How background music can help pubs beat the recession

Recent research conducted by pub-data specialists CGA found that pubs that provide music take on average 44% more money than pubs without music rising to 60% more at the weekend. 

In line with industry trends, live music is the greatest draw: one in four publicans reported increases in takings of between 25%-50% on nights when they have live music compared to other nights and seven out of ten reported an increases of typically between 10-25%.

Pubs and other grass roots music venues are a fundamental part of the music industry; a point underlined by Horace Trubridge of the Musicians’ Union who said “Pubs play such a vital role in many musicians’ careers and provide an essential platform from which talent can grow. Demonstrating how music can really benefit pubs underlines how intertwined the two industries are.“ 

It’s not just live music that is bringing in and retaining customers. After a period in the wilderness some publicans are deciding to reinstall jukeboxes in their venues in order to put the music selection back in the hands of the people. 

Named after black American juke (dancing) joints that evolved from coin-slot phonographs, the Jukebox came into being in 1910 with the mass production of 78 records. However, it was after the introduction of the 45 record in 1949 that the jukebox came into its own. Records were expensive during that period and the best way to listen to hard-to-find American imports of the latest Elvis or Bob Dylan hit was to insert a coin into the slot of the local jukebox. 

The jukebox held its own all the way through to the late 80s even surviving the arrival of the CD. The fashion during the ‘90s to control the pub atmosphere and the rise of dance culture led to a severe decline in numbers but the greatest impact came with the advent of the iPod. Why select a track from a limited selection of CDs or 45s when you have the whole library of the world’s recorded music at your fingertips?

However, iPods are primarily for private use and do not bring people together or provide the same focus that a jukebox can. The Hawley Arms, a London pub frequented by Amy Winehouse for much of 2007, discovered that its jukebox was just as much of an attraction as its selection of fine wines and ales. 

Properly programmed jukeboxes imbue a venue with its own character. Central London venue, The Social, pushes itself as an arbiter of taste by featuring unreleased promotional CDs. The Boogaloo, a North London pub part-owned by Shane MacGowan, has jukebox playlists selected by well-known musicians such as Johnny Marr and Pete Doherty. 

The positive commercial influence of background music can clearly be seen but, it is important for publicans to ensure the music selection is appropriate for their clientele. Rico Nagy who programmes the jukebox at London’s famous Bradley’s bar says, “We have anything from The Beatles to The Dead Kennedys, but we find that the same songs tend to get played: at the moment it’s ‘20th Century Boy’ by T-Rex and ‘It Must Be Love’ by Madness.” This is given even more weight by findings from the MusicWorks study concerning background music in pubs: over three-quarters of drinkers said that background music would encourage them to go there more often, and 82% of drinkers said they would buy another drink if music people enjoyed was being played.

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