Digital Beats

Today’s Digital Music Systems Deliver Control and Customization

Music is among the most crucial elements in any nightlife venue. The right song at the right moment can entirely change the atmosphere of your establishment. So how do you best manage the tunes booming out of your space’s speakers? With a fully-optimized digital music system, of course.

Sounds simple enough, but sorting through the cadre of available options and selecting the perfect rig for your particular needs can be a daunting process. What’s more, having the right equipment is only half the battle, as using your system properly can make the difference between keeping your guests in-house all night versus watching them stroll out the door after a quick cocktail. In fact, Wyatt Magnum, president of Magnum Music Group, believes there’s a crucial 20-minute window in which you have in order to fully capture a guest upon their arrival.

Brother Jimmy's

In New York City locations such as as Brother Jimmy’s and The Village Pourhouse music is chosen based on the atmosphere of the bar. At Brother Jimmy’s, song selection means choosing songs that get crowds singing along.

“Obviously the cocktails, décor and other components have to be right, but the music is crucial. If you’re at the bar for a happy hour drink and hate the music you’re hearing, you’re not going to have a second drink,” he says.

To entice that guest to stay put and keep ordering, savvy operators think about and shop for music systems strategically. Among the most utilized options available to the market are touch screen jukeboxes, streaming Internet radio or pre-loaded playlists. The key component in choosing which is best for you is how much control you want over the system and the music played. On the digital jukebox front, where names such as TouchTunes, AMI Entertainment Network Inc., ECast and NSM Music lead the way, the different systems offer different levels and options for control.

For example, TouchTunes provides state of the art pay-per-play jukeboxes to more than 45,000 venues internationally and “provides the ability to control the music in your location, as well as apply the option to your customers to choose what they want to hear,” says Marc Felsen, vice president of corporate marketing at TouchTunes. “When a patron selects a song they want, they’re in charge of the environment for those two or three minutes, and, as a result, feel more invested in the experience they’re having in your establishment. There’s an emotional connection with the song and their time out,” Felsen explains. 

TouchTunes generates 12 million plays per week with its system, so it’s clear customers appreciate the option; owners do as well because the jukeboxes deliver an additional revenue stream. “Part of the dollar that goes in ends up in the owner’s pocket, and that’s a huge benefit,” says Felsen, adding, “A good location could easily gross $500 to $600 a week.”

Among the top reasons to opt for a digital jukebox is “that the owner can filter the music, so he or she knows clients can pick only within approved genres. If it’s a happening dance club, you won’t want country music in there,” quips Geno Giuntoli, vice president of sales and marketing for NSM Music. Its Icon 2 Jukebox is a touch screen, can play background music when not being used by patrons and offers a vast library of titles available instantly. Both the TouchTunes and NSM units cost about $4,000 to implement, although the use agreements vary (see sidebar).

The best way to completely control the mood is to set your own playlist. For those not musically TouchTunesinclined, groups such as Magnum Music Group are there to help. “We assist our clients in creating a signature soundtrack for their establishments,” Magnum explains. “We install a computer pre-loaded with an mp3 platform and craft genre-based playlists.”

Those lists are carefully developed to suit the particular location. “We look at the type of atmosphere you want to evoke, your venue’s colors, what mood you’re targeting, what type of clients you want — older set versus a younger crowd — etc. Our music needs to take everything into consideration.”

For around $4,000, operators are given a computer that does all the thinking for them. Think of it as an automatic DJ. “We use software, which is an astounding piece of programming that changes throughout the day and night. The computer turns itself on prior to the opening and the playlists load automatically, then change throughout the night without the owner having to touch anything,” says Magnum. “There’s no ongoing maintenance except updating with music,” which can be done over the Internet. It’s a fully turnkey relationship with the Icon 2, which is currently in use in thousands of bars and clubs on nearly every continent.

As for what’s hitting guests’ ears, “don’t play the music you want to hear. Play something that the waitresses want to hear — a happy waitress is crucial — and play something the crowd wants to hear,” explains Josh Lebowitz, president and owner of Brother Jimmy’s, a New York restaurant and bar chain with six locations. To go this route, knowing your clientele is paramount. “After honing it for months in various venues, we actually created a set of music we jokingly called ‘The Riot Starter,’ which we’d play when we wanted the room to get to a fevered pitch right at the end of the night,” Lebowitz said. “We have three songs (one by House of Pain, one by Kid Rock and one by Rage Against The Machine) we’d play in succession that would get the place to the point where you could eat the energy.”

