Music Connection

Pay only for the music you play.

Stuart Watters is a Director of Morph TV and consults for Nightlife Music.


With the ongoing publicity surrounding public performance tariff increases, there has been a strong focus on compliance for both venues and music suppliers. This is a matter which I am both personally and professionally involved in and passionate about. For the record, Nightlife Music is a client of mine and I have a long history of working with record labels and more broadly in the music industry. My work with Nightlife, which has been a long-time friend and supplier to the hospitality industry has put me in the unique position of being able to marry the interests of the hospitality industry — which wants to play good music and is generally happy to pay a reasonable rate —and the interests of the music industry which want to get paid for its work. One of the continuing battlegrounds between the various parties has been the PPCA’s on-going increases in its restaurant tariff. While variable, the new financial year witnessed the third incremental increase to the staged five-year increases in this tariff which has seen this go from approximately $87 prior to the tariff changes to as high as $4635 in this financial year. In the rush to provide PPCA free music many public performance solutions were slapped together to provide what were effectively band-aid solutions to the tariff increases — without offering any substantive music offering. Nightlife decided to play the long game on this and my role was to negotiate directly with a range of key record labels. The aim was to build a library of licensed content for which Nightlife could collect and distribute public performance royalties. When this solution was launched, Nightlife went to market with about 25 record labels on board from Australia and overseas and currently they have agreements in place with over 75 key record label partners. From those partners, they now offer a complete public performance-compliant solution for restaurant use that draws from over 7500 songs. While Nightlife’s solution offers a substantial savings, with clients paying a flat annual fee of $384 (compared to as high as $4635 under Tariff R), it also uses a fairer model for distributing royalties by funds based on the songs that have actually played in a venue. Needless to say, this solution offers savings for businesses but, importantly, it bases its offering on a select hand-picked collection of music ensuring their clients music is consistent with the experience the venue is aiming to deliver. There is no point in making a saving on music for saving’s sake, if the music you end up playing drives customers away. While the above outlines a cost-effective solution for many venues, it’s not a one size fits all. While Nightlife’s offer will suit a large number of restaurants, there are some venues which may want to have access to the full catalogue of music and therefore need to be prepared to pay for the right to do so. That said, having access to all of the music is not always ideal. As stated in last month’s column, the wrong music can drive your customers away rather than keep them in the venue. It is well known that music has a profound impact on people and if they’re feeling good then they will be inclined to stay in their environment. So, get the music right and your customers will stay and will buy the extra drink or two, order dessert and have a coffee. Who knows, they’ll probably tip the waiters as well! The curatorial process of selecting, programming and managing music is absolutely critical to ensuring a restaurant’s customers are coming away with a positive experience. Even if the customer isn’t explicitly conscious of the music, there are subliminal forces at work that encourage an overall benefit to customer satisfaction. Sure, music selection is important but there’s no point if the volume levels are not monitored properly, or if the acoustics of the room create harsh reflections. Architects and AV guys often overlook this fundamental issue: acoustics. Favouring a stark aesthetic or an array of strategically placed speakers, I would contend that a well-treated room should be the starting point for delivering an environment where people can hear the dinner conversation — without having to compete with their cutlery! This is all too evident in a number of recent articles by restaurant critics in the major metropolitan dailies who are increasingly conscious of the impact of the music in the venue and treat this part of the experience with as much importance as other elements like décor and the service — in some cases it’s even on par with the food! In one review, the critic went so far as to say that the overall experience in the restaurant she was dining in, while pleasant on the one hand, was completely undermined by the inappropriate and disjointed choice of music. Music has long been a key ingredient in a great night out. This is ever more the case as Australian consumers become more and more discerning in their food choices — but also in their taste in music. Music is now an important tool in providing the point of difference for the restaurant sector where everyone is now an armchair food critique. Get the music right, work out what you need to make the experience fit with your target clients, and then ensure you’re paying for what you need to provide that experience. Get it right and you’ll set your restaurant apart from the pack.

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