Programming literally means the action or process of scheduling something. In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs programming music is exactly that and so much more.
The difference between having a Dj present and just having a playlist is having that human element. A DJ can read people and therefore play the right song for the vibe. A machine can never do that, however, a human can program a machine to come very close. The best music programmers in the world know one simple fact. Create an ambiance for the crowd you want, not the crowd you have.
Music programming shapes your entire business; not matter if you are XS las Vegas or a coffee shop in small-town America. The energy, vibe, and attitude start with the music. Understanding what songs to play at what time is something talented DJs have to master. In order to master music programming you need to understand what songs will create a certain vibe at any time for anyone. It's a completely different animal.
To further understand music programming lets look at 3 different concepts and what their musical needs are.
First, we have the new trendy restaurant in the hot part of town. They are the talk of the town and want the energy to reflect that. They are new, unique, but at the same time approachable. How do we achieve this vibe? My advice would be to find uptempo remixes of popular indie or alternative songs. For example the aeroplane remix to Suit and Tie, it has familiar lyrics which makes it comfortable, it has an uptempo beat so the energy is right, and it has that disco hipster feel that is undeniably trendy. Songs like these help to create the perfect vibe for the new trendy restaurant in your town.
Second, we have the bar, not just any bar, but your dart throwing, pool shooting, sports showing, watering hole that you can wear flip flops and a backwards hat too. Here comfort is key. The music needs to be intensely comfortable if a song plays that not everyone knows you have a problem. These places thrive on a community spirit so having music that everyone can relate too is a must. Bars attract people who want to drink more than dance, which leaves only one thing, the sing-along. Songs like Don't Stop by Journey, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond, and even newer tracks like all I do is win create a friendly energy that is essential for bars to succeed. When everyone toasts to the classic tracks they love the bar is making money and the music programmer should get a big pat on the back (or a raise ;)
Finally, we have the nightclub. The home of bottle service, short skirts, and laser beams. This place seems the easiest to program, however it is by far the hardest. People come to nightclubs to dance, drink, and indulge. People expect the music to be exciting, new, and familiar all at the same time. Because the main focus of any nightclub is the music it makes the programming that much more important. It also brings in the variable called a disk jockey. DJ's can either absolutely kill it or clear the dance floor in 5 minutes. The DJ, owner, manager, all need to be clear on the crowd they want for the night. You can't have a hip hop night and play ANY house music and vice versa. If you want to go open format, fine, but that term is so vague that often times the DJ will play a song so far away from the energy intended its crazy. My advice for music programming at nightclubs? hire the right dj. Bottom line. If you want a certain feel for a night hire the guy in town who does that sound the best. Also, keep a resident, don't do to many guests. Guest don't know the crowd as well as the resident and you will end up becoming inconsistent. Inconsistency is the #1 way nightclubs go out of business. To build a successful night a dance club needs to play a certain type of music that attracts a certain type of crowd, otherwise it will confuse and annoy patrons.
I know I overlooked many other applications for music programming. Things like gyms, tanning salons, regular salons, dentist offices, literally ANYWHERE needs music programming and if they skimp on it they will see lower returns and less customer retention. Music programming is the most frustrating endeavor most people will deal with, however, it can also be the most rewarding. Here's to exploring with music, you can never get lost.