Setting The Scene: Businesses Choose Tunes Strategically

Story and photos by Meghan Feir

MSUM English/mass communications

Edited by Meredith Wathne

Don’t be surprised if your ears end up being as pleased as your taste buds when you go out on the town next.

Imagine going to a restaurant or coffee shop where no music is being played. Even the thought is unappealing. People don’t pay for food and beverage alone. Atmosphere is just as expensive, and a large part of setting a scene comes from background music pumping you up or settling you down. Music is known for its ability to mold our moods, so it’s no wonder businesses put thought into the soundtracks of their space.

Chelsea Thorson, a barista at Atomic Coffee on Broadway, said they use Pandora for their music playlists. “With my iPod I have Pandora. Usually, I listen to Fleet Foxes radio,” Thorson said. “Every person who’s working brings their iPod, so we have full, free range of whatever we want to listen to, as long as it’s not vulgar or obscene. But, really, there’s no limitations to what we can play in here. Sometimes it’s classical on Sundays, and whatever; jazz on Friday nights, maybe to mix it up.”

Atomic Coffee refuses to bore their patrons. Genres like classical, indie and jazz are played to broaden the musical repertoire of guests and employees.

Like Atomic, Babb’s House of Coffee on Main Avenue in Fargo, relies on their iPod to cater to not only coffee lovers’ taste buds but their musical tastes, too. Joel Onsurez, a manager at Babb’s, makes sure variety surrounds their clientele. “We play anything from opera to light country – pretty much all over the board,” Onsurez said.

Volume levels also play a major role in atmospheric appeal. Onsurez said the music at Babb’s is “usually not very obtrusive at all, so even if you’re sitting in the back you can still have a normal conversation without having to raise your voice.”

Babb’s Coffee House offers a vast array of musical selections ranging from musical scores to light country.

While many businesses are choosing to use Pandora and their iPods as personal DJs, some still like to support their local radio stations, while others prefer to play CDs to fit their theme. Betts Kopp, a server at Toscana, said they play “Italian. When we’re busier we turn it up louder. We use CDs.”

Kara Klipfel, an employee at Spicy Pie, said they use satellite radio to keep the selection flowing. “We play a lot of classic rock. We have different stations, but it’s mostly classic rock that we play. It’s a nice variety,” Klipfel said. “It’s not the same stuff every day. Sometimes, like weekends, we play more, like, upbeat, mainstream stuff – like, we’ll do an electronic channel on Friday nights for the bar crowd.”

Time of day also plays a major role in how loudly they play their music. “During the week it’s more relaxed ‘cause a lot of families come in,” Klipfel said, “so we have more relaxing music, and it’s not too loud ‘cause people like to talk when they eat. It’s usually quieter during the day, but on Fridays and Saturdays around 11 p.m. we can turn it up.”

Spicy Pie serenades Downtown Fargo with classic rock through satellite radio stations.

Other businesses like the Hotel Donaldson thrive on diversity of tunes. Nate Stensgard, one of the managers at the HoDo, said they play “a mixture of things – newer stuff – actually, kind of a great variety. We use Spotify, Pandora, things like that,” Stensgard said. “We like kind of mellow music. At night it gets a little more upbeat, a little more rock ‘n’ rollish, if you will – depends on the crowd. We just want everybody to be comfortable, so we adjust the music accordingly. We’ll accommodate.”

Stensgard noted the direction music acquisition has taken recently with the use of these accessible music programs. “Everybody’s doing Pandora, and whatnot. It’s not like we’re buying CDs. You find two songs by one artist and move on to similar stuff,” Stensgard said. “You don’t just sit there and listen to 20 songs by one artist.” Stensgard also mentioned how the majority of people today are using these music sites to enjoy music for free, rather than purchasing each song they enjoy.

So, what is the desired outcome for these local eateries’ carefully chosen taste for tunes? “Just being calm and happy, I guess,” Stensgard said, “what everybody wants for their guests at their restaurant or bar. We’re not trying to force emotions down people’s throats – we just want them to be happy.”

The HoDo, among other businesses, chooses to use accessible music programs like Spotify and Pandora to set the mood.

2 Responses

  1. Anita Feir

    I absolutely loved your article about the music at various eateries! I also loved the PICTURES! You are a huge, cascading avalanche of talent! Love, your mother

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