Whether or not the average patron of a coffee shop is cognizant of its effects, the music playing inside the space has a significant impact on the experience of the guests. At best, a bespoke and genuine playlist has the opportunity to build a connection between the listener and the space itself. Music of a specific noteworthiness aids in the way an experience is imprinted on a customer’s memory. This can happen either by a conscious recognition of an unexpected tune, or through a subconscious internalization of the sense of place. At worst, a good playlist can positively affect a non-musical coffee enjoyer by establishing a desired degree of background noise. Music that is fluid and inoffensive will censor the knocks and bangs of a busy coffee bar as well as muffle the private conversations of customers and baristas alike. Because let’s face it, many people pursue a cafe environment to focus on work, connect with friends, or enjoy a third space away from their home or workplace. An auditory cushion of thoughtfully selected music is a key ingredient in the carefully crafted ambience of any food or beverage establishment. Cafe culture has evolved tremendously since the Friends sipped sixteen ounce dry cappuccinos at Central Perk. It is time to move on from royalty free jazz or exclusive bouts of indie folk. Here are 4 recommendations to set your playlist apart from the cafe cliches.
Motown- Maybe it is because we’re a Michigan based company, or maybe it is because I have a distinct memory of dialing in espresso to the sounds of Marvin Gaye on a foggy weekday morning, but I feel like every coffee shop playlist could benefit from some Motown. For those who don’t know, Motown music refers to the distinctive sound of popular music that emerged from the Motown record label, founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959. The Motown sound was characterized by catchy melodies, polished production, and a fusion of R&B, pop, and soul music. Some noteworthy Motown artists are The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. Check out the track Inner City Blues by Marvin Gaye.
Sample Based Hip Hop - Sample-based hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop music that involves the use of pre-existing recordings, or "samples," as the basis for the music. In sample-based hip hop, a producer will take a portion of an existing song, usually a drum break or a musical riff, and use it as the foundation for a new composition. This technique has been a fundamental element of hip hop music since its inception in the 1970s, and is widely considered one of the key features that distinguishes hip hop from other genres. Think of it like the more mature version of “chill instrumental beats to study to”. This type of music is great for just about every time of day in a cafe setting. When things are slower and the cafe is quiet, there is a great opportunity to settle into the music and dissect the layers and samples. When business has picked up and things are busy, drinks are lined up on the bar, and the cafe is full of laughing and talking customers, the upbeat, bass-heavy rhythm and production will sustain and elevate the energy in the space. Again, we may be partial as a Michigan based company, but J Dilla, the famed producer and beat maker from Detroit, is always a welcomed addition to a playlist. Listen to Time: the Donut of the Heart. Knxweldge is another producer who’s beats find their way onto the most vibey coffee shop playlists. If you want more of a throwback, you can never go wrong with a Tribe Called Quest either.
Contemporary / Alternative R&B - This is kind of a far reaching category, as many artists that operate within the loose confines of alternative R&B are, by definition, experimental in nature and deviate from conventions or draw inspiration from dozens of genres. The style incorporates elements of electronic, hip hop, soul, funk, jazz and indie music, resulting in a more experimental and diverse sound than traditional R&B. Notable characteristics of contemporary alternative R&B include the use of atmospheric and moody production, introspective lyrics, and a focus on individuality and authenticity. This is that loose category that artists like Frank Ocean, SZA, and Blood Orange operate within. I would even lump Thundercat into the Alternative R&B genre as well.
Esoteric Covers - There is no mental exercise quite like hearing a familiar tune in an entirely different style. You recognize the melody but are unable to place the song because it is so drastically different. But then the chorus hits and the lightbulb illuminates above your head and you realize it is just a cover of a popular song performed and reinvented by an obscure indie band. There is just something fun and endearing about a well interpreted cover. Because let’s be honest, if you played the original version of ‘...Baby One More Time’ by Brittany Spears, you might get some perplexed customers who are now forced to fight the urge to bust out into a choreographed dance routine while drinking a cappuccino. But an indie rock cover of the same song? Well now that is a different story entirely. There are many fun covers of pop songs performed by various indie bands out there just waiting to end up on your playlist. Iron and Wine has covered New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’, Animal Collective has covered ‘On a Plain’ by Nirvana, and of course, as mentioned above, The Marias have covered “..Baby One More Time’. You can give that a listen here.
Listen to 21 hours of music curated specifically for coffee drinking with House Blend 4.0: