While it can be difficult to identify the best background music for shopping, it’s easy to pick out which music is the worst. This music is annoying, loud, and so hard to listen to it sends shoppers right back out the door.

Overhead music plays an important role in keeping shoppers in a store. When it’s bad, it sends customers running. That’s easy to avoid. However, you need more than music that “isn’t bad” when it comes to your retail store. You need music that not only keeps shoppers in the store but also enhances their experience and increases sales for your business.

In this blog, we take a look at what you need to have a positive and powerful overhead sound in your store. Important features include:

  1. Your source is legal for business use.
  2. The music fits your brand.
  3. It’s not your personal playlist.
  4. The playlist resonates with your target audience.
  5. The music doesn’t frustrate your staff.
  6. Overhead messaging is seamlessly integrated.
  7. It creates a cohesive on-premise experience.

Why is Background Music Important?

Background music is more than filling an awkward silence in a retail store. It’s a tool for improving the performance of your store and the experience of everyone who steps inside. When you follow these guidelines, you can create an overhead music system that:

  • Creates a fully branded experience and environment
  • Decreases customer stress and improves customer attitude
  • Provides cues to customers for how quickly they should move through the store
  • Improves employee satisfaction and productivity
  • Increases sales

Don’t aim to just provide shopping music that “isn’t bad.” Find the music perfect for your unique business and shoppers by following these best practices.

1. Your Source Is Legal for Business Use

One of the most important factors in selecting the best background music for shopping is often one that retailers overlook: choosing music that is legal to play.

There are complicated legalities when it comes to playing music in a retail space. You could be breaking those rules if you are playing songs through:

  • The radio
  • CDs
  • iPods
  • Streaming services like Pandora or Spotify

Many businesses make this error without even realizing it. But this isn’t a mistake that is easy to walk away from if you are caught. A few years ago in Tampa, FL, 25 businesses were sued after it was discovered that they were playing copyright without a license.

Playing unlicensed music in retail stores can be an expensive mistake to make. Eleven of the reported settlements in Tampa ranged from $10,200 to $62,000. So when selecting music, make sure you know the rules and use only licensed music and playlists.  

2. The Music Fits Your Brand

To figure out what your customers want to hear, start by considering your business as a whole. Write down brand characteristics that define the personality of your business. Then match the characteristics with a music style that shares the same qualities.

For example, a retail store that sells high-end jewelry may want to reflect brand qualities of sophistication and elegance. They may choose a classical music playlist that matches those characteristics.

Choosing a sound that matches your business personality provides brand continuity — and it can also increase sales. A study by Texas Tech University found that when a wine store changed their music from top-forty to a more sophisticated style with classical music, customers selected more expensive merchandise. The customers were influenced by the more refined sound to buy more refined wine.

To get ideas for your sound, click here to sample a library of background music options.

3. It’s Not Your Personal Playlist 

Liking the overhead music for your store isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to stop playing the music you like. But just because you like a certain style of music doesn’t mean it is the right fit for your business or customers.

While it might be tempting, do not choose the music for your store based on personal preferences. It’s important not to let store managers or other employees change the music based on their preferences either. The best background music for shopping in your store always matches customer preference first. Play what they want to hear.

4. The Playlist Resonates with Your Target Audience

Once you determine a sound that matches your brand, dig a little deeper. Consider how your target audience will respond to the background music.

Seek songs and sounds for your overhead music playlist that match the preferences and interests of your ideal shopper persona. Use music that fits their tastes, and disqualify songs that don’t suit their preferences.

5. The Music Doesn’t Frustrate Your Staff

While picking shopping music that your customers will like should be a priority, you can’t completely forget about your staff. Employees are subjected to overhead music for long stretches of time. When the music annoys them by being unpleasant or redundant, it can have an impact on the performance of your store.

Overhead music impacts employee productivity and morale. You need the right balance of music and variety of songs that makes employees happy while still matching the themes and needs of your store.

Further ReadingSee how Walmart readjusted their overhead music strategy when employees started complaining about hearing too much Justin Bieber and Celine Dion.

6. Overhead Messaging Is Seamlessly Integrated

Overhead sounds in your retail store aren’t restricted to music. To get the most out of your sound system, you can also incorporate strategic overhead messaging.

Customers in your store are an engaged audience so you can effectively use overhead messaging to connect with them and:

  • Direct them to specific departments
  • Alert them of sales and specials
  • Promote products and services
  • Share event announcements
  • And more

Use this resource to find out what you can say in overhead messaging and to view a library of samples.

