different types of bars, and different types of bar patrons, it's impossible to come up with a single list that's right for each environment. 

In addition, many bars rotate their music selections throughout the night. In an overview article published by Serious Eats, each bartender spoke of changing the songs depending on the mood in the room. They might play quieter, blues-type music early in the evening when the party is just getting started, and they might play dance classics late at night when patrons feel tipsy and nostalgic.

That's why having a wide variety of music 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

1. Dance

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1py9L0HxEVKvYuHm1HYRTO?si=cldaooh3SU-ANdfOETGtuQ

Song: 365

Artist(s): Zedd, Katy Perry

Song: Ain't My Fault

Artist(s): Zara Larsson

Song: All Good

Artist(s): Ciara

Song: Charisma (feat. Jamie Lidell)

Artist(s): Oliver, Jamie Lidell

Song: Clap Your Hands (feat. Ava Max)

Artist(s): Le Youth, Ava Max

Song: High and Low

Artist(s): Empire of the Sun

Song: Hotter Than Hell - Matoma Remix

Artist(s): Dua Lipa, Matoma

Song: I Need Your Love (feat. Ellie Goulding)

Artist(s): Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding

Song: I'd Do It Again

Artist(s): Gigamesh, Gavin Turek

Song: Jackie Chan

Artist(s): Tiësto, Dzeko, Preme, Post Malone

2. Aggressive

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3PwGUZsdlu3ac7TZCu1djL?si=2Mv-CNjsR4aGtJnPAnEDUw

Song: (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Mono Version

Artist(s): The Rolling Stones

Song: Any Way You Want It

Artist(s): Journey

Song: Are You Gonna Go My Way

Artist(s): Lenny Kravitz

Song: Baba O'Riley

Artist(s): The Who

Song: Ballroom Blitz

Artist(s): Sweet

Song: Born To Be Wild - Single Version

Artist(s): Steppenwolf

Song: Edge of Seventeen

Artist(s): Stevie Nicks

Song: Facing My Fear

Artist(s): Cortes

Song: Go

Artist(s): The Black Keys

Song: Ready To Let Go

Artist(s): Cage The Elephant

3. Relaxing

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3HVbM3pMMh8rIAXjSZoviD?si=imgrA7U-Trixsa0Q5PVW8g

Song: All Blues

Artist(s): Miles Davis

Song: So What

Artist(s): Miles Davis

Song: (Love Is) The Tender Trap

Artist(s): Frank Sinatra

Song: Beautiful Love (Take 1)

Artist(s): Bill Evans Trio

Song: Darn That Dream

Artist(s): George Shearing, The Montgomery Brothers

Song: (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons

Artist(s): Nat King Cole

Song: Pick Yourself Up

Artist(s): Gregory Porter

Song: Autumn In New York

Artist(s): Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong

Song: On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Artist(s): Billie Holiday

Song: Prelude To A Kiss

Artist(s): Sarah Vaughan

4. Country

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/50HykbYBfGIAmA9FxceHho

Song: Drinking Class

Artist(s): Lee Brice

Song: Buy My Own Drinks

Artist(s): Runaway June

Song: Drink All Day

Artist(s): Jake Owen

Song: Drink in My Hand

Artist(s): Eric Church

Song: Drink Myself Single

Artist(s): Sunny Sweeney 

Song: Drinkin’ and Dialin’

Artist(s): Darius Rucker

Song: Drinkin’ Town With a Football Problem

Artist(s): Billy Currington

Song: Fix a Drink

Artist(s): Chris Janson

Song: If You’re Drinkin’

Artist(s): Ryan Robinette

Song: One More Drinkin’ Song

Artist(s): Jerrod Niemann

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

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4pkJLEhEKcKzWutOjz1GcY 

Song: Didn’t Cha Know

Artist(s): Erykah Badu

Song: Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)

Artist(s): Four Tops

Song: All My People

Artist(s): Kindred the Family Soul

Song: Love Again

Artist(s): Daniel Caesar, Brandy

Song: Nakamarra

Artist(s): Hiatus Kaiyote

Song: Cure

Artist(s): Moonchild

Song: All Falls Down

Artist(s): Kanye West, Syleena Johnson

Song: Another Life

Artist(s): D’Angelo

Song: Apartment (feat. Benny Sings)

Artist(s): Free Nationals, Benny Sings

Song: Can I Kick It?

Artist(s): A Tribe Called Quest

Song: Getting Up

Artist(s): 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. 

Play legal music in your business. Cloud Cover Music offers a wide variety of clean, ad free music with an easy to use interface.

References

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. 

Ask a Bartender: What's Your Friday Night Playlist? Serious Eats.