What music do you like to listen to in a bar?
September 8, 2007 5:13 AM   Subscribe

What music do you like to listen to in a bar?

I've recently opened a bar, and though I get mostly positive feedback some were complaining about my choice of music.
It happens that my favourite music styles are hardcore, metal, experimental and generally more noisy stuff. I can see that people would object to this so I usually play slow acoustic music, anti-folk and the likes. But now some said that it is all too sad and depressing.

So my question is: If you are in a bar, what music do you enjoy hearing? Can you name some bands that are not too boring and un-original, or a new or old genre that I should explore?
The clientele of the bar is rather young, mixed gay/straight (queer) and a bit "alternative"...
posted by kolophon to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but around here, people have a tendency to play the white blues in bars. Do the world a favor, and avoid that, and you'll be 45% closer to your goal.
posted by The Giant Squid at 5:15 AM on September 8, 2007

you would probably best be served by asking your clientele. unless people here are part of your "target customer group" then it really doesn't matter what kind of music we would put down. all that being said, when drinking, I like classic rock and 80's top 40.
posted by mrmarley at 5:21 AM on September 8, 2007

If the bar is in Berlin, you should play electronic dance music & house.
posted by dydecker at 5:30 AM on September 8, 2007

Let people pick songs from the MP3 player or plug in their MP3 player for them if they have a song. This works well when the place isn't crowded/busy and will give you a certain sense of what to play when it is.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:44 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think of Tom Waits as "boozy music" and that's the sort of stuff I like to hear in a bar. That being said, Tom Waits himself might be a little overplayed.

People always like Jonathan Richman and people always like the Pixies.
posted by creasy boy at 5:47 AM on September 8, 2007

And I must take issue with dydecker's suggestion. I never hear electronic music in bars here and if I did I would probably leave. More to the point, though: this bar you opened, is it in Berlin? Does it have a name?
posted by creasy boy at 5:51 AM on September 8, 2007

upbeat but not overpowering. the new indie-punk-pop bands are all good (ok go, arctic monkeys, arcade fire, franz ferdinand, etc). also 90s britpop (like blur) and ska (like the bosstones). also, new wave and/or not-top-40 80s music is always good--familiar but just edgy/ironic enough to be cool: joy division, depeche mode, elvis costello, etc.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:56 AM on September 8, 2007

If I've got to hear music in a bar, make it Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner. If stuck with rock only, make it pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers.
posted by paulsc at 5:57 AM on September 8, 2007

Response by poster: creasy boy: yes, in Berlin Neuk├Âlln and it's called Silver Future. Sometimes we do play electronic music though...
posted by kolophon at 6:02 AM on September 8, 2007

Give "Sunshine underground - Borders" a try and see how people react.

If it works, go with the new age stuff like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Hot Hot Heat, Sunshine Underground, etc. The bottom line is you want people to feel happy and ready to drink and celebrate. That line of bands works out great in a bar.
posted by fredoliveira at 6:06 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

oh, and I'll be in berlin next week and I'll give you guys a visit
posted by fredoliveira at 6:09 AM on September 8, 2007

I like to listen to Belle and Sebastian when I'm drinking.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:09 AM on September 8, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for the suggestions fredoliveira, I'll try and find those bands. And please come and visit us.
Let's say everybody who says "metafilter" at the bar will get a free shot.
posted by kolophon at 6:26 AM on September 8, 2007

I'd like to hear this mix by local Berliner Dixon.
posted by dydecker at 6:37 AM on September 8, 2007

All of my favorite bars have jukeboxes.
posted by box at 6:41 AM on September 8, 2007

AC/DC, The Eels, Elvis, Iggy and the Stooges, Queen (Especially Don't stop me now), The Dubliners
posted by zackola at 6:44 AM on September 8, 2007

item speaketh the truth. I also think that when in doubt...go black. Uplifting reggae like Toots & the Maytals, Brazilian shit like Jorge Ben, Curtis Mayfield, the Ethiopiques records...

I like metal & experimental music, too, but it's not good-timey.
posted by dydecker at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2007

Item reminded me of an album I have, The Best of Brigitte Bardot. It's cute and perky and she's a kitsch-symbol in a way. I can get you a copy of that if you like. Also Franz-Ferdinand-like stuff is a good idea, but Franz Ferdinand in particular have been seriously overplayed here for a few years now.
posted by creasy boy at 7:01 AM on September 8, 2007

Merle Haggard. Next question?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:11 AM on September 8, 2007

Bowie's Ziggy Stardust always went over really well at a lounge where I used to bartend.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:24 AM on September 8, 2007

The Big Lebowski soundtrack.
posted by erikgrande at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2007

I find old-school ska and rocksteady to be perfect, tonally, for a pleasant bar experience. Although, since its your bar, how about you compromise between yourself and your patrons? Hardcore is a bit much, but more mainstream metal is fine.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2007

you've got some great suggestions here already from The Only Cool Tim, item, fredoliveria and zackola.

