A survey conducted on the importance of music in people’s daily life found that music was more important than movies, television, radio, newspapers, and even literature. In fact, music was third in importance only after the internet and mobile phones. About 61 percent of respondents reported that music was important or very important in their lives; only 10 percent reported that music was unimportant or very unimportant.
People experience many emotions, positive and negative, depending on what music is being played, at what time of day, and in what sorts of architectural spaces. To be their most effective, businesses of all kinds must understand the importance of music to their customers as well as to their brand identity.
Of course, poor choices in music, poor music-playing quality, or volume problems could cause customers to think poorly of the business or leave the establishment. However, 32 to 41 percent of survey respondents said they would react negatively or very negatively to silence.
Despite these surveys on customer opinion, with scientific studies to back them up, too many business owners do not fully understand the importance of music for them. In fact, 24 percent reported that they did not understand how music impacted their customers’ moods and decisions.
Why Music Is Important
A 2013 psychology study reported that participants listened to music for specific reasons, like regulating their mood and arousal, achieving self-awareness, and expressing social relatedness. However, most people in the study reported that the first and second reasons – much more individual focuses for music – were more compelling to them than the third. This means that many people use music to make themselves feel better, escape from stress, calm down, get excited, or pass the time. Still, social cohesion can be an important component of how music is used in businesses. All of these entwine to help you understand how your brand is viewed by the customers you want.
"When music fits the space, and customers appreciate the music choices, nearly 4 out of 10 people stay longer in those businesses or public spaces, which is about 35 percent. About 31 percent return to that place; 21 percent recommend the business to others; and 14 percent report that they would buy more."
In contrast, the wrong music, at the wrong volume, can make customers leave. About 44 percent of surveyed customers reported that music in a business, to a large or very large extent, could make them leave; 19 percent reported no impact on their choice to stay. About 38 percent reported the wrong music or volume could make them not come back to the establishment, and 36 percent reported that they would buy less. About 25 percent reported that they would not recommend the business to other people. When they did leave a business, 52 percent said the music was so loud that it prevented conversation, and 44 percent reported that the music was noisy or irritating.
Musical choices also have a deep impact on employees’ well-being at work. When surveyed, 66 percent of employees reported that the music in their workplace affected them positively or very positively; 4 percent reported that they felt negative or very negative feelings from workplace music; and 7 percent did not know.
Music makes employees more productive, especially younger employees; 26 percent of workers ages 16 to 64 reported that music made them more productive, but 49 percent of 16 to 24 year olds reported that music made them more productive at work. Generally, 43 percent of workers reported that music made their working environment more relaxed.
Types of Businesses With Background Music
To start understanding the place music can have in your business, learn more about how different people are affected in different spaces. Some obvious notes on the psychology of music show that loud music can hurt customers’ ears and make conversation difficult. Volume could be higher in a shopping mall than in a small restaurant because consumers expect different experiences. Low pitches tend to be associated with serious emotions, including sadness, while higher pitches tend to be associated with happiness and humor. These norms can be helpful when considering the type of music that may be appropriate for your business.
Business models that benefit from background music include:
- Retail and shopping. About 82 percent of consumers reported it was important for music in shops or retail establishments to have the right volume; 36 percent reported that it was important for the musical choices to match the profile or branding of the shop; 28 percent said it was important for the chosen music to represent their personal tastes; and 17 percent stated that it was important for the music to be popular or recognizable. A 2000 survey on music studies involving the movement speed of shoppers found that faster-paced music correlated to less time spent in the store, and slower tempo music meant that customers spent more time in the store.
Familiarity with music appeared to influence shoppers differently than expected in one study. Researchers gave shoppers no time limit, but when they played familiar or popular music, shoppers spent 8 percent less time shopping compared to listening to unfamiliar music. The research team determined this may have to do with the level of mental arousal from familiar songs, which shoppers may pay more attention to, leading them to experience time moving at a slower pace. In comparison, shoppers listening to unfamiliar background music tended to pay less attention and shop more slowly.
- Restaurants and cafes. Although survey results were similar between retail and restaurants or cafes, consumer opinions about music in spaces where they might eat or enjoy a beverage were slightly different: 87 percent reported that the volume of the music was key; 45 percent reported that it was important for the music to match the brand or style of the restaurant; 20 percent reported that they wanted the restaurant’s musical choices to reflect their personal taste; and 10 percent reported that they wanted to recognize musical choices from the radio or streaming services.
- Gyms: The tempo of music literally sets the pace for customers moving through any space, so of course, gyms want to encourage their members to feel like they’ve had a good workout. This will lead members to think positively about that gym and want to return. A 2011 study reported that, when listening to music, people were better able to perform demanding tasks because they had lower inattentional blindness (IB) to unexpected events or stimuli because music helped reduce task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs). By playing music with a strong beat and faster pace, gyms can encourage people who are working out to move faster and with more intention.