7. It Creates a Cohesive On-Premise Experience

Studies have shown that background music in retail stores actually impacts the way that customers engage with their environment.

Finding the best background music for shopping isn’t just about picking the right songs. It’s also about picking music with the right tempo, volume, genre and messaging.


Research shows that slow music causes customers to relax and spend more time in the store, while music with a fast tempo causes customers to move more quickly throughout a store and decreases the time they spend shopping.

In 1982, a study was conducted at a New York City grocery store investigating the effect of music tempo on shoppers’ buying behaviors. The results showed that playing slower music led to more time spent in the store and an increase in gross product sales, compared with more upbeat music. The PAD model explains that fast music leads to a high level of arousal which in turn leads to moving at a faster pace through the store. Conversely, music with more relaxed tempo prevents these high levels of arousal and slows down the pace at which shoppers move, leading to an increase in items purchased.

Another study was done in a restaurant environment by Caldwell and Hilbert in 1999. The study showed that customers spent a higher dollar amount on alcohol in addition to spending more time eating when exposed to slow tempo music, while fast music led to quicker and shorter wait times for incoming patrons.

These studies indicate that music tempo has a direct effect on how long consumers will dwell in the space as well how much they will ultimately spend during their visit. Brands must consider the desired speed they want a visitor to traverse their retail space when choosing a music playlist.

So as you select music for your store, consider your audience and the type of shopping experience you want them to have and choose the sound that matches.  


There’s no set rule when it comes to how loud the music in your store should be. It all depends on your customers’ preferences. However, science can help you to make an informed decision.

Smith and Curnow conducted a field experiment in 1966, measuring the impact of music volume on the amount of time people spent in stores. The results showed that loud music led to less time spent shopping, compared to softer music. However, the study showed that the volume had little effect on total sales. Furthermore, some research suggests that loud music can lead to a distorted perception of how much time has passed, particularly in females, who tend to think less time has passed when loud music is playing.

Another study revealed that the audience’s average age should be a focal point when deciding on the volume level. Younger shoppers tended to spend more time shopping when music is played at a higher volume, whereas older shoppers spent more time when the music was in the background or at a lower volume. This finding plays hand-in-hand with today’s cross-generational marketing challenges.


The type of music being played is one of the first things shoppers will notice when entering a retail space. This music must not be chosen based on what employees want to hear, but rather on what lifestyle image a brand wants to portray in the minds of their shoppers. Additionally, brands should chose a genre that fits its category and inspires patrons to make a purchase decision.

One study investigated the effect of playing modern pop versus classical music in a wine store. The results showed that more money was spent when consumers listened to the classical music rather than Top 40. Interestingly, shoppers did not buy more quantity of wine but instead chose the more expensive bottles. Other studies show that, during the holiday season, shoppers buy more holiday-related goods when Christmas music is playing in the store.

These studies show that the genre of music being played signals shoppers to buy specific items. Classical music is a symbol of sophistication, status, or class therefore encouraging the purchase of more expensive bottles of wine. Christmas carols herald yuletide joy and giving, inspiring shoppers to purchase items relative to the season.

Lastly, the genre of music should always represent the brand identity. A retail store selling maternity clothes should obviously avoid heavy metal or hard-core rap in favor of something soothing like nature sounds or kids’ music. On the other hand, a retailer carrying clothing and accessories for a niche market like skateboarders or other extreme sports would probably choose a louder genre like punk rock or hip-hop.


The right genre of music playing at the right volume and speed will help create a positive shopping mood for patrons as they peruse the space. The next step is to insert effective marketing messages that will educate, inform, or promote products and services to the captive listener. The ultimate goal, of course, is to inspire the audience to take action.

Using experienced voice talent and professionally recorded messages, makes your opportunity count! Offer up lifestyle notes to reinforce the brand identity, mention where to find certain products or services within the store, or notify listeners of great deals and current promotions. Lastly, tell them to follow you on social media, helping you utilize music to go beyond the wall of retail.

Let’s Get Started

These seven qualifiers can help you review your overhead music strategy and determine if you are using the best background music for shopping.

If you want to be sure that your music is properly guiding customers, not annoying your staff, matching your branding, and legal to use, Spectrio can help. 

Click here to schedule a demo with one of Spectrio’s overhead messaging and customer experience experts.