While bars endeavour to create atmosphere through lighting, service style and furnishings, music choice is an often overlooked component to the consumer experience, writes Haley Forest.
At a very base level the goal of a bar is to entice guests to stay for an extended period of time while buying a large amount of product in order to bring in revenue for the business.
While the industry has picked apart all the components needed to make bars better, guests ultimately go out for a complete experience, full of ambiance, atmosphere and an intrinsic feeling of enjoyment that comes with a great night out.
The mixture of elements that make a guest reach this state is complicated, but on some level, the brain has to enjoy being there beyond just the good drinks and service. Music is that connection.
There are very few things in life that universally affect humans such a way as music can. Through rhythm, harmony, tempo, lyrics, and more, the way we experience life becomes enhanced with an appropriate soundtrack.
While we witness this every day, it is something people tend to forget when thinking about a hospitality endeavour, such as a bar or restaurant. While the lights, colours, service style, concept and consumables are approached as vital ingredients to success, the thing that ties them all together – music – frequently ends up being an afterthought.
This small detail, however, is a vital component which deserves as much space in the planning process as what gin to have on your back bar or light fixtures to have above tables.
Music is rooted within our brain in a similar way as motivation and reward, and thus emotion. In order to make sense of what it’s hearing, the brain takes a bunch of disjointed information and structure and gives it personal meaning, often without you even being aware.
By recognising a pattern, our brain takes pleasure in predicting what it thinks is coming next, therefore we like music that our brains can make sense of. However when perceived structure becomes too regular or predictable, it no longer triggers the pleasure centres and becomes emotionally devoid. This can happen within hearing a song once or over repeated exposure.
While we all hear music, everyone experiences it just a little differently. Various factors affect our comprehension of noise. Age, for example, affects our hearing range, meaning there are notes and keys that some people literally can’t hear, which is why people within a certain age demographic cannot understand why those of a much younger set like a particular sound/song/genre. They’re missing half of it and the patterns their brains are trying to organise in order to make it pleasing, become broken.
Tempo – beats per minute (BPM) – is another huge factor in how we experience music. Humans move throughout life at a resonant frequency of about 2hz which works out to about 120bpm. Throughout most of the last century, almost all the most popular songs also had an average of 120bpm. Coincidence? Doubtful.
It’s a bit like Shakespeare and iambic pentameter: the rhythm of the syllables created when the characters were happy or at peace was that of a heartbeat sending a direct message to our brains that signaled pleasure and contentment.
Volume is an obvious component, but the why is still a bit unknown. The right levels can add ambiance and charisma, but how does it affect drinking? Studies show that loud music makes people take larger swallows, thus more in the same amount of time.
A clear reason as to the why isn’t entirely clear; some think that people focus more on drinking when it’s too loud to have conversations, while others go for chemical explanation – if the music is at a slightly faster BPM and at an elevated level, it raises the heart rate to a status of arousal which causes people to drink more. Either way, it’s something to certainly consider when adjusting volume.
A Closer Look
Jacob Briars, Global Advocacy Director at Bacardi, lead a seminar at Tales of the Cocktail 2016 about how music plays such a crucial role in the bar environment. Noting how many components are involved that are often overlooked, he partnered with Jillionaire (of DJ group Major Lazor), Nick Van Tiel (former Beefeater brand ambassador and DJ), and Vishal Vasan (bar owner and director) to have a frank discussion covering everything involved.
“Many bars are playing either the wrong music, or ‘any music’ for their guests,” Briars explained, “often playing the right music at the wrong time, playing it on equipment that isn’t set up for a bar environment, and in some instances, are breaking the law with the music they are playing and the services they are using to provide that music.”
By covering all these details in their 90-minute packed seminar, it has become very clear that most people are only just starting to realise how important and complicated music actually is.
The Personal Touch
Just as no one processes music in quite the same way, there is no One Size Fits All when it comes to the actual noise that is being projected through a venue’s speakers. There are some very important factors that come into play such as continuity of concept, day of the week, and time of day. A large part of this decision comes from who you want in your bar and what kind of music will make them want to stay.
Granted, if your concept is strong enough, you might be able to get away with anything, but the thing to remember is the human brain is trying to create pleasing patterns and unless it can hear/see/understand how it all works together, the brain will be dissatisfied, making the guest unhappy.
One thing you can control is the quality of the noise via the equipment used. The sound system and how it plays off the space itself are vital ingredients to how people actually hear the harmonious wallpaper you’re playing.
Deciding what kind of sound quality, and therefore speaker and type of audio (vinyl, CDs, mp3’s, streaming, etc), you want is only the first step. It is also crucial to look at the room itself.
Briars pointed out that it’s fighting an uphill battle sometimes: “Many bars are in repurposed spaces with hard surfaces, often below ground, so the spaces themselves are challenging.” The best way around this is to call in a sound engineer at the same time as you first get a designer to re-work the space. They will be able to advise how the music will work and effect your guests.
“Life without music, would be a mistake.”
With music being so much a part of our lives, it’s time the hospitality world starts actively paying attention and making conscious decisions. Thankfully, this process is starting between the tinkling of jazz at a prohibition style speakeasy to a group singalong at 3am, and everything in between, and luckily, these soundtracks are becoming available with a great drink in hand.
Posted in The Spirits Business – 30th August 2016