MusicStream sales and marketing director Neil Boote.

But Neil Boote of MusicStream thinks he might have found a solution.

The music choice of a store can inspire or infuriate shoppers, but it is essential for creating a great sales environment.Sso how to pick tracks that cater for everyone at once? While Neil Boote of MusicStream admits you can never please everybody, he also thinks he might have found a solution.

Of all the possible conclusions you might reach when debating music policy for your business, consensus is the least likely outcome of them all.


Unless that is, the discussion is completely one-sided. If you go on to introduce a second opinion, let alone a third, then the only thing likely to be agreed upon is that music is so subjective and emotive, and shaped by one’s own experience of it, that, well, you just can’t agree.

The fact that music polarises opinion is not a new phenomenon. As George Elliot wrote "there is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music”. At times I concur. Oscar Wilde, on the other hand opined “music makes one feel so romantic – at least it always gets on one’s nerves – which is the same thing nowadays”. Come to think of it, he has a point too.

I worked for 15 years as an executive in retailing for Our Price, Virgin Retail and W.H. Smith selling, amongst other things, CDs, cassettes and vinyl, selling the whole gamut, from Purcell to Public Enemy, and striving to create a retail experience at once acceptable to opera goers, hip hoppers, easy listeners and headbangers.

Keeping the customers happy with the music played was a challenge. In reality, the best we could hope for was to upset the smallest number at any give time. Pleasing the staff was quite frankly totally impossible.

The more passionate your audience is about music, the more extreme will be their reaction to it, good and bad. So, as you can imagine, mine was an Everest of music challenges.

After retailing I worked on the artist side of the industry at Bertelsmann Music Group and then at Sony Music. It is fair to say that more than most I have listened to, pontificated upon, argued about, analysed and passed judgement on the commercial and artistic merits of the incomprehensible yet wonderful human phenomenon that is music. And after half a lifetime of it here’s what I’ve concluded in relation to music for business.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with silence. In our increasingly urbanised lives silence is both rare and edifying. Noise is a stimulant and in our over-stimulating world, oases of calm can be a godsend.

But, silence works best when we are allowed to enjoy it on our own, in our own time, in our own way, meditating, relaxing. Introduce humans into the situation, especially those intent on selling to us, or worse still chattering unknown humans, and well the silence can become an embarrassment, a discomfort, even an irritant in itself.

So for most retail businesses, playing the right music at the right volume at the right time (e.g. higher when the place has more people and more ambient human noise), is preferable to silence. Music fills the void, adds warmth, helps to create that sense of the third place, as defined by Starbucks; somewhere to feel comfortable outside of home and work.

If customers dwell longer, they’re likely to spend more, and return more frequently, which brings us back of course to the thorny question of choosing the right music, given that one woman’s beautiful ballad is another man’s Chinese torture.

My latest venture MusicStream tackles this challenge by steering clear of the well-worn, overly familiar radio fodder that polarises opinion. Of course, for some youth-orientated retail businesses creating your own hip and trendy in-premises radio station may well be the way to go, but for those appealing to a broader audience, unfamiliar but pleasing music, albeit containing the standard chord progressions, rhythms and melodic soundbites of the respective genre, can create the desired positive atmosphere and mood, lowering inhibition and increasing dwell time, but with a lesser risk of alienation and irritation.

MusicStream was set up by a group of music industry professionals with three objectives in mind: firstly to create the best catalogue of licence-free music across all key genres; secondly to make the music easily accessible and controllable by retail customers; and, finally, to save retailers a considerable sum of money each and every year by creating original music that is licence-free and so avoids fees from music bodies such as PRS and PPL.

The service streams the music over the internet via a business PC, Mac or an Android device. For those without internet on the premises, the music can also be downloaded and played offline. The retailer manages the music via the MusicStream digital player, which allows retailers to choose from a wide range of playlists, to customise the music for their business and to control and schedule music across multiple sites.

In a digital age when popular music is ubiquitous and over-exposed, and retailers have to pay for the privilege of playing it, we really do believe that licence-free, unfamiliar but pleasing music, is the cost-effective, credible alternative for many businesses. Not that we’ll please everyone of course. As I said right at the start, when it comes to music that’s impossible.


This article was taken from the May 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.