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Music brings business to life

Choosing the right music can have a positive impact on your business

20,000 new Australian businesses are starting each year and online transactions are soaring. One of the leading ways to stand apart from your competitors and positively influence your customer's subconcious is your music selection.

“Music is one of the most powerful neurobiological tools we have to change our mood, mindset, and behaviour,” says Christopher Bergland.(1)

Maximising the persuasive techniques of music through careful audio design can help businesses provide a better customer experience and increase sales.

Some of the world’s brightest researchers have been uncovering the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of music psychology. We've gathered examples from Australia, the USA, the UK, Finland, Sweden, Serbia, The Netherlands and Canada.

Learn how music can positively impact your business with the full report, Music Brings Business to Life (PDF 4 MB).

Four truths about playing music in your business

1. Speed of music makes customers stay longer(2) or shop/dine quickly and move on(3)

A researcher in Kentucky, USA, found that slower music in supermarkets was associated with a slower shopping pace and increased gross sales. When he conducted research again four years later, this time in an ‘upscale’ restaurant, diners ate more quickly when fast music was playing. On the nights where slow music was playing, customers spent significantly more time in the restaurant and more money on alcoholic beverages.

2. Playing the ‘right’ music lifts your brand perception and customer’s patience levels

"British researchers showed that businesses playing music that ‘fitted their brand identity’ are 96% more likely to be recalled by customers than those playing music that was at odds with their brand, or no music at all.(4)

Some 78% who liked hearing music being played in waiting rooms felt it made them ‘more patient.’(5)"

3. Make your employees happy by letting them pick the music

Finnish researchers used an MRI to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, such as rhythm, tonality and timbre. They discovered that listening to music activates areas responsible for movement, emotions and creativity.(6)

4. Playing correctly licensed music matters to your customers

Think ‘global fair trade’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ movements. Swedish research(7) showed only 11% of people felt it of ‘no importance’ that musicians get paid for music that's played in a business they visit. That leaves 89% who are more attuned to you when you secure and promote your licence.

Consider your licensing options

Before making any choices about what music to play in your business, find out if you have any licensing obligations to:

  • music providers such as online streaming services, and/or
  • other music rights organisations, such as the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) and the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Please contact these organisations directly to assess your individual business requirements.

The scientific link between music and health & happiness

When we listen to music we like, the “pleasure chemical” dopamine is released in a key part of the brain’s reward system. Music is just like other rewarding stimuli, food and sex. During anticipation of the ‘peak’ in the music, dopamine is released and we experience chills and other signs that our body’s autonomic nervous system is being aroused.(8) Listening to music engages large scale neural networks across the entire brain.(9)

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. A Cardiology Professor in Serbia found that combination of physical activity while listening to one’s favorite music improved ‘endothelial’ or heart function exponentially. Even listening to music without exercise saw a 19% improvement in heart patients. The vascular health benefits of music may be due to endorphins or ‘endorphin like compounds’ released from the brain when we hear music we like. There is no ‘ideal’ music for everybody and patients should choose music which increases positive emotions and makes them happy or relaxed.(10) Listening to the music you love actually increases nitric oxide production, which aids in heart function.

The power of the right background music choice

When we're in the office

We are in a new era of listening to music in offices, with listening activity common for around a third of the working week. A study of 295 UK office workers listening to their own music in their office stated not only did they feel in a more positive mood and less distracted from the activity, they also felt:

  • inspired,
  • better able to concentrate,
  • distracted from boredom,
  • relieved of stress, and
  • better able to manage their personal space.(11)

Did you know that the annual cost to Australian employers for stress-related work absences is $30 billion?(12) Encouraging music at work could create new ground in promoting wellbeing in the workplace.

When we shop or get our hair styled

A group of Australian researchers found that for a retailer selling female youth fashion, a combination of loud music and the scent of vanilla resulted in a measurable increase in customer spend and satisfaction.(13) What this research shows is that music choice needs to fit the store.

Researchers in Canada found that almost 2/3 supermarket shoppers liked to hear music while they shopped. More than 1/5 admitted the music made them shop slower and stay longer. (14)

Some 84% of hairdressers in the UK say playing music makes the salon’s atmosphere more welcoming or exciting and 60% of UK hairdressers agree that playing music increases the likelihood of customers returning.(15)

When we do our banking

A study on a UK bank showed a direct influence on the way customers perceived the atmosphere of this type of ‘commercial environment’ as either dynamic, inspirational or fun.

The researchers suggested commercial environments could alter their ‘musical atmosphere’ to deliberately attract a customer profile, one that readily ‘buys into’ your store image. With rewards for doing so including:

  • increase in patronage and per capita spend,
  • brand loyalty,
  • responsiveness to promotions, and
  • reduced sensitivity to price.

All this because of the music cues you implement.(16)

When we book a holiday

Must can also get people into ‘holiday mode’ early. Some 51% of customers in UK travel agents that play music agree that they spend more time browsing.(17)

When we dine

An inner Sydney African-themed restaurant played host to a team of researchers for several weeks, as they tested the effects of five musical styles (including no music at all) on some 300 diners. If there was an absence of music or easy listening music playing, diners were prepared to spend less – diners were Gen X and Gen Y, so easy listening was deemed a ‘music misfit.’

