The Ultimate Guide to Music for Businesses

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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 said it 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 and their brand identity.

Of course, poor choices in music and background 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 were more compelling to them than the third.

Many people use music to make themselves feel better, escape 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 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 company to others, and 14 percent report that they would buy more.

In contrast, the wrong music at the wrong volume in a commercial business can make customers leave. About 44 percent of surveyed customers reported that in-store music, to a large or very large extent, could make them go; 19 percent said it had no impact on their choice to stay.

About 38 percent reported that the wrong music or volume could make them not return to the establishment, and 36 percent said they would buy less. About 25 percent said they would not recommend the business to others.

When they did leave a company, 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 background music in their work affected them positively or very positively, 4 percent said 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 people 16 to 24 years old said 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 other 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.

These are a few business types that benefit from background music:

  • Education: Light background music not only entertains students, but it could help them to focus and build core communication skills. Music can also help to foster a sense of community between students of diverse backgrounds.
  • Financial services: Banks, credit unions, and insurance agencies use music to enhance customer service, build loyalty, and make wait times pleasant.
  • Health and wellness: Gyms, fitness studios, salons, spas, and other wellness spaces truly need music. Tunes can encourage people to warm up in workouts and cool down in spas. And the playlist you create could help you stand out from your competitors.
  • Hotels and casinos: Leisure lovers everywhere appreciate music. The right playlist piped through hotel or casino speakers could entice people to enjoy their stay and recommend your facility to others.
  • Medical and dental: Few people want to visit a doctor or dentist. But your playlist could entice them to tolerate a wait and speak kindly to your staff. Music could also come with health benefits too.
  • Office and real estate: Use music to make your employees more productive, your real estate buyers more excited, and your visitors more pliant. Set your playlist by zone, so you're always sharing the right mix with your workers.
  • Restaurants: Don't make your customers dine in silence. Use music to enhance the flavor of every meal. Choose the tempo to manage crowd size, and ensure people always want to come back for more.
  • Retail: Looking for a way to make your shoppers spend more and return frequently? Try music. Custom playlists make your shop stand out from the crowd.

Types of Music Licensing for Businesses

There are two basic types of music licensing:

  1. The copyright for the song, which is the melody and the lyrics
  2. The sound recording copyright, which is the recorded version of the song on CDs or streaming services

About 40 percent of survey respondents said 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.

Understanding how music licensing for business works is crucial, 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 that you can have the music available. Why would you need a special license?

This has to do with copyright laws, which consider playing music a public performance of that work that requires special consideration for the artists and copyright holders.

Business owners must purchase a license to play music from performing rights organizations (PROs). Each PRO controls the rights to different catalogs 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 catalog, and purchase blanket licenses for your business.

These are the biggest of these organizations:

  • 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 nearly 13 million musical works owned by over 800,000 songwriters, composers, and publishers.
  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP): This membership organization represents 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 goes 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 catalog, and the organization represents 30,000 songwriters and musicians.
  • Global Music Rights (GMR): This is a 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 catalog 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 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 companies have played CDs or streamed playlists illegally and faced huge fines for violating copyright law.

You can bypass licensing organizations in legal ways, such as these:

  • Play a radio station that has a blanket licensing deal
  • Play classical music since anything written before 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 of your customers and employees. It can also influence your customers’ shopping choices.

You must appropriately license music and choose the best hardware solutions for audio quality. Remember that music creates part of the whole experience in your business. This means it is important to understand which music choices reflect your brand identity, business type, and general positivity.


Uncovering a Musical Myth: A Survey on Music's Impact in Public Spaces. (2011) Heartbeats International.

The Psychological Functions of Music Listening. (August 2013). Frontiers in Psychology.

Music and the Shopper. (December 2014). Psychology Today.

Music Licensing: The Difference Between Public Performance and Synchronization Licenses. (May 2017). Copyright Clearance Center.

About, What We Do. BMI.

We Create Music. ASCAP.

Welcome to SESAC. SESAC.

About Us. Global Music

You Might Need a License to Play Music in Your Small Business. (September 2011). NFIB.

Background Music in the Restaurant – The Legal Issues. (September 2017). Total Food Service.

Playing Music in Your Store: How to Avoid Paying for It! (2018). Nolo.

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