Village Pourhouse

At The Village Pourhouse (above), customers can join in by playing the video game Rock Band on slower nights.

“It’s a question of staying in touch with what’s fun and good, which is not necessarily the most current,” says Lebowitz. “That could be ‘Sugar, Sugar,’ by The Archies. It doesn’t matter if it’s old if it gets the bar singing along. We categorized the computer so our managers can pick between genres and one of them is ‘Singalong’ where we’ve got the top favorites like Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer.’ It’s up to the managers to implement the right list at the right time, which they do based on reading the room.”

Obviously when you set your own playlist, your costs are far cheaper — just the cost of the digital download. But a completely free option is to point your music system’s computer to Pandora or other free Internet radio options like Village Pourhouse, a New York-based chain of bars, does. “We’ll switch the genres given the time of day or how crowded we are,” says Joe Gerics, vice president of operations. “We always have the option to switch to playlists or even use a DJ in some of our venues when we are really packed and want more of a mini-club feel.”

In a rather unorthodox move, Village Pourhouse management even allows customers to play the music…sort of. “We started a very popular [music video game] Rock Band night on slower weeknights. We set up a stage and let groups come and compete and perform, and the response was overwhelming. It let them pick their songs and ‘play’ them, so to speak,” Gerics said. “It gets them more involved in their experience, as well as giving an added benefit to the bar of having an alternative to the normal music programming. Our slow nights aren’t that slow anymore.” And that’s music to any bar or club owner’s ears. NCB

Hot Tunes for 2011

What kinds of tunes can we expect to hear a lot of in the New Year? Wyatt Magnum of Magnum Music Group breaks down the hot music trends for 2011.

  • We’re definitely in a more up-tempo environment, especially given the current state of radio, which is good for clients who want an upbeat energetic soundtrack. We’re seeing tracks with a higher beat-per-minute really coming to the foreground. Anything with a faster tempo will do well.
  • Stylistically, world music is becoming more influential; tracks coming from Europe and abroad are infiltrating our markets with much success. 
  • For lounges and more intimate environments, down-tempo, chill out songs are gaining appeal. The more sophisticated Martini bars and lounges are turning to this genre with great feedback.

Jukebox Know-how

Want a digital jukebox for your establishment? Here’s what you should know before purchasing a new system.

Icon JukeboxThe overwhelming majority of units are owned by amusement operators, which means a third party is in charge of placing the system in your venue and typically receives 40% of the patron’s dollar; another 40% goes to the music programming system provider. TouchTunes units are installed for free and the amusement operator retains ownership rights; the profits are divided among TouchTunes, the amusement operator and the venue. NSM is now taking a different approach; its Icon 2 involves a flat fee ($199/month to cover licensing deals with labels and artists), which cuts out the middleman, leaving higher profits for the venue.

Digital libraries available to the machines are routinely updated. TouchTunes has the most tracks available, with more than three million. On the other hand, NSM offers more than 300,000.

Most have custom music programming, which is a background music service that runs through the jukebox so that when patrons aren’t selecting their own music, the location can choose from a variety of channels and switch between musical styles whenever they want just by pressing a button. When a patron plays a song, the background music stops and the guest’s selected song plays. Then it goes back to the pre-selected channel, if there’s no queued patron music.

Most allow for customized playlists to be established either through a home PC or on the unit itself. is a free membership service where customers create playlists at home and then can access those lists on any TouchTunes jukebox. Each song is still pay-per-play. Bartenders or staff can also create their own playlists and run them as the background music for free.

The amount of control the venue has is as specific as the operator would like it to be. Most allow filtering by genre, artist, specific songs and a plethora of other options. With NSM’s Icon 2, operators can even mandate when patrons have the ability to use the jukebox versus staff playlists. If you don’t want them using it during the lunch rush, you simply click a button.

Servicing broken units depends on which machine you have. If you use an amusement operator based system, then it’s up to that operator to help a venue should the unit’s bill acceptor jam, for example, which can sometimes take hours or days to correct. If the venue physically owns the unit, as with NSM’s system, then keys to the device are on site and simple jams and repairs can be handled with a phone call to the manufacturer, who will walk you through it.

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