Make a Sound Investment
Music and sound systems are integral to your venue’s success, but it’s daunting to wade through the countless system options and music-management programs currently available. So how do you choose the best one? Easy: By considering the right factors during the planning phase. Do your homework, talk to the pros and devise a solution that engages your patrons and fits your operational abilities. When that happens, your bottom line will sing.
Your first concern is the sound system’s design. The budget doesn’t have to be astronomical — a decent sound system will run you anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 — but you need a concrete idea of your budget when you sit down with a designer.
Once your speakers are in place, the next decision is the music source. Options include live music, a jukebox, a preprogrammed set list, Internet/cable radio, a DJ or any combination. To determine your ideal source, ascertain how much control you want over your music.
“We wanted a music system that gave us prominent music when we wanted it, yet remained solidly in the background the rest of the time,” says Jonathan Eklund, vice president of development for Z Hotel in Long Island City, N.Y. The boutique hotel has two primary spots in need of the right tunes: a small lounge/restaurant and a 4,500-square-foot rooftop deck. “The lounge turns into a supper club, so during the day when people are eating and relaxing, the music needs to be softer. When we switch over to night, we use a DJ or live music, so we need the system to accommodate that and then give us the power we want.”
Patrons at A Better Place in Park Rapids, Minn., select tunes from a NSM Music Digital Jukebox.
Z Hotel management tapped EL Media for its sound; the group, helmed by Ernie Lake, laid out and installed all of the speakers as well as proprietary digital music boxes.
“We have two boxes, one in the lounge lobby and one on the roof deck. Since those zones are based on the different clientele, the music each emits is completely different,” Eklund says.
Each box costs $469 and is about the size of an external hard drive. Wired into the venue’s audio system as well as the Internet, EL Media can stream playlists or a genre of music specified by the operator. The songs on the device automatically update every 30 days but can be tweaked remotely if necessary.
Lake, who counts The Waldorf Astoria, The Borgata Casino and Hotel, TAO, LAVO and Nobu among his clients, says the system’s ease makes it popular.
“Seventy percent of our clients want their staff to have no control over what’s coming out of the speakers, so they want everything set up and run remotely,” Lake shares.
Because EL Media streams music, Lake and his staff handle the licensing deals so the client only pays a monthly fee for the tracks.
Owners can buy regular music — “stuff that’s currently on the radio, but that encompasses licensing fees and can run a property up to $150 a month” — or Lake‘s library of 5,000 songs, which runs roughly $50 per month, he explains.
While the setup is basic, involving no visual monitor, venues are locked into the playlists; there’s no skipping a track you don’t like or
accommodating a guest’s request. EL Media also offers a pricier system that operates similar to iTunes and allows operators to craft their own playlists.
If you want more control, Magnum Music provides Megaseg software that runs exclusively on in-house Macs. “Our software is popular with single-unit systems, in which the owner pays a single turnkey cost for the software and doesn’t have to deal with monthly fees; they can literally own the software. The client is, in turn, responsible for the licensing,” Owner Wyatt Magnum says.
While there isn’t any chance for patron involvement in the selection process, owners can update and maintain their own playlists, “adding or deleting tracks from their personal mp3 collection, which provides a unique experience for the venue,” Magnum says.
The EL Media system also can be paired with Serato software and switch over to a DJ at the flick of a button, a feature that Mark Eastering, marketing director of Country Western Nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., finds invaluable. “It allows us to do things like our [interactive games] to help get the crowd more involved,” Eastering says. “We stop the preprogrammed list and go live for the games, then we can go right back to the software.”
It’s perfect for the 1,500-person venue because “we can control everything,” he says. “XM Radio … can go off in a direction that doesn’t suit where we want to go. On the iMac, we can put on 1,700 songs and fit our concept.” Because the cost is relatively inexpensive — about $4,000 for the computer, hardware, software and licensing fees — it’s a good alternative for smaller venues.
Both standard and customized music programming is available from Promo Only Networks, whose sister company Promo Only supplies music and video content to DJs. The outfit recently introduced uPlay.
“This is the PC-based system our subscribers have been demanding for years,” says Promo Only Networks Director Mike Nelson, who explains that uPlay offers an interactive element that enables requests to be taken, playlists made and programs implemented quickly to ensure the music is perfect for the crowd. “Some of our locations even use a touch screen that faces the customer so they can pick their favorite song or play DJ for the night.”
The uPlay system features an on-board library of more than 30,000 audio and video hits and access to a download site offering in excess of 200,000 songs, as well as on-screen promotions for Happy Hour, special events and food and drink specials.
