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In-Store Music: A Little Known Industry

Updated on May 13, 2015

Ever wonder who decides what's playing on the surround sound system when you go to malls, cafes, pretty much any retail space. Well if you're in a small/ independent business, that choice is really up to the owner (good luck). But if your in a medium-to-large size retailer (think Target, Macy's, and definitely IKEA); the decision about what you listen to was probably outsourced to a music supervisor/ designer. What does this person do? How do they do their job? I'm glad you asked.

Don't forget about starbucks....their all about the music.
Don't forget about starbucks....their all about the music. | Source

Choosing the right kind of in-store music for the perfect retail experience is more complex than is might seem at first glance. When the end goal is to keep not only keep customers in the store but possibly entice them to purchase something, a lot of factors come into play. What kind of mood should a store's music set for its customers? How current should the playlist be? How many oldies should be played? Should the store play any oldies? How long should music playlist be? How often can a particular song be played before the customer gets annoyed? Does the retailer need a license (permission) before they are able to play particular songs in their establishment.

Fortunately, there are individuals and companies that specialize in this sort of thing. Companies like PlayNetwork, a Redmond, Washington based firm, provide digital music installation services for retail, restaurant, and hospitality environments. Other companies in this field include DMX, Inc and Mood Media North America LTD, both Texas based corporations. These organizations also provide music design services for commercials and telephone on-hold music.

What kind of in-store music do you prefer when you shop?

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Spencer Manio
Spencer Manio | Source

As far as individuals go, there are freelancers out there like Spencer Manio (pictured above). Spencer is somewhat of a professional playlist maker for PlayNetwork, and has done freelance work for both Blackberry and Nordstrom. For a typical retail venue, Spencer's job is not to get you to immediately notice or identify with the music playing on the loudspeakers. If anything, this might come off as too pushy and aggressive. Indeed Spencer's goal is to set the mood of a customer's retail experience and communicate the retail brand in a positive way.

tune-yards, band that Manio worked with in the past.
tune-yards, band that Manio worked with in the past. | Source

As a consequence of his job Spencer, and the companies he works for, are always on the lookout for new/ up-and-coming artists. It is a mutually beneficial relationship in most cases as retailers are often looking for the latest songs to both appear current and refresh their playlists; meanwhile artists are always looking for exposure not matter what the venue. Needless to say, Spencer and the companies he works for have to keep their finger on the pulse of both music culture and consumer culture.


As there is some money being exchanged in these in-store music deals between large retailers and music designers, music licensing does come into play. Music supervisors like Spencer must be aware of licensing agreements and rights. If this aspect of the business is ignored, regulatory bodies such as the BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) may end up fining the very businesses that these music supervisors are trying to help .

Closing Thoughts:

At the end of the day, the whole business of in-store music creation and distribution is about one thing.....brand awareness. Brands are trying to capture the effect that a good song has in many people's minds. The same way that a good tune can get stuck in your head and yet simultaneously make you feel good about its permanence in your mind. In this, not so obvious way, brands are trying to say "we get you."

Lastly, if somehow you've gotten to this point and you still don't think that in-store music is important to the modern retail experience or simply "don't get it." Check out the youtube video below composed of interviews about people's opinions on in-store music. (Note how many people think having a retail experience without in-store music would be kinda weird.....we've all been conditioned.)


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