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The Best Background Music for Pubs

The Best Background Music for Pubs

Written by

James Picken


March 22, 2024



Hit the target with every pub experience. Find out what type of music enhances ambience, elevates mood, and pleases your punters.

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 of the biggest and best pub brands in the world who have become havens in their communities. Whether you’re looking to influence customers to buy another round, boost employee productivity or impact dwell time, perfecting your music can drive your objectives and make your pub environments sing.

It can seem like an overwhelming subject, so we’re here to break it down. Wondering what music to play, about the licenses needed, or just want to understand why it’s so important? This guide has got you covered. 


  1. Why do most pubs have background music?
  2. How should I choose the music for my pub?
  3. How much is a music licence for a pub?
  4. Can I play Spotify in my pub?
  5. What kind of music is best for my pub?
  6. How can technology help me with the music in my pub?
  7. The Perfect Pub Experience
  8. Greene King - Case Study

Why do most pubs have background music?

Ever been in a pub where it’s dead silent? Probably not. That would be a bit weird. 

Music is a key element in creating the perfect pub atmosphere. On the surface, it’s an entertainment tool. It provides a backing track to the chatter, and can help make the experience memorable if done right.

There’s a lot going on in a pub at any one time - food, drinks, bingo, darts, pool, football… so choosing the right backing track, at the right volume, creating the right vibe is a skill. 

But aside from entertainment, background music can also serve a purpose in a pub. It can help your brand appear more distinct and consistent, as well as helping you achieve business goals (we’ll get into that).

The bottom line is, most pubs have background music because it’s essential, both in the moment for enjoyment reasons, but also afterwards in brand recall and positive associations. 

How should I choose the music to play in my pub?

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:

  • Where is your pub located?
  • Are you serving food, as well as drinks?
  • What type of brand are you trying to portray?
  • What type of ambience exists in the pub?
  • Who is your target market?

It’s so important for your pub’s background music to work well with your brand. An obvious example is an Irish pub constantly playing traditionally Mexican music, or a friendly, local community pub playing sophisticated, peaceful classical music on a busy Friday night. But it’s the less obvious brand characteristics which need to align too. 

One of our valued customers, Greene King, has over 2,600 pubs, restaurants and hotels around the UK, under different sub-brands. This means that our music team are working with various music profiles that need to represent the brands and their target audiences. 

Another thing to consider when choosing the music to play in your pub 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. 

Research compiled at the University of Oxford shows that:

  • Loud music with a fast tempo encourages diners to eat and drink faster, but also enjoy their food less, and perhaps have less of an appetite
  • Soft music with a slower beat encourages punters to slow down and stay longer - resulting in less table turns - but also typically order more 
  • Higher notes are generally associated with and can accentuate the sensation of sweetness - The Guardian cites a study in which participants were given coffee listening to both high and low frequency sounds - the high notes enhanced sweetness.
  • Resonate notes can provoke sensations of bitterness

So, your pub is having an afternoon lull, you might want to play softer music to encourage the patrons in your venue to stick around longer. Or, if your bar is backed up with queues on a busy Saturday night, turn up the volume to get customers moving faster so you can serve more efficiently. 

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 pub? 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 pubs.

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 pub?

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 pub?

As we said earlier, this is very subjective, and can even vary between pub brands that look similar and target the same audience. But we thought we’d give some examples. 

One of our lovely customers Amber Taverns is known for their great British community pubs. Their venues are community hubs - a cosy, friendly place to spend some quality time. After working with our music team, Amber Taverns have a default music profile, tailor-made by Startle, covering mornings, afternoons, evenings and weekends. Warm, positive and familiar, each playlist is specifically designed for welcoming pub environments. We categorised their ‘vibe’ as familiar, merry and buoyant, with an average tempo of 120BPM. Think artists like David Bowie, ABBA and Jamiroquai. 

Luckily, due to the diverse range of customers pubs can have, there are so many options for the best kind of music. The expectancy theory does apply in some ways - for example, if you’re a traditional English pub you may shock customers by playing American rap on loop - but there is some scope for versatility in this sector. 

Ultimately, the best type of music for your pub will depend on a lot of factors. It’s best to speak to experts, like Startle, about your brand, your goals and your customers, so that we can help you choose the perfect music to encapsulate them all.  

We’re here to help if you need guidance. 

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

We’ve found that flexibility and efficiency are extremely important for pub brands when choosing a background music provider. Pub managers and staff are busy, and can’t afford to waste time faffing around with poor tech. (Did you know that before using Startle, Greene King pubs used to get posted CDs with their playlists on?)

The technology you’ll need to play music in your pub 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, 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.

That’s also where our product Atmosphere can also help. Our discrete sensors record over 10,000 atmospheric metrics per day to help you predict your future trends and allow you to make realtime atmosphere adjustments, like your playlists and volume. To find out more about Atmosphere and the operational benefits it can have for your pub, head here

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 pubs.  

The Perfect Pub Experience

Although we work with a wide variety of retail and hospitality brands, the pub sector is so unique and dynamic. Creating a great customer experience isn’t just about perfecting the background music - there are so many other elements which can help make sure there’s never a dull moment in your venue. 

Imagine igniting the electrifying power of a live DJ event at your pub, anytime you desire. Enter: Ultimate DJ. A game-changing revolution that unites the unparalleled expertise of Club & Radio DJs, Editors and Producers. All for a fraction of the cost of a local DJ. Watch the evening come alive as each tune impeccably flows into the next, creating a seamless and immersive experience designed to keep the energy soaring until closing time.

But that’s not all for entertainment. Rock and Roll Bingo is a self-working music bingo game packed with the most toe-tappin’, bum wigglin’ sing-alongs, specifically designed for pubs to give their customers a stellar night of entertainment.

Not only is it a much-loved game across the country, but it's host-free, played on punters' own devices around a table, and incredibly easy to just plug-in-and-go with the pre-recorded host running the game for you!

And what about the screens in your venue, that get turned off as soon as the football is over? The soggy flyers sat on your tables promoting the rugby match that was on a month ago? To truly tap into the opportunities live sport provides to pubs and bars, you need a platform to broadcast, promote and hype up events. Startle Arena was designed to do just that. An add on to our digital signage solution, Startle Arena provides a dynamic schedule of content that will both entertain customers in your venue at the time, and encourage them to return on match days. 

There are so many elements you can control to help create the perfect pub experience. Find out more here

The Perfect Background Music - Greene King

Greene King’s previous music provider was dancing to a different beat. They were using a computer based system where CDs were sent out in the post and music selection was nothing to raise a glass to. This kind of analogue system was hard to update quickly, offered little control and consistency across venues and, when things went wrong, there could be long maintenance waits where pubs were left without music.

Enter our intuitive, enterprise-grade user platform and ultra-reliable hardware, the Startle Player; a pint-sized PC that’s future-proof and runs from the cloud. Designed to manage the consistency (and quirks) across a whole hospitality estate. Their music, digital signage, and entertainment, all managed in one place.

Each brand within Greene King has something unique to offer, so we reflected this musically by treating them individually, customising their schedules and overall track selection. However, one characteristic that runs through each brand is warmth: the feeling of being content, relaxed and at ease. So, we instructed our curators to be conscious of lyrical sentiment, only choosing uplifting, positive and welcoming songs to help enhance relaxed get-togethers with friends or celebratory moments with your whole team from the office.

Energy gradually increases throughout each day to reflect the vibrancy that runs through the pubs, with Weekends being the most upbeat to create a celebratory feel.

Now armed with the perfect background music solution, as well as Rock and Roll Bingo, Ultimate DJ and Arena, their entertainment is top class. 

After extensive research into background music providers, Startle stood out to us as having the most intelligent and flexible platform for our music. Coupled with their outstanding service delivery and support that continues to impress us, this made it a no-brainer for us to extend our partnership recently. We’re always excited when Startle brings us an innovation that can enhance our pub atmospheres further, and we can wholeheartedly recommend them as a technology partner.

Jason Lockwood, Head of Entertainment at Greene King Brewing and Retailing Limited

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The Best Background Music for Pubs

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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