Doesn't anyone have any thoughts about background music in a coffeeshop? I had light music in my last coffeehouse, but as a consumer I'm not a fan of music as it interrupts my conversations and/or concentration (when reading, etc.). Should my new coffeehouse have background music? If you have an opinion, let me know.

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heck yeah!
Every single restaurant and cafe I've worked in in the past has had music. Personally I can find it kinda off putting to be in a cafe that is oddly quiet. I feel that music can afford a feeling of personal space, and feel people are more welcome to have somewhat sensitive conversations if they don;t think it is evident to everyone in the cafe. Personally I can find it distracting to concentrate in a quiet room, so aparrently do many of our customers as they react with a "what happened to the music". It creates a more upbeat environment and Employees react by being more productive and welcoming to the guests.

those are just my two cents.

YES!!!! You have got to have some music. If you don't, people begin to feel very uncomfortable. They don't want to be heard swallowing and chewing, sipping and eating. Music relaxes people. This doesn't mean that you should have blaring conversation interrupting music. Light music is great.

Another really cool thing that you can do with music is tie it to your unique coffee shop community. Play bands that have played at your shop or are local. Have a black board or wall space that highlights the local music that you are featuring. This makes people feel like they have a home. They feel like they are in THEIR place. Plus, in some cases you can avoid paying to play this music. If you have the artist's permission, no payment necessary.

When I walk into a shop with no music I get goose bumps. Please play music.
Yes to unobtrusive music. It is part of the atmosphere. I think many people that go to a coffeeshop to converse, read, or study are looking for a certain amount of subdued background noise. I know I always have. If they were looking for quiet, they'd go to the library.

That said, you should also pay very close attention to your acoustics in general. Too many owners miss this detail. It'll be a lot easier to balance that music level if you use acoustical treatment to "soften the edges" and create a comfortable space. Try to observe how well the acoustical treatments work in places you visit, and notice when you find one that achieves a good "vibe". This will give you something to shoot for.

Good luck.
Definitely have music. Without music you won't have silence, you'll have the incessant hum of refrigeration units, people feeling self-conscious about coughing, chairs squeaking, etc. It will actually make conversation difficult because people will be more concerned about being overheard.

Besides, music is another opportunity to put your stamp on your coffeehouse experience. We've put a lot of care into selecting songs for our iPod, and I believe it's paid off since I've had people tell me that one of the reasons they come to us is because they like the music. I've received compliments on it from elderly retired judges, art school punks, and everyone in between. Here's what works for us:

1. Avoid music that's overplayed, no Beatles, no Police, no Eagles, etc. Covers of this type of thing work very well. There's nothing wrong with this music, but it's played so frequently that it subconsciously makes your coffeehouse 'feel' ordinary. For example, instead of playing Ray Charles, play the people that used to tour with Ray Charles, like Sticks McGhee, Laverne Baker, etc.
2. Avoid music with strong dynamics, songs that begin softly with acoustic guitars and then erupt are very disruptive. Songs that are too loud (we used to play some Clash, but we've mostly eliminated it), or too quiet (most of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska).
3. Avoid live recordings. All that applause is disruptive.
4. Avoid music that pins you down. I remember a coffeehouse in Chicago that played mostly punk rock, while that didn't bother me, it did bother my then-girlfriend (now wife) and we never went there. It's now out of business. All country music, all hip-hop, all classical, etc. each of these will pin you down as a place for a distinct crowd and will make some people feel not as welcome.
5. Do play music that's good, but that doesn't have demographic associations. Pretty much everyone feels the same way about early blues (Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, the Mississippi Sheiks, etc.), early jazz (Sidney Bechet, Django Rheinhardt, etc.), Neo-Americana (the Be Good Tanyas, Old Crow, Jolie Holland, Madeleine Peyroux, Neko Case, etc.), old country (the Carter Family, Hank Williams, etc.), low-key indie rock (Iron & Wine, the National, Feist, Sufjan Stevens, etc.), various world musics, non-canonical songs by well known artists, etc. There's a lot of high quality music that most people just haven't heard much.
6. Add new music regularly. I hear most of the new music I buy on NPR. I subscribe to the All Songs Considered & NPR Music Podcasts, which are both wonderful.
7. Play local music. Joe's right about this. It's a cool feeling when you're talking to a local musician and one of their songs comes on. I usually buy (or am given) cds by local musicians and I like to have them on the playlist.
8. Play a variety and keep it on shuffle. If a customer hates something, they know that it will be gone in 2-4 minutes and the next song will be completely different. It might go from the Meters to Enrico Caruso to Charles Mingus to Gillian Welch - and that's perfect.

I've considered using XM like many do, but I think having this kind of control over the music is worth paying the various licensing fees to ASCAP and BMI.
Thanks for all of the thought and time you put into writing this response. It's good to get quality feedback from people on here. Cheers. - John
Me likey music in the background. I feel it's an important part of the whole experience, and the right music covers the place like paint on the walls. It sets the tone for the whole place, and your baristas will use it as gasoline throughout the day. What you play will be based on what you like, what your perceived customer base will be, what is common in your area, what kind of place you have, and other factors. But definitely have it.
No problem John, it's really nice to be able to share and exchange ideas here. I've already learned a lot hanging around here.
Yes it should.

Upbeat/driving will correlate to people staying for shorter periods of time and will subconsciously make your customers feel rushed.

Slower music and traditional "coffee house" music lead to a slower paced environment.

Check out for background music. Coffee Bar's station is here
If you have a reliable internet feed check out VIP membership for commercial use. The membership covers the cost of the legal fees to the 'music mafia' BMI.... and is commercial free. They have hundreds of genres and channels and one membership covers access to all.
Because it is radio it may fall under the similar regulations as playing a radio in your establishment so check your local codes on how many speaker, etc that you can have.
I've owned and operated places that had music and didn't have music. I prefer not having music.

Really, I think a lot of the push towards music comes from staff. Music is a distraction and I want the staff to focus on what's important: customers and quality. If they're too busy trying to figure out playlists then they're wasting time. Further, most playlists are designed to please the staff and not the customer or enhance the environment.

Both choices have their places and you need to determine what kind of environment you want to provide. If you choose to go with music, think about it critically and carefully. Be very critical about the music played and develop your own playlists that are not open to "interpretation." This is about fostering whatever environment you want to provide, not about having music for staff to dance to instead of focusing on their work.
Ah, that's why I (the owner) compile the playlist at home, stick it on the iPod, and then instruct people to turn it on in the morning and then turn it off at closing. It just plays on shuffle all day long, and only pre-selected, coffeehouse appropriate music (criteria above). We used to have a 200 CD disk changer and when a CD finished then the employees would have to select a new one. Occasionally they'd stick their own CDs in, despite it being against our policy. You're right, that was a disaster; we were very happy to move to the iPod approach.
I agree about it being for the customer and atmosphere... I guess I should have clarified that too. Live 365 has a lot of different genres and options including several that will meet our unique needs for Celtic music (without jigs and reels or a lot of bagpipe music). I can't wait to play the celtic Christmas music in season it is so perfect for us!
Some music just doesn't do well at the volume level for background music. Often times the fiddles and bagpipes just come across as irritating if they are played too low and invasive and distracting if played too loud. We will have the option of changing channels if needed. Our controls will me in my office and the employees won't have access. It will be our only shop so I will be there daily.
I hate going into a coffee house or other shop where it's obvious that the music isn't for the customers.

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