Types of Music Licensing for Businesses
- The copyright for the song, which is the melody and the lyrics
- The sound recording copyright, which is the recorded version of the song on CDs or streaming services
About 40 percent of survey respondents stated that they would dislike a business if they found out that music was not paid for so the artists could benefit. This requires an understanding of music licensing, especially now that streaming services are so popular and easily available. It is crucial to understand how music licensing for business works, so you can make the best decisions for your customers while respecting laws and regulations.
It may seem like playing music, whether from a CD or streaming service, should be considered prerecorded music. You’ve already paid for the service, device, or disc so you can have the music available, why would you need a special license? This has to do with copyright laws, which consider playing music to be a public performance of that work that requires special consideration for the artists and copyright holders.
Business owners must purchase music from performing rights organizations (PROs). Each PRO controls the rights to different catalogues of songs. PROs define public performance as “music performed in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered.” Each PRO has an online presence, so it is easy to find them, learn about their catalogue, and purchase blanket licenses for your business.
The biggest of these organizations are:
- Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). This organization was founded in 1939 to represent the financial and legal rights of songwriters and performers in new genres like jazz, blues, and country. BMI is the largest music rights organization in the United States, operating as a nonprofit organization. They represent close to 13 million musical works, owned by over 800,000 songwriters, composers, and publishers.
- American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). This is a membership organization, representing 670,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers. The organization licenses over 11.5 million songs and musical scores to businesses of all sizes. The money gathered from licensing payments go to members as royalties for their music.
- SESAC: This organization was originally founded as the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, although SESAC stopped using the full name in 1940. It is the second-oldest PRO in the U.S., founded in 1930. There are now 400,000 compositions in SESAC’s catalogue, and the organization represents 30,000 songwriters and musicians.
- Global Music Rights (GMR): This is relatively new organization, established in 2013. Since the organization is newer, they focus on alternative and innovative solutions for modern technology, compared to traditional PROs and their licensing practices. They predominantly sell blanket music licenses for business owners, who can then play the GMR catalogue for the duration of the license.
There are some exceptions to these licensing rules for small businesses, such as those enumerated in Section 110(5) of the Copyright Act. Everyone wants their business to grow, so understanding music licensing early can only benefit you, your customers, and your employees later.
What if You Can’t Afford a License From a Major PRO?
When you’re just starting a business or your business is still small, you may not be able to pay the licensing fees for these organizations. Many businesses have played CDs or streamed playlists illegally and faced huge fines for violating copyright law.
- Play a radio station that has a blanket licensing deal.
- Play classical music since anything written prior to 1922 is public domain.
- Play copyright-free music, which can be found online.
- Play original music from local musicians who may give you permission.
- Sell recorded music since licensing with music stores is very different.
However, none of these are ideal solutions. You cannot tailor a radio station to your establishment, classical music may not suit your customers’ demographic, and finding copyright-free music or acquiring original music can take a lot of time. Many small businesses need sound systems that are portable, durable, and easy to hide, with great sound quality, making Bluetooth, internet-based, and streaming technologies much more compelling.
Licensing Music for a Modern Business
As a business owner, your music choices can impact the mental wellness, shopping choices, and positive feelings of your customers and employees. It is important to appropriately license music and choose the best hardware solutions for audio quality, and to remember that music creates part of the whole experience in your business. This means it is important to understand what music choices reflect your brand identity, your type of business, and positivity in general.
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- Uncovering a Musical Myth: A Survey on Music’s Impact in Public Spaces. (2011) Heartbeats International.
- The Psychological Functions of Music Listening. (August 13, 2013). Frontiers in Psychology.
- Music and the Shopper. (December 3, 2014). Psychology Today.
- Music Licensing: The Difference Between Public Performance and Synchronization Licenses. (May 16, 2017). Copyright Clearance Center.
- The Effects of Music in a Retail Setting on Real and Perceived Shopping Times. (2000). Journal of Business Research. Elsevier Science, Inc.
- The Subliminal Influence of Ambient Music on Shoppers. Psychologist World.
- Attending to Music Decreases Inattentional Blindness. (December 2011). Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 20, Issue 4.
- About, What We Do. BMI.
- We Create Music. ASCAP.
- Welcome to SESAC. SESAC.
- About Us. Global Music Rights.com
- You Might Need a License to Play Music in Your Small Business. (September 16, 2011). NFIB.
- Background Music in the Restaurant – The Legal Issues. (September 28, 2017). Total Food Service.
- Playing Music in Your Store: How to Avoid Paying for It! (2018). Nolo.