Expert Topic Setting An Electronic Vibe: Picking The Right Music To Set The Mood In Your Taproom

Mood is everything.

From the moment you walk into a space, whether a restaurant, library, bar, cafe, or taproom, the mood of the place surrounds you and makes itself understood. Sometimes that mood is intentional, directly coordinated through thoughtful planning and consideration. A lot of the time, however, it’s less considered. Televisions blare mindlessly or background music is treated as necessary white noise, sometimes through a top hits playlist offered by an electronic service or even a jukebox controlled by customers. Whatever vibe you’re trying to achieve, effectively communicating that to your audience is key.

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I talked with Chris Lohring, the founder of Notch Brewing to get his takes on creating just the right vibe for your spaces.

More Than An Afterthought

Lohring has directly supervised the design and vibe of two different tap rooms. His flagship and first location in Salem, Massachusetts, is in a small brick warehouse building on the riverfront just steps from the historic downtown. Notch’s second location is a striking European style beer garden in a recently renovated former horse stable in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton. Both locations have distinct personalities while enjoying similar vibes, all by design. And at the center of it all, almost as important as the brewery’s excellent lagers, is music.

Lohring notes that it’s important to understand your space and your audience in deciding whether to have music and what kind. “Initially, I didn’t want any music in the tap room at all. And in the beer garden, I wanted just beer glasses clinking and conversation, but I got talked out of that. And I’m glad I did. Because one of the things with communal seating, if you’re gonna have music, you can hear the conversation of the person next to you. And that’s just a bridge too far for a lot of US consumers. They want to have a little bit of distance, even if it’s the same table and I respect that. So the music was a way to ask for us to have a point of view.”

After finally agreeing to have music in his taprooms, Lohring set about designing a thoughtful system so that music would positively contribute to the space. “I really disliked it when I went to restaurants and bars and heard the music as an afterthought,” Lohring says. “Classic rock, hits radio, or top 40 pop, or just Touchtunes. Those things didn’t really resonate with me.”

So Lohring spent time cultivating a single playlist of around 100 songs that serve as the base for the music played in the taprooms. From there he empowered his staff to create their own playlists. The music played reflects the styles and sensibilities of the staffers but also has to match the time, vibe, and even purpose. “Each playlist has a time and place,” Lohring notes. “It could be a good afternoon playlist that could be terrible at night. So we read the room and what the vibe is supposed to be. Sometimes you want to clear out kids, so we play music to clear out kids, sometimes we want the families to stay. So we keep music on that is more appropriate for that.”

Have A Point Of View

Lohring’s musical tastes reflect his upbringing and the music he grew up listening to. “I grew up liking punk rock and hardcore and I’m old enough to have been in the first wave of punk and hardcore,” he says. Those interests led his tastes to fall outside the mainstream, which show in his musical choices for his taprooms. For Notch, “the music is something that you won’t walk into any standard bar restaurant and hear.”

He suggests others looking to set a vibe in their own spaces always go with a “unique point of view.” “Don’t rely on other breweries that you like and just copy them, just do something unique,” Lohring advises. “That’s what we really need in craft beer right now, we need unique points of view. And don’t be afraid of it. I think some people are afraid to put their own unique view out there, so everyone’s kind of derivative. I think you’re just diluting what that person did.”

Lohring points to TRVE Brewing in Denver as a brewery with a distinct voice. “They’re probably the first ones to do a metal focused playlist, right? And I’m sure a lot of people were like, ‘What are you doing? You’re never going to succeed?’ I’m sure there was a lot of pushback.” But success, as Lohring notes, leads to copycats. “Look at how many metal focused taprooms there are now.”

Creating The Right Mix

In curating the audio experience for your space and customers, Lohring also advises that some musical styles might not lend themselves to your physical space. “In Salem, we have 20 foot ceilings, it’s brick and concrete. And so some bass heavy stuff just doesn’t work. That’s the reality, but it’s not a genre specific thing. Any genre is appropriate if it fits the point of view.

In creating the playlists, Lohring suggests taking your time to get it right and not just selecting something generic. “It’s hard to contextualize, it’s like it’s a vibe. It’s like making a mixtape, right? A mixtape has a flow. And you got to make sure that flows. You can’t go from something that has a tempo that suddenly drops out to something very sparse, the room just drops. So you have to think about the mixtape kind of standpoint, it’s got to flow. You can eventually get to a mid tempo rocker, but you gotta ease into it. Shuffle play doesn’t work.”

In addition to his initial playlist, Lohring has also empowered his staff to curate their own sounds for the taprooms. All staff can make a playlist but it has to be approved by myself or other members of the staff,” Lohring says. “People think they have a great playlist and they start playing it when we’re open and it doesn’t work. So they say ‘I’m gonna go refine it and take it off.’ So it’s just constant iteration and curation. It’s fun and I’ve been exposed to a lot of great music that otherwise I wouldn’t have heard of.”

One Final Piece Of Advice: Managing Sound Levels

“I think I’m the only owner that walks into each taproom each time and I’m never turning it down,” he says. “It’s difficult because our rooms are large. And so when we start the day, there’s a volume set that is appropriate for that room. But once there’s a lot of bodies in there, the volume has to go up.” Lohring recommends monitoring the sound levels throughout the day. “I’m waiting for the app to come in that will register crowd noise and raise or lower the volume,” he jokes. “My thing is, if you can hear the music, you should be able to identify the music at the very least. If the music is in the background, you can’t identify what it is, then it’s just adding to noise. You got to be able to hear the song.”

Setting An Electronic Vibe: Picking The Right Music To Set The Mood In Your Taproom posted in:
Andy Crouch
Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch is a contributor to ProBrewer and the publisher of All About Beer, covering the art, business, and culture of beer. He also hosts the monthly Beer Travelers podcast.

3 Comments on “Setting An Electronic Vibe: Picking The Right Music To Set The Mood In Your Taproom”

  • John Heasley

    No, do not change the volume as the room fills with bodies.

    The room becomes loud because people are talking – that is what they are there for – for socializing, not for music. Raising the volume of the music just makes people speak louder and the environment devolves into one where one can not hear their neighbor. The loudness makes for an uninteresting and tiresome environment.

  • Chad Perth

    Chad Perth


    Nice article.

    Went to BBQ restaurant that was “blasting” Michael Jackson (I admit am overly sensitive to noise). Food was good but never went back. I refuse to pay to listen to music I wouldn’t listen to at home.

    Then my last visit to our favorite Korean restaurant.
    Part of paying to go out to eat and drink is for the ambience. A soft background music over the main restaurant speaker system- nice. Add rock and roll from the cashier and Spanish music from the kitchen and BOOM!. They just lost a monthly customer.

    Went for a romantic lunch at a local Italian place. Nice background music. Think Sinatra. Kitchen staff blasting MMA. BOOM! Customer lost.

    • Tuan Bui

      Tuan Bui


      Seems a little extreme to never go back to a place because the music wasn’t right for you. Hopefully you left some constructive feedback so that managers could address the issue. I always tell my employees to make sure to come out and walk the floor every now and then to make sure they can hear, smell, feel what is happening on the floor, and I would hope that one of our regulars would mention something that wasn’t quite right.

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