Restaurants & bars

“Eat. Drink. Be Happy.” These are some simple concepts. Bar Louie, a truly unique chain of bars and eateries headquartered in Addison, Texas, prides themselves on this credo. Boasting over 70 locations across the US, specializing in handcrafted cocktails, local and regional beers, unique wines and craveable food, Bar Louie has developed a loyal customer base since their beginnings in 1990.

A major factor of their loyal customer base is their commitment to local appeal. Although Bar Louie does aim for the consistency of a national chain, no two Bar Louie restaurants are alike. This offers unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to creating a truly unique sound. To better understand this, I sat down with Craig Clemens, the Prescriptive Music consultant who handles the Bar Louie account to talk about his background in music and how he applies this to Bar Louie.

Q: So what is your musical background – what do you feel are the qualifications for being a ‘Music Consultant’?

I grew up in music. I remember in middle-school (and I’m not proud of this) being able to list off the ‘Billboard Top 40’ songs that week. My mother would sit me down on a Sunday and say, “Okay – who’s number 16 this week?” and I’d be able to tell her. I ended up going to school for contemporary music in Toronto, and a few months after finishing I started at RXMusic as a data entry clerk, eventually I moved up in the company to become a consultant – Bar Louie was actually one of my very first accounts.

Of course, the main qualification for a music consultant is an extensive knowledge and love for music, but I feel that an analytical mind and a knack for communication is key. Many clients are do not have the same knowledge of music – and that’s fine. But acknowledging that you’re dealing with restaurateurs, bar managers, corporate directors, etc., and not someone with an extensive background in music is important. Being able to demonstrate value in music and what this can bring to a business is key.

Q: Tell me about Bar Louie. This was one of your first accounts at RXMusic?

That’s right – I’ve been managing their music for almost 4 years now. I’ve actually developed 3 different re-branding concepts over the years. I guess these things move quickly!

From a technical standpoint the music programming is not that difficult – which I guess was a good account to start with. Each location has Bar and Restaurant areas that play the same schedule and lists from open to close. But the challenges with Bar Louie lie in localization while staying consistent with the brand of ‘Bar Louie’.

Q: Localization.. So you mean every restaurant has its own individual program?

Sort of. Bar Louie most definitely has an image. They’ve put a lot of effort into creating an atmosphere that is consistent throughout each individual restaurant. However, they’ve also recognized that no two locations are ever the same. This is reflected in their beer selection, the cocktails they make and the food they have on the menu – but what would they be without the staples? The things that made them what they are? I’ve striven to emulate this in their music selection.

Q: What are these musical staples?

This standard Bar Louie program that each location receives is used mostly as a base, something that is tried, tested and true. Since Bar Louie takes such pride in their brand it is listened to and vetted and edited a few times before it hits the stores. Mostly its current Rock, Pop, R&B and Alternative that ranges in energy and loudness throughout the day. A little retro and 90’s rock thrown in for good measure. But there are also lists available to each location that are not in the main schedule. Things like a Blues list or a Dance list that can be turned on whenever the music needs to be adjusted to fit the room.

Q: Cool – so how do you localize this?

There are a lot of additional lists available for the staff to choose from. Curated Blues, Dance, Jazz, Electro and Top 40 lists that are available on-site for GM’s, Bartenders, and Wait staff etc., to play on-demand.

Q: You mentioned that these lists were “curated.” How do you develop lists for a client that is so entrenched in their own program of Rock and Pop, and create curated content that is completely different from their own brand.

You’re really forced to envision the atmosphere of the location that would be playing that content. Put yourself there in your minds-eye and rely on your own ear and expertise.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever DJ’ed before, even just a house-party, but it takes a lot of confidence in your own musical ear to correctly select the next song that’s going to be played. Ultimately, it’s just a matter of staying current with trends, constantly search for more music (old and new), refine your tastes to be as objective as possible, rely on feedback and data as much as possible and trust in your own ability and expertise.

Q: