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The Best Background Music for Coffee Shops

The Best Background Music for Coffee Shops

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May 10, 2024

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Move your customers in the right way. Find out what type of music sets the right tone in your cafes, elevates mood, and matches your brand.

Music isn’t just an entertainment tool - it has the power to make us behave and feel a certain way. We’re lucky to work with some amazing coffee shop brands who care deeply about constantly improving and developing. Whether you’re looking to increase customer spend, influence dwell-time, or boost employee productivity, perfecting your music can drive your objectives and make your cafe environments sing. 

We’re here with the lowdown on why music in coffee shops is so important, and how to get it right. 

Contents:

  1. Why do most coffee shops have background music?
  2. How should I choose the music for my cafe?
  3. Do I need a music license for my coffee shop? How much is it?
  4. Can I play Spotify in my cafe?
  5. What kind of music is best for my coffee shop?
  6. How can technology help me with the music in my cafe?
  7. BEAR - Case Study

Why do most coffee shops have background music?

Imagine if you walked into a coffee shop and it was dead silent. You’re not there to listen to coffee machines whirring, or customers slurping and chatting, are you? It would not be very enjoyable. 

Music is a key strategic tool aimed at improving the cafe experience, influencing consumer behaviour and contributing to the overall branding and atmosphere of the venue.

  1. Ambience and atmosphere: Background music helps create a specific ambience that complements the overall feel of the coffee shop. The right music can set a mood that is conducive to relaxation, conversation or focused work. 
  2. Customer experience: This is what it’s all about, right? Music can enhance the overall customer experience. It can also help distract them from potentially less enjoyable aspects of the visit, like waiting in line for their order. 
  3. Masking noise: Coffee shops can be noisy environments with the sounds of grinding coffee, milk steaming, and conversations. Background music can help mask these less pleasant noises and create a more pleasant auditory experience. 
  4. Branding and image: The choice of music can also contribute to the coffee shop’s brand image. We’ll go into this in a bit more detail below, but picking the right music for your demographic and tone can help convey the right message and leave a lasting impression. 
  5. Enhancing productivity: Certain types of music, like instrumental or ambient tracks can aid in concentration and productivity. Many people choose to study or work in coffee shops, so making sure the music is appropriate for this is important (find out the best music for productivity here). 
  6. Encouraging longer stays: Pleasant music can encourage customers to stay longer, potentially increasing sales. If customers feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere, they may be more likely to order another coffee or snack (this is particularly relevant for those working or studying in the venue, or having a lengthy catch up). 

How should I choose the music for my cafe?

This is obviously quite a subjective question, and one that our music team tackles every day with different customers. There’s a lot of elements to consider, for example:

  • What market is your cafe in? And where is it located?
  • What type of products are you selling? Just coffee, or food too?
  • What type of brand are you trying to portray?
  • What type of ambience exists in the cafe?
  • Who is your target market?

It’s obviously vital that your cafe’s background music matches the brand. If you’re a sophisticated, upper market coffee shop, you might not want to play heavy rock (although the unexpected does work sometimes in playlist curation). 

Another thing to consider when choosing the music to play in your cafe shop is your business objectives, and how you want your customers to behave. This might vary throughout the day or even the year, but it’s important to remember that music has the ability to make us feel and act in specific ways. 

  • Tempo impacts the way we move. Generally, studies have shown that a quicker tempo will encourage customers to move quickly through the coffee shop, and a slower tempo will encourage them to linger more. They both have their benefits, for example if you’re a busy high street cafe with no seating, you may want to subtly increase the tempo of your music to move customers along quicker. But, most times, a slower tempo is more suitable, to try and encourage a relaxed environment which facilitates a longer visit.  
  • Volume also has an impact. Studies show that coffee shops that are both crowded and play loud music are more likely to deliver a negative experience. In these cases, balancing out the busyness with relaxing music at lower decibels can maintain that inviting environment.
  • Genre is important. Studies show that the right mix of volume and genre — the right “sonic seasoning” — can enhance the cafe experience for customers. Each music genre impacts customers differently. ‘Coffee shop music’ has almost become a genre itself, often characterised by its relaxed and inviting sound, which incorporates elements of folk, jazz, blues, indie, and pop.

It’s also important to keep your background music fresh, of course for your customers, but also for your staff. There’s nothing worse than hearing the same songs for months on end, so keep staff morale high by keeping the soundtrack exciting. 

We’ve got over 100 regularly updated Startle playlists spanning genres and eras for you to choose from, or we offer a bespoke music profiling service to perfectly match your brand. 

Do I need a music license for my coffee shop? How much is it?

You’ll usually need to get a Public Performance License if you:

  • Play recorded music in public or at your business (including background music on a CD, radio or music channel).
  • Stage live music events in public (for example, a concert or festival).
  • Play live music or recorded music in a theatre.
  • Use sound recordings in a theatrical production (including on-stage and off-stage effects).

This obviously covers basically every retail and hospitality business. Music is so important to creating the perfect atmosphere, so it’s only fair that we follow the rules and make sure money is going to the artists. You could also be sued for copyright infringement if you don’t.

If you’re in the UK, you can contact PPL PRS to check if you need a license, or check out their sector page for information more specific to coffee shops.

How much your license will cost depends on a few factors, like the size and type of venue you’re looking to play the music in, and how the music is used. Below are some examples of licensing costs, just to give you an idea of what you might be spending. 

Sector Type Annual Cost (+VAT) Starts From...
Office & Workplace
Play music in an office (4 or fewer staff) £121.77 33p per day
Shops & Stores
Play music (audible area of 50sqm or less) £199.25 54p per day
Fitness & Dance
A fitness instructor holding three classes every week for 50 weeks of the year £270 73p per day
Hair & Beauty
Play music via radio (10 or fewer seats) £327.38 89p per day
Restaurants & Cafe
Play music via a radio (up to 30 seats that is 400sqm or less) £347.84 95p per day
Pubs & Bars
Play music via radio (400 sqm or less) £371.09 £1.01 per day
Live Music
A pub or bar could perform live music their premise for up to 100 people at a one off event £11.94 12p per person

All cost examples are subject to change. Office and Workplace, Shops and Stores, Hair and Beauty updated February 2023. Fitness and Dance updated February 2023. Restaurants and Cafés updated January 2023. Pubs and Bars updated January 2023. Daily cost examples are based on music usage for 365 days a year.

View latest examples here.

For a guide on music licensing, head here.

Can I play Spotify in my cafe?

Unfortunately not. 

Streaming platforms like Spotify are great consumer music services that are designed for personal consumption. They’re affordable, easy to use, and often highly personalised. 

But unfortunately, they’re not intended for commercial use. They don’t cover the licenses for commercial use, or ensure that artists, songwriters, composers, recording labels, music publishers and rights holders are properly paid for music played in a business environment. In simple terms, you’d be guilty of copyright infringement, and denying an artist the payment they’re entitled to by using it without the necessary permissions. 

That’s why professional music services like us are here (and we can import your Spotify playlists, if you really love them). 

What kind of music is best for my coffee shop?

This is very subjective, and will vary between every coffee shop. But we’ll give you some examples. 

  1. Acoustic and Indie Folk: This genre is popular in coffee shops for its soothing and laid-back vibe. This genre can often create a cosy atmosphere that pairs well with coffee.
  2. Chill Instrumental or Ambient Music: Instrumental music without lyrics can be great for creating a calming environment conducive to work or relaxation. 
  3. Jazz and Bossa Nova: Smooth jazz or Bossa Nova adds a touch of sophistication and class to a coffee shop.
  4. Indie and Alternative Rock: Depending on your coffee shop's vibe, indie and alternative rock can energise the space without being too intrusive.
  5. Classical and Piano Music: Classical music or solo piano pieces can add elegance and refinement to your coffee shop. 
  6. World Music: Incorporating world music genres like Latin, African, or Middle Eastern can infuse a sense of cultural diversity and warmth.

We can’t prescribe you the best kind of music without knowing about your specific brand and needs. We’re here to help if you need guidance. 

How can technology help me with the music in my cafe?

The technology you’ll need to play music in your cafe will depend on the size of your sites and what capabilities you have. 

Firstly, you’ll need somewhere to schedule and manage your background music. Startle Studio is built to be easy - it can equip each site with a set of powerful tools to control the music and atmosphere from just a few clicks, or set up different permissions to leave the site managers doing what they do best. Remember how we said you might need different tempos, volumes, and playlists for different times of the day? This can be overwhelming (especially if you’ve had a sudden rush of customers and need to turn the volume up), but with Studio you can schedule playlists in advance, drag them across multiple days if needed, and you know you’re in safe hands. You can access Studio on your laptop, PC, or phone, so it’s available wherever you are.

It’s also good to note the benefits of using digital signage alongside your background music. Digital signage can also help reduce frustration in waiting times, showcase promotions, and sync with your music to create an even more synchronous brand experience.

Once the music is scheduled, there’s no doubt that the stereo equipment you choose plays an essential role. Your choice of set up might include speakers, amplifiers, and mixers. For example, the Startle player can integrate with Sonos and Chromecast speakers. Chat to an expert about the technology requirements for your cafes. 

The Perfect Background Music - BEAR

BEAR Coffee are a modern and tasty coffee brand with a focus on sustainably sourced, specialty coffee. They came to us looking for a savvy music solution to fit with their fresh branding and store designs. They needed something fresh, just like them. 

When we spoke with them, they provided us with a short base of playlists that they’d already created. After some great and in-depth conversations, our music team were then able to crack on and build on them, expanding and tailoring their playlists pretty perfectly. We helped them find their brand sound to support the creation of the perfect atmosphere for their customers.

We provide them with 24/7/365 support from our Relentless Support™ team, and a specific account manager (superstar James) so that if they ever run into an issue, we’re there.

Find out more about their sound here

Finding our brand sound has been an exciting and interesting journey, and the help that we've had from the guys at Startle has been super valuable. We have to hand it to them, they nailed it from the get-go and we've been happily bopping away to these playlists ever since!

Hattie Shaw, Marketing Manager

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The Best Background Music for Coffee Shops

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