Background Music: Outdoors

Because of COVID-19 we will all be spending more time sitting outside our favourite bars, pubs and restaurants for a time. Yes, even in winter.

None other than the World Health Organisation (WHO) says “both too little sound and too much sound can be harmful” so turn your mind to how to create a soundscape outside your venue to boost your bottom line.

1. Outdoors and Indoors

If you move customers outside (where there is no reverberation from ceilings to help bounce around the sound waves) you’ll have to turn the music up – but only ever so slightly.

Think about:

The placement and number of speakers. We can’t all afford giant strands of steel across our open spaces (see image) to suspend hundreds of speakers – but we can place the ones we have more strategically. More is more: forget one in the courtyard corner cranked to maximum volume.

Perhaps create a quiet zone in the ladies and gents (softer music) where customers can contemplate what’s just happened in the world.

Music tastes may have changed. We suggest you focus on customers’ social well-being with upbeat and celebratory music - the antidote to the isolation blues.

2. Patrons want to be able to talk to each other (and not on Zoom!)

WHO* says clear speaker-to-listener distance is about 1 metre. So, in a relaxed conversation – where you can 100% understand what is being said - the tolerable background noise levels including music range from 35 decibels (a quiet ceiling fan on low speed) to 45 decibels (a dishwasher).

You will need to talk to your friend with “more vocal effort” if the background sound pressure level is near 65 decibels (a vacuum cleaner) but it is of course still possible.

3. Think about your customer profile

“From about 40 years of age, people demonstrate impaired ability to interpret difficult, spoken messages… when compared to people aged 20–30 years.” 

So if you’re serving to Baby Boomers or Gen X there’s even less incentive to crank up the volume too much in your courtyard, footpath or garden space. But they are music lovers just as much and no one (well almost no one) wants a silent entertainment venue.

4. 1.5 metres: space for opportunity

It’s time for the underdog to shine! We will all be hungry to get to our favourite eatery or bar but the limits on admission might stand in our way – and no one wants to queue right?

If your business has had an envious eye on the hip eatery next door wondering how they get such a crowd with a pretty average menu – now’s the chance to get that fan base dining with you!

“Get the ambiance right, the music right, the service right and the food right and you may have just reinvented your business. Did I say get the music right?”, says Greer Davies, Director, OneMusic New Zealand.


*Guidelines for Community Noise - World Health Organization