A newcomer to the U.S. market is Orange Door Entertainment. The New Zealand-based company manufactures computer systems that encompass a range of media, from music to video to karaoke to games. According to Orange Door’s Tony Wheeler, who also operates his own venues, bar and club pros can choose from 100 prepared lists or more than 40 music categories to create the right playlist for their clientele and can vary the selections by time of day and zone within the venue.
Power to the People
If you want to put music fully in the hands of your patrons, digital jukeboxes have you covered and are going high-tech. NSM Music produces touch-screen jukeboxes, including the Icon2, which can be wired into your venue’s speakers. The units run about $4,000; the operator owns the equipment and pays a $49 weekly flat fee for music content.
“The proprietor of the location has complete control over the unit,” says Geno Giuntoli, vice president of sales and marketing for NSM Music. “They can choose free play or how much each song is worth. They could make up their own specials. For instance, every Monday could be three plays for $1. The owner can filter out genres, so the whole experience is customizable. If they want to end a song or cut to the next track, they have a remote that’ll do just that.”
Don Palookas, owner of Joe Palookas, a 3,500-square-foot bar in Denver, is a fan. “I love NSM’s system because I can do so much more than I could with other jukeboxes,” Palookas says. “You can pick music by year, decade or genre, and the ability to do karaoke appealed to me, as did not having to give half my profits back to the operator or company.”
He splits the licensing with the company, but “it’s not that much, only about $30 a year. Besides that, I can charge whatever I want,
$1 or 50 cents a play.”
The digital touch-screen Virtuo SmartJuke from TouchTunes is wall-mounted and features a 26-inch widescreen with advanced browsing capabilities: Patrons can “swipe” the screen or access a touch-screen keyboard to search; the appearance and functionality is reminiscent of an iPod, and the library can be searched by song lyric. The horizontal positioning and size of the Virtuo screen invites patrons to gather around in groups, creating an experience that’s interactive on several fronts, according to Marc Felsen, vice president of corporate marketing at TouchTunes.
Determining the right sound system and music program for your venue is crucial; your tunes can draw patrons in and entice them to stay (and spend) or force them out the door. Craft a music program that fits your venue’s motif, clientele preference, operational capabilities and your budget; tap into the pros as needed and get busy. What comes out of your speakers should make your registers sing. NCB
What the Pros Know
We live in the age of do-it-yourselfers, but when it comes to sound systems, go with the pros. Why? To avoid a lot of unnecessary headaches and expenditures. We checked in with Karl Kieslich, a National System Design Specialist with Sound Stage Systems of Hamden, Conn., to find out how to hire the right guys for the audio gig.
Do background checks. “You want to go by their credibility, references and credentials. You need someone who is factory-trained and certified. When designing a sound system, there are many variables — the size of the room, the room’s finishes for reflection, be it brick walls vs. concrete and so on — that play into the acoustics. If someone is certified on the equipment they’re installing, they understand the uses and practical applications much better.”
Pros know equipment and will select the best boxes for you. “There are thousands of speakers on the market. This isn’t a matter of going down to the local music store and buying whatever; each speaker is manufactured differently for different applications. Once you figure out the space, volume and acoustics, which is all physics, the next step is which speaker will work in the environment.”
Then it’s all about power. “The next step is how you run the speakers — how you configure and process the power supply. We use multiple speakers and multiple amps, mostly for control over each component, to make it sound as sweet as possible. Having multiple power sources is also key.”
Keep your system in tune. “Calibrated properly, the system will run flawlessly for many years.”
Finally, pros will help you realize what your capacity really is, helping to preserve and prolong your investment. “Many clubs systems are running at 80% capacity because they’re underpowered, and there’s not enough coverage. As a result, you can have a Funktion One system which can end up sounding like a bad car stereo.”
Tracking Music Trends
Music is like fashion: Artists and genres go from hot to not very quickly. Mike Nelson, director of Promo Only Networks, had this to say about what’s in, what’s on the rise and what’s on its way out: “Urban music has definitely lost steam in today’s hospitality environment, while genres such as Top 40, dance and country have gained ground.”
Music tastes are gravitating to genres that are uplifting and energizing, which is good for bar and club businesses. “Over the past three years we have seen a gradual shift toward more positive, up-tempo and upbeat music, such as electro/house, that is about 120 beats per minute (BPM), vs. urban, which tends to hover between 90 to 100 BPM. The emphasis is definitely more driving Top 40 with songs that are recognizable to the masses, including remixes of today’s popular songs so that they have the increased BPM necessary to keep the customer on the dance floor.”