I like and frequent bars like you're describing, and agree that (at least when i lived there) Germany is overrun with techno thumpbathump bars where the music gets really old and annoying after about half an hour. (and I even kinda like techno... kinda).

basically it sounds like what you want to do is avoid getting stuck too much in one genre or be too 'generational' if you get my drift. People in this day and age, especially musically savvy people (i'm trying to avoid using the term 'hip' or 'hipsters' here, but... yeah) tend to listen to a very wide spectrum of quality stuff from pretty much every era of modern music, and that can be from oh, about 1950 onward.

No matter what you do, for the love of god set it up with enough variety so that you don't end up hearing the same.goddamn.track. over and over again every night. Now that technology provides the capacity for 40,000 tracks on a device smaller than your hand, there is just no excuse for that.

Try to play a wide spectrum of eclectic, hooky stuff that's not too candy, not too cliche (tho cliche is certainly okay from time to time) and not too downbeat. It's really difficult to describe in full what this is, more of 'you definitely know it when you hear it'.

I'd say basically do everything the above posters recommended, maybe also throw in stuff from bands like Spoon, New Pornographers, White Stripes, et. al. (their side project The Raconteurs strikes me as excellent bar music), and mix in the odd older track from bands like Squeeze, XTC, Elvis, the Stones and the Beatles... hell even Louis Armstrong works, and everyone loves Patsy Cline (tho to me that's the very definition of cliche hipster bar music). I'd also recommend tossing in the odd track from groups like Gotan Project and Angelique Kidjo for a sexy 'worldbeat' appeal.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:04 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

my ideal mix in a bar (like if i put 30 bucks in a jukebox) would consist of:
Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Dirty Projectors, certain Underworld songs maybe, something classic like mose allison or louis jordan, John scofield, calexico, led zeppelin, george thorogood, g love, beastie boys, some bjork,

anyway i could go on but really i want to hear songs I know and songs I don't know but are accessible, tuneful, not too challenging, and every now again throw in something i can sing to.
posted by Soulbee at 8:11 AM on September 8, 2007

Old funk, soul, and motown records, but avoid the ones that still get played on commercial radio. The stax box set is a great place to start. The music is inviting and acessible, but without sacrificing credibility. It's also fun to hear songs that were later sampled in hip-hop.
posted by yorick at 8:45 AM on September 8, 2007

Thievery Corporation, Chris Joss, Boozoo Bajou, Miles Davis.
posted by phrontist at 9:18 AM on September 8, 2007

If you're bored with the music you're listening to, you should go to Pandora, plug in the names of a band you like and see what the Music Genome Project pulls up for you.
Personally, while enjoying a cocktail I like to listen to music that manages to be both upbeat and downbeat, like Luna. Seconding Calexico.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2007

Dillinger Four.
posted by baphomet at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I worked in bars, I hated having jukeboxes as the patrons tended to play the same half dozen songs over and over and over.

yes. item speaks wisdom. please, this can't be emphasised enough - letting a few select patrons plug in their ipods is one thing, but letting the same drunken patrons play the same ten songs on the jukebox over and over again every hour is a whole other animal.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:20 AM on September 8, 2007

I would SO go to a bar that played Cafe del Mar.
posted by wafaa at 10:49 AM on September 8, 2007

None. None. None.

People who own bars and restaurants should get it through their thick skulls that people go to bars and restaurants to talk to other people, not to yell "WHAT?".
posted by Flunkie at 11:03 AM on September 8, 2007

The best thing you can do, which reveals my own biases, is hook up with a jukebox vending company and put in dollar/coin op jukebox in there. Aim for sane prices and make sure your cut is 50%. When the machine is not being used make sure its set to randomly play music.

You may also just want to buy a used one, that way you have access to the key that opens it. That way you can give away credits to patrons. Just put in 10 virtual dollars and let a few people have some fun with it. This is a pretty expensive one-time cost though, but you will be collecting money on "non-free" nights.

