Sound Business: Playing In-Store Music Without Paying the Piper


Playing music where customers can hear it provides three main benefits for stores. First, it can support your brand. You can choose a tone that’s peppy, moody, dramatic, or whatever works with your brand. If you have a consistent sound across multiple locations, the music you select creates a strong association with your store.

Music can make other noises, such as that created by other shoppers, working crew, or a small amount of noise coming from gamers in the game area. Don’t count on the background music to cover up a big Magic tournament.

Lastly, music reduces perceived wait time at the counter. While we collectively don’t lose many customers to wait time issues, even when we don’t, a long wait time does affect customer happiness and it can result in fewer visits, poor reviews, and other signs of a negative customer experience. Anything that reduces perceived wait time is almost as good as reducing the actual wait time. When both efforts work in tandem, customers have the best experience possible.

Background music can provide other benefits, but those are less critical and harder to measure. Studies say that the right music can encourage spending; those studies are less conclusive about which music is the right music and in which circumstances.

Music volume should be loud enough to hear when the store’s quiet but not so loud as to discourage talking and certainly not loud enough to make customers flee. Some people avoid loud noises, especially those with migraines or neurological conditions.

Licensing Your Tunes

Unless you own the rights to the music you play (which you might, if you are also a musician and create your own), music volume in the workplace can be loud enough for an employee to hear but not loud enough for customers. If customers can overhear it, you have to pay a licensing fee. I do not recommend connecting your personal playlist to a speaker and taking your chances. That’s one of those situations where the liability risk can greatly outweigh the cost savings.

You don’t need to hunt down every musician whose work happens to come up in rotation on a playlist. Instead, you sign up with a service provider for a monthly fee. Some licensing providers also allow you to play your own commercials in between music. You can encourage people to sign up for your events, highlight new products, solicit pre-orders, remind people about changes in hours for the holidays, or whatever message you want to share.  

Most of these services have larger plans with more features for a greater cost, and most of them have a free trial period (usually 30 days). Some services offer an app that allows customers to make requests, which I think is a very neat feature.

Provider                            Basic Monthly Fee

Rockbot                                  $25

SiriusXM for Business           $27

Mood Media                           $27

Pandora for Business              $27

Pandora                                   $35

Soundtrack Pro                       $39

The Free Option

If you don’t want to pay at all, you can research public domain music on your own, create a playlist using your own music management service and play it in the store. It’s free.