How to Choose Music for Your Café (+ Playlists)

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It's hard to be a café owner in the United States. The competition is fierce. In 2015, there were some 31,000 businesses just like yours in operation, according to Statista, and more are opening up all the time.

How can you make your café stand out from the crowd? Choosing the right music can help. The playlist you create can entice consumers to stay in your café, and that in-store music could even keep them coming back for more.

Why Play Music in a Café?

A traditional café is a noisy place. Coffee machines puff and whirl as they produce the drinks your visitors crave. Consumers holler their orders, and they hold loud conversations with the people around them. Add in street noise, and you have the recipe for a very loud room.

Music can soften that noise, giving diners something to focus on instead of the chaos happening around them. Music can also enhance their dining experience.

In a study published in the journal Appetite, researchers found that playing music tends to make people eat and drink more, and meal times tend to expand when there is music available. That result remained the same regardless of the speed or volume of the music.

Studies like this suggest that music is just a pleasant addition to a meal, and tunes encourage people to linger around the table and enjoy their food. That makes it a good addition to a café experience.

The impact of music can also be subtle. For example, in a study in the Journal of Foodservice Business Research, scientists played different types of music during six two-hour lunch periods, and they collected 858 responses from diners. They found that playing music people might consider "ethnic" made the diners choose more ethnic types of food. The sounds they heard triggered their taste buds, and they reacted accordingly.

Finding music and playlists that match your menu could help your consumers to understand just what you're trying to do with your food choices. That connection between the sounds they hear and the food they eat could make the dining experience a little more pleasurable too.

What Should Café Music Do?

Given the research, it's vital that café music makes people think about eating a light snack and consuming a beverage. These are the types of activities people do while in a café, and the music should prompt them to complete those activities.

When asked by Fast Company how he chooses music to play within Starbucks stores all across the country, an expert said he tries to think about the music he might like to hear if he was sitting at home, reading the paper, and drinking coffee. The music he would naturally gravitate toward is the music he selects at work.

While some people come to cafés to read the paper and talk with friends, there's an entirely different audience that might appreciate different music. In an article published by Inc., reporters suggest that about 43 percent of American workers will be part of the so-called "gig economy" by 2020, and many of these workers prefer to work from cafés. They might require music that melds well with their work.

Given the research, it's vital that café music makes people think about eating a light snack and consuming a beverage.

What Does a Good Café Playlist Sound Like?

Your café is unique. The foods you serve, the location of your shop, and the décor you have inside your space makes it different than the café across town. Your playlist should reflect that unique nature, and that means it might not be like the playlist your competitors use. In general, there are some types of music that are typically available in cafés. Beginning with a list that is tried and true could help you to introduce your shop to new customers without jolting them with something new.

Your playlist might be based on:

  • Singer-songwriters, including Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat, and Jack Johnson.
  • Jazz artists, such as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and George Benson.
  • Independent artists, such as Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and Arctic Monkeys.
  • Soul musicians, such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Al Green.

You might play the same types of songs all day long in your café, giving your consumers a consistent experience whenever they visit you. Or you could mix up the playlist based on time of day, offering peppy music in the morning and slower tunes at night, for example.

You could also consider adding holiday music to your playlist when the year begins to come to a close. If your café sells themed holiday drinks, such as coffees spiked with peppermint, this could be another way to connect the music you play with the experience you deliver. That's bound to please your customers.

Getting Started With Music

Music licensing in the United States is complicated and decentralized. It's not easy to simply contact one organization and feel protected. Artists may work with different agencies, and playing music you don't have permission to play could get you fined.

Playing music in a café isn't as easy as choosing your songs and turning up the volume. You must have a license to play music within your café, and if you don't, you could be fined.

Instead, you should work with a reputable company like Cloud Cover Music.

We have connections with the major licensing companies, so we can offer you lower prices. And we have a wide catalogue of songs to choose from, so you'll have the right kind of music to play in your café. Contact us to find out more.


1. Coffee Shop Indie:

Song: All We Ever Knew

Artist(s): The Head and the Heart

Song: Baby Blu

Artist(s): Nilüfer Yanya

Song: Bags

Artist(s): Clairo

Song: Dark Days

Artist(s): Local Natives

Song: Diamonds

Artist(s): The Boxer Rebellion

Song: Don't Save Me

Artist(s): HAIM

Song: Earthbound

Artist(s): The Accidentals

Song: Friends

Artist(s): Los Retros

Song: Heavy, California

Artist(s): Jungle

Song: Give A Little

Artist(s): Maggie Rogers

Song: Mr. Lee

Artist(s): Hovvdy

2. Coffee Shop Singer-Songwriter:

Song: Body

Artist(s): Julia Jacklin

Song: Cool God

Artist(s): Jack Symes

Song: Good Enough

Artist(s): Georgia Greene

Song: Happy Pills

Artist(s): Norah Jones

Song: Leonard

Artist(s): Sharon Van Etten

Song: Love You True

Artist(s): Lydia Luce

Song: Quite Like You

Artist(s): Andy Shauf

Song: Son of Sam

Artist(s): Elliott Smith

Song: The Barrel

Artist(s): Aldous Harding

Song: Big Jet Plane

Artist(s): Angus & Julia Stone

3. Coffeehouse Neo-Soul:

Song: The Truth

Artist(s): Moonchild

Song: Insane - Edit

Artist(s): Madison McFerrin

Song: Green & Gold

Artist(s): Lianne La Havas

Song: Alright

Artist(s): Ledisi

Song: Often

Artist(s): Abhi//Dijon

Song: So Far To Go

Artist(s): Common, D'Angelo

Song: Last Breath

Artist(s): Elaquent, Iman Omari

Song: Apartment

Artist(s): Free Nationals, Benny Sings

Song: Reflex

Artist(s): Nick Dorian

Song: The One For Me

Artist(s): Rahsaan Patterson

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