Facing the music: In-house playlists

Creating in-house playlists is not as easy as it sounds.

This year, the National Restaurant Association is pushing for more transparency in music licensing so operators can create playlists without fear of having to pay up to $150,000 for a music-use violation. As such, the NRA is backing a searchable national database that tells operators what music they can play under each license, replacing the sometimes outdated databases of performing rights organizations, which collect royalties for musicians.

Whether or not the NRA wins its call for more transparency, operators cannot simply hit play on an iPod. While some independent restaurants tap their staff to run playlists—not paying much attention to licensing and risking the fine—generating legal, hand-curated playlists requires labor, time and money.

Yard House’s 68 units all jam out to a different classic rock soundtrack, a tradition that started with the chain’s founder. To create its shared 5,000-song library, the chain employs Manager of Music Design Sheena Jacobs and purchases licenses from all three U.S. performing rights organizations.

Adding local artists to playlists takes more legwork, however. At The Kimpton Gray Hotel’s rooftop restaurant and bar Boleo in Chicago, Janice Bond, the director of music and social programming, works with a music vendor to customize a playlist. But when it comes to indie artists or local music, Bond has to reach out to each artist to find out licensing details, then sends that information to her playlist generator to purchase the correct license.

Still, operators like Boleo are turning to  music vendors when they want a tailored music experience but don’t have the resources to complete the process independently. Jeff Winograd, VP of Chicago-based Burrito Beach, partners with a music playlist vendor, but he dictates the energy levels during each daypart and even sends album suggestions. “I’ve never tried to put it all together myself,” Winograd says. “No way would I have the time to do that.”


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