The term “background music” is often associated with the musical score of movies, television shows, and radio dramas, but it can also apply to the ambient music in restaurants, retail stores, public spaces, and office buildings.

Much of the psychological research into the effects of music shows that musical selection and sound volume can impact a customer’s choice to stay in your business longer, recommend the establishment to friends, and enjoy their purchases. As a business owner, not only do you need to understand how your background music impacts shoppers or diners, but you also need to know how to legally use the music you want to use.

The History and Psychology of Background Music

Most research into music and brain function shows that listening to some types of music can improve productivity, happiness, and creativity when it comes to work-related tasks.

Background music, especially without vocals or lyrics, can enhance focus and improve mood when dealing with repetitive or boring projects. However, additional research suggests that some music with lyrics may improve focus even more by relieving monotony.

A study published in 2015 found that participants had better facial recollection – a measure of memory – and that the group remembered new human faces better with emotionally touching background music or complete silence, but not with ambient sounds. It was hypothesized that music which aroused emotions helped tie the new faces into the participants’ memories. This suggests that, when you’re considering background music for your business, you want music that does not disturb your customers, but that can help them form a positive emotional attachment to your store or brand.

The concept that background music could benefit patrons’ emotional state was popularized by the Muzak company in the 1940s. While this company has long been associated with mellow and saccharine piped-in music, especially in elevators, the breakthrough of attaching music to a business was huge. Muzak became most notoriously associated with elevators because companies began using calming tunes to soothe people who were nervous about enclosed spaces or heights while they had to travel up elevators as skyscrapers became part of the urban landscape.

Corporations chose Muzak because the company pioneered the concept of pleasant music having a psychological impact. Around World War II, Muzak patented the concept of stimulus progression, an approach to music for employees that increased in tempo every 15 minutes to increase workers’ productivity.

This psychological experiment blossomed into a boon for retailers and restaurants. They began playing instrumental music to keep patrons in their stores longer, enjoying the atmosphere and potentially buying more.

A survey of consumers found that 61 percent reported music was important or very important in their lives. When they experienced music they enjoyed in businesses, 35 percent reported that they stayed in the store longer; 31 percent reported they would revisit the store; 21 percent reported they would recommend the business to others; and 14 percent reported they would buy more items.

Similarly, when a business played the wrong music, 44 percent of participants reported that they were negatively impacted to a large or very large extent.


Choosing the best background music for the customers you want is key to your business’s ambiance.

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Legal Concerns Regarding Background Music in Your Business

Since music is so important to the human experience, you want to provide your customers with music they will love, that is appropriate to your brand, and that is easy to access. Too many business owners have turned to their personal music options – currently, smartphones or tablets with a music streaming app – and found themselves the focus of lawsuits for copyright infringement. Streaming services like Spotify or Pandora manage individual music licenses for the songs they have available, so you as a subscriber or free user can legally listen to a radio station or make a playlist because it is for personal use. Music played in a retail or public space, which reaches dozens of people, is considered public performance of that piece.

Public performances require separate licenses, which are not covered by buying a CD, subscribing to a streaming player, or finding music on YouTube.

Performing rights organizations (PROs) manage copyright distribution for musicians, performers, and composers through issuing licenses to their catalogue. If you are interested in a certain song, musician, or composition for your business, you must contact the PRO that oversees that copyright. They can issue you a license for their music, which gives you a limited time to access their catalogue. Each PRO manages a different catalogue, with little to no overlap in artists.

The major PROs in the United States include:

  • Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
  • The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)
  • SESAC
  • Global Music Rights (GMR)

Since each of these organizations manages a different catalogue of songs, you may find that you need to purchase licenses from more than one of these groups to get all the music you want for your business. This can get expensive and cumbersome. Instead, you may consider working with a music streaming service that specializes in business licenses.

Finding the Perfect Background Music

At Cloud Cover Music, we have a range of music to fit any business.

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We can help you identify the right music for your store, and we have all the licensing issues covered. Contact us today and we’ll help you get started.