When we think of music at the office, we often think of headphones. Personal music players are absolutely everywhere, including in the phones we carry and the computers we work on. All we need to do is plug in a pair of headphones, and we're ready to face the workday.

But headphones come with major drawbacks. Workers encased in their own bubbles of sound aren't open to collaboration with their colleagues, and the music they listen to could damage hearing.

The World Health Organization is so worried about damage from personal players that they're recommending only an hour of personal music time for young people. Adults who stay plugged in all day long could be doing intense damage, and they may not be aware of it.

To foster collaboration, and to protect the health of workers, some leaders are turning to office music, played over loudspeakers for all to hear. Could this be right for your office, and what should you know before you get started? We’ll lay it all out here.

Why Play Music at Work?

Music can make a long workday go by a little faster, and for some workers, tunes are more than just pleasant. The music they listen to helps them to overcome a chemical deficiency.

A researcher quoted by CNN suggests that people with the adult form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle to focus on workplace tasks due to a deficiency of the brain chemical dopamine. Hearing music prompts the brain to make more dopamine, essentially correcting this deficiency. For someone who cannot focus during the day, music could mean the difference between getting something done or pushing the deadline out by yet another day.

In addition, research suggests that an office playlist that includes tunes that are both familiar and happy can increase cooperation between employees.

Read more on music psychology

In this study, explained in detail in an article published by Fast Company, researchers created a playlist that included familiar songs such as "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison and "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles. When those songs were playing, employees were better able to make group decisions compared to moments when the music wasn't playing.

Music can also help you define your company's culture. If you'd like your employees to think of your work as somber and serious, music with that description could set the tone for new employees and your occasional visitors. If, on the other hand, your work should be considered hip and trendy, a playlist dominated by hip hop or current hits could help you get that message across.

Lyrics or No Lyrics?

Choosing the right songs for the office requires quite a bit of art, and the music that is right for one office may be completely wrong for another. That's why there is no set "office music playlist" that's perfect for every office. You'll need to think about your office dynamics carefully as you make your selections.

One of the first questions to consider involves lyrics. If your staff is required to perform very detail-oriented work, it's possible that lyrics could hinder that work.

In a study published by IOS Press, researchers examined performance in 102 participants, and they found that music with lyrics had a significant impact on concentration and attention. The workers spent time decoding the lyrics rather than paying attention to their work, and that had a drag on their performance.

Music with lyrics could also become an issue for human resources, says Undercover Recruiter. Some genres, including hip hop, have lyrics that some might consider offensive or risky, and that means picking a service that screens and filters the lyrics (like Cloud Cover Music) to make sure they're safe for all listeners.

But music that comes with no lyrics could be considered too boring or too vanilla to some listeners, and they might be tempted to sneak in their own headphones in order to listen to music they actually enjoy.


Music with lyrics could also become an issue for human resources, says Undercover Recruiter.

Fast or Slow?

Music also comes in a variety of tempos, and you'll need to decide what's right for your office. If you'd like your employees to work a little quicker, fast music might help.

In a study published by Ohio State University, researchers found that faster music made employees walk a little quicker than music that was slower. Results like this seem to suggest that workers who do manual work might appreciate a quicker playlist, so they can get more done in less time.

But music like this can come across as stressful to others. To them, a slower pace of music might seem soothing, so they can deal with the difficulties of work without feeling pressed to do even more.

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Making the Right Choice

Research from the journal Musicae Scientiae suggests that employees listen to music for about a third of their workweeks, and most listen to a wide variety of music. Chances are, your employees could tell you about their favorite work music. They might even be willing to share playlists with you.

Open up a conversation with your staff about:

  • Artists
  • Songs
  • Volume
  • Location of speakers
  • Times the music would play

Dig through the suggestions you've been given, and think about how that music might work when it's playing throughout the office. When you've settled on a theme, share that with your employees.

Let them be part of the decisions you make and help them to feel empowered about the options you're considering. If you are using a music service, like Cloud Cover Music, you can collaborate with musicologists and staff members to get the initial mix you are looking for. After you launch your office play program, keep those lines of communication open, so they can give you feedback and you can adjust.

You might be surprised to find that your workers love your music program. They may even ask for notes about your playlist, so they can play the same tunes at home or in the car.

Don't Forget the Legalities

Organizations like ASCAP license music for use in public spaces, including offices. But there are many different organizations that handle licensing agreements, and there is the possibility that connecting with just one could leave you unprotected. For example, your license may cover the songwriter, but not the singer.

Very small businesses can take advantage of some exemptions. For example, Saper Law suggests that offices that use a radio, similar to one in the home, could avoid paying fees if they use reasonable amplification.

But authorities from ASCAP and other licensing authorities can levy fines if they think organizations aren't in compliance. And that means trying to work around an existing law isn't always safe. A fine could hit your bottom line hard.

Working with a group like Cloud Cover Music is different. We negotiate licenses with all of the smaller organizations, so you don't have to worry about overlapping coverage.

We negotiate fees, so you spend less too. And we offer a wide variety of different types of music, so we're certain to have something that will keep your workers happy.

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