And as Flunkie has mentioned, dont make the volume level too loud. A bar is for drinking and talking. A club is for dancing.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:15 AM on September 8, 2007

I FREQUENTLY received complements from my bar patrons for my music selection. I liked music that was inoffensive, upbeat, quality, and if not exactly obscure, then certainly not top-40 shit.

Here are the artists that received the most positive response:

Bob Marley
Jesse Cook
16 Horsepower
Citizen Cope (Clarence Greenwood Recordings)
Earth, Wind and Fire
Jimi Hendrix - Blues Album
Band of Gypsys
Jay Munly
Modest Mouse
Johnny Cash
Ali Farka Toure
Frank Sinatra (really! You wouldn't believe how much people loved hearing the Chairman)
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Third World
Steel Pulse
Sting (Ten Summoner's Tales)
Rustic Overtones (Long Division)

Some soundtracks:
Grosse Pointe Blank
Buena Vista Social Club
Get Shorty
When We Were Kings

Early in the night during dinner hours, Coltrane or Miles Davis was popular.
posted by vito90 at 11:41 AM on September 8, 2007

I love vito90's list. And nthing Miles Davis. Earth Wind and Fire! How loungy, which is my favorite type of "bar". Thievery Corporation, et.al. But, yeah, it depends on the sort of clientele you are trying to atract--or did you take over the old clientele?
posted by wafaa at 11:56 AM on September 8, 2007

posted by wafaa at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2007

I'd say invest in a jukebox. Get one of the old ones that just uses CD's and not one of those newfangled internet deals. Get your employees to make a few mixes of their own, sprinkle in some of the old standards and let your customers pick the music. That way, when somebody complains about the tunes, it's their own fault. Steering clear of the "Download Your Favorite Song" style jukebox means that you can maintain a modicum of control over the music selection in the bar while still letting the rabble choose what they want to listen to. Ask me about the time someone downloaded the fifteen minute Brian Eno wind chime track.

And yes, keep the volume down so people can talk and your bartenders can get drink orders right.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:03 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would stock up on compilations of all sorts. Best of Classic-Rock/Motown/80s Pop/90s Alternative/Hair Metal/Power Ballads/Punk/Bosa Nova/Disco. Also, get some classic film & TV soundtracks (Big Chill, Reality Bites, Rome & Juliet, Tarantino films, Buffy and so on). When Spin or NME or whatever the hip-new-music-magazine available in Berlin puts a sampler-CD on the cover, pick it up. You might have to rip some of these and reburn them with a few of the dud-tracks taken out. Shove 6 or 10 of them in a CD player that holds 6 or 10 at once and hit shuffle.
posted by Martin E. at 12:49 PM on September 8, 2007

I go with:
Johnny Cash and June Carter
Toots and The Maytals
Bill Whithers
Classic Rock
Bonnie Raitt
The Beatles
Funky Jazz
Light Funky Blues
Eric Clapton
B.B. King
Rolling Stones
Classic Motown
Classic Stax
Robert Wyatt
Talking Heads
Barry White
Chuck Berry
Lounge Music
Aretha Franklin
Elton John
posted by doctorschlock at 12:55 PM on September 8, 2007

Oh yeah...my man...Marvin Gaye.
posted by doctorschlock at 12:58 PM on September 8, 2007

there was a bar in the basement of the building in hells kitchen I once stayed in that only had the ramones on the jukebox. I thought that was awesome galore.
posted by krautland at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2007

At my bar, patrons often bring in mixes they've made, which might include Brazilian music, local songwriters, Pink Floyd, reggae, PJ Harvey....you get the idea. Encourage your customers to bring music they like and you'll learn a lot about their tastes as well as win their hearts and booties.
posted by Riverine at 2:20 PM on September 8, 2007

Second Flunkie's suggestion. I absolutely fucking mourn the death of places where I can have a drink and a conversation that doesn't involve repeated use of the phrase "What? WHAT?" or turning my ear directly towards someone just so I can hear every third goddamn word they're saying.

I suppose it depends on what kind of demographic you're going for, but I'd encourage you to consider cultivating a friendly atmosphere where people can talk without shouting, the sort of place that welcomes people who don't need to have music blasted into their eardrums so they can escape the horrible burden of conversation and independent thought.

In short, if you absolutely must have music, I'd recommend something quiet in the background, the sort of thing people would barely notice if at all.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:17 PM on September 8, 2007

seconding what yorick said.
posted by juv3nal at 1:12 AM on September 9, 2007

No matter what you play, you'll always get complaints. I'd attend most to the complaints of your regulars.
posted by happyturtle at 2:11 AM on September 9, 2007

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