There’s an art and a science to choosing the right music for your restaurant — and Jeremy Abrams has mastered it. He’s the co-founder of Audiostiles, a music consulting company that creates customized playlists for restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and more. Here, Jeremy shares his top tips for creating a killer restaurant soundtrack and shares a new playlist exclusively for Open for Business.
Music sets the tone for your restaurant; it communicates who you are as a brand. It also makes people feel welcome and creates a warm environment where people are willing to stay for one extra drink or dessert. Ideally, music should be so good that if you want to notice it, you can — but it should never be so in-your-face that you can’t avoid it or tune it out. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Be aware of who your customers are and cater to them. Think about who your guests are and the overall experience you want to create for them, and not your own personal taste. If you’re a four-star restaurant in a quiet part of town, dance music might not be appropriate — even if you love it.
Music should be an extension of your brand and decor. If you have modern, cutting-edge décor, your music should be the same. If your look is traditional with muted tones, go in that direction with the music as well.
Mind the volume and tempo. Keep the tempo (the beats per minute in the song) consistent. Don’t move from mellow to fast and back to mellow abruptly or in sudden bursts. You may want to choose different tempos for different times of day, such as more mellow music earlier in the evening and upbeat songs when the room is full. Always be aware of the volume, too. When the room is empty the music will stand out a lot more, but when it’s full you can turn the volume up a little. Just remember that it should never compete with people’s conversations — keep it a notch lower than the voice level.
Don’t be afraid of vocals. People often tell me they need to have instrumental music only. But if you’re only using instrumentals they can start sounding like elevator music. As long as they’re not too squeaky, vocals can work well.
Avoid the obvious. Ella Fizgerald, Louie Armstrong, and Norah Jones are the standards — the go-to’s of the restaurant world. I think people should always look left of the mainstream artists, since everyone is playing them. Use iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, or LastFM to recommend a good artist that’s similar to the ones you like best. Some new artists I’d recommend are The Hot Sardines, Caro Emarald, Ben l’Oncle Soul, and Kat Edmenson.
When in doubt, choose jazz. That is, jazz, R&B, or Brazilian music, which are easy go-to genres: smooth, consistent, and low-key. If you really don’t know what to do, these will always work in a pinch.
Source all of your music from one place. Don’t mix files you’ve uploaded from CDs with ones you’ve bought on iTunes, because each track will have a different volume level. You’ll get the best results from one music format. Additionally, most music systems have tools that will equalize volume for consistency (like iTunes’ Sound Check).
Have fun with it! Don’t take music too seriously. You always want to be appropriate, but you can still have fun. Use B-sides of music you like, not just the hits. Or, try different and unexpected cover versions of well-known songs. You’ll give guests something familiar, but in a way they haven’t heard before, and they’ll take notice.
Here’s a recommended playlist for restaurants, with a mix of jazz, soul, and, lounge. (Be sure to use the specific versions of these songs, as some are special remixes.)
[As told to Olivia Terenzio.]
Now that 2015 is here, resolve to make this the best year yet for your restaurant business. Every day this month we’ll be featuring a new tip from restaurateurs, chefs, and other industry leaders to shape up your marketing, operations, hospitality, and more. Check back daily for expert advice and successful strategies to start your year off right, and see them all here.