Choosing background music in pubs is an art form in itself. As this article rightly points out "You wouldn't let your bar staff bring their home brew in and sell it, so why should you let them choose the music?"
Music creates a large part of the pub's atmosphere so while the bar staff's choice could be suited to the clientele it also could completely spoil a pleasant space with horrid noise.
Pubs need to choose the right music for the time of day, and week day or weekend differences too, of course. We returned a week later to the pub with the great weekend early evening music and went to the upstairs dining room and found completely different music as, apparently, when dining customers want something calmer and less sing-a-long. When we came down to leave we heard much more upbeat tunes in the bar which had been what I was expecting throughout the building.
Some pubs even commission their own soundtrack to suit their target audience. The Slug & Lettuce chain used music consultants to "develop a profile of music that would clearly differentiate them from the competition". More amusingly, the article used the phrase 'circuit drinking' as a new way to differentiate them from the more well-known term 'pub crawl'. Circuit drinking could mean visiting a selection of pubs in a circle and trying a different drink at each pub whenever you return but I suspect they in fact meant 'pub crawl'.
There are many reasons a jukebox was a good idea in pubs:
- The customers got to choose the music,
- The customers paid for their musical preference,
- Customers waited, and probably ordered more drinks, while waiting for their selection to come on,
- There was a wide choice of music available.
Research has found a well-stocked jukebox can be as popular as the drinks on offer. It wasn't all good though as, of course, if the melancholy drunk in the corner had programmed the machine for the next few hours with sad songs about heartache and sorrow then everyone else had to endure that too.
Simply put, the background music should be in the background and you should be able to talk to friends without shouting. The moment the volume goes up I get irritated as it's wasting my time and the time of those I'm with. If I want to hear a great song and just listen to it I can do that at home; that's not a pub's role.
A popular UK pub chain, JD Wetherspoon, has chosen not to have background music and let the art of conversation be the noise.
In 1946 George Orwell wrote for the Evening Standard about his perfect pub. He called it The Moon Under Water and JD Wetherspoons now has 14 pubs with this name. Although Orwell's perfect pub was fictional it has a lot of the elements many of us would still choose today: Victorian architecture and fittings, a well-priced lunch served upstairs and quiet enough to talk without background music.
Jethro, the landlord of The Cambridge Blue, the CAMRA Pub of the Year 2011, reckons quality ale and good food are most important and not music as he said, "The art of conversation's what you need in a good British pub." And Liela Moss, a London singer, said, "For me, a great pub should offer a non-judgmental refuge, a haven for conversation, laughter and ideas."
I reckon they could well be right. What do you think?