For these diners, classical, jazz and popular background music made them prepared to spend more on their main meal.(18) There was clearly a relationship between diners’ perceptions of the restaurant and their perception of the music. The more subjects perceived the music as being up-market, the more the restaurant was also perceived as up-market.

More than 2/3 of Canadians surveyed say the atmosphere created by music impacts their decision to return to or recommend a restaurant to others. They like to hear a number of music styles when eating in a restaurant.(19)

Some (28%) say they would have a negative reaction to being in a restaurant without music at all: feeling awkward (51%) and unlikely to return (43%).

The majority of those surveyed said that hearing music and seeing live music in a restaurant makes them more likely to enjoy their food and drink (78% and 75%) as well as stay in a restaurant longer (70% and 75%).

Some 57% of UK managers/business owners surveyed agreed that their own choice of restaurant is influenced by the music played.(20)

Live and featured music

The live music industry huge. A recent study found that it was worth $1.2 billion in revenue/commercial benefits. Millions of patrons are served by 65,000 employees, and venue-based live music attracts 49 million attendances each year across Australia.(21)

When surveyed, venues said they hosted live music to attract patrons and most had been hosting live music for over a decade because of this successful strategy. Others added that live music invigorated other parts of their business, such as food and beverage, increased profits overall and created a unique ambiance and ‘home of live music’ brand identity.(22)

Some 73 % of UK bars, pubs and clubs surveyed recently agreed that playing music increases their sales or results.(23)

“Music can also help us connect to others. Even if we don’t get a buzz from the music normally, when we listen with others, the enhanced social connectivity can be highly satisfying. A 2012 study showed that individuals who listened to music with close friends or their partners showed significantly stronger autonomic responses than those who listened alone.”(24)

A survey of 1,500 Canadian customers and 270 Canadian businesses showed younger Canadians are more likely to agree they have gone to a bar/restaurant for the music they play. Millennials (aged 18-34) are more likely to say they would have a negative reaction to being in a restaurant without music.(25)


  1. The Neuroscience of Music, Mindset, and Motivation in Psychology Today, 29 December 2012 by Christopher Bergland, quoting Nina Kraus, Neuroscientist and Professor of Neurobiology at Northwestern University, Illinois.
  2. Using Background Music to Affect the Behaviour of Supermarket Shoppers, The Journal of Marketing, Vol. 46, No. 3 (1982, pp. 86-91. Ronald E Milliman, Former Associate Professor of Marketing, Western Kentucky University.
  3. The Influence of Background Music on the Behaviour of Restaurant Patrons in Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1986), pp. 286-289, Ronald E Milliman.
  4. The Effect of Musical Style on Restaurant Customers’ Spending. Adrian C North, Amber Shilcock, and David J Hargreaves, School of Psychology, University of Leicester, 2002.
  5. VisionCritical research, April 2012 of 1,000 UK businesses. Entertainment Media Research, 2009 on 2,000 UK consumers and 2010 on 400 small retailers, hairdressers, offices and factories.
  6. Listening to music lights up the whole brain, in NeuroImage, 5 December 2011. Suomen Akatemia/Academy of Finland.
  7. The importance of music for business. STIM, SAMI and Heartbeats International.
  8. Chills and thrills: why some people love music – and others don’t, The Conversation, 7 March, 2014, Nikki Rickard, Associate Professor of Psychology, Monash University
  9. Why Do the Songs from Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories, The Athlete’s Way. 11 December 2013. Christopher Bergland.
  10. Listening to favourite music improves endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease, at European Society of Cardiology Congress 2013. Professor Marina Deljanin Ilic, Serbia.
  11. Individual music listening in workplace settings: An exploratory survey of offices in the UK in Musicae Scientiae, March 2011 vol. 15 no. 1 p 107-129. Anneli B. Haake, University of Sheffield, UK.
  12. Safe Work Australia study March, 2012.
  13. In-store music and aroma influences on shopper behavior and satisfaction Michael Morrison, Sarah Gan, Chris Dubelaar, Harmen Oppewal, Department of Marketing, Monash University, School of Business, Bond University.
  14. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. 2015.
  15. VisionCritical research, April 2012 of 1,000 UK businesses. Entertainment Media Research, 2009 on 2,000 UK consumers and 2010 on 400 small retailers, hairdressers, offices and factories.
  16. North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & McKendrick, J. (2000). The effects of music on atmosphere in a bank and a bar. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1504–1522.
  17. RED research, May 2013 on 676 customers of a UK travel company (331 interviewed at stores that play music, 306 interviewed at stores that do not play music
  18. The Effect of Music on Perceived Atmosphere and Purchase Intentions in a Restaurant, June 2000. Dr. Stephanie Wilson.
  19. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. 2015.
  20. DJS Research. June 2013 on 600 businesses in the West Midlands, UK.
  21. The Economic and Cultural Value of Live Music in Australia 2014. University of Tasmania, City of Sydney, City of Melbourne, The Government of South Australia, and the Live Music Office.
  22. Economic contribution of the venue-based live music industry in Australia. 2010. APRA and Ernst & Young.
  23. VisionCritical research, April 2012 of 1,000 UK businesses. Entertainment Media Research, 2009 on 2,000 UK consumers and 2010 on 400 small retailers, hairdressers, offices and factories.
  24. Chills and thrills: why some people love music – and others don’t, The Conversation, 7 March, 2014, Nikki Rickard, Associate Professor of Psychology, Monash University.
  25. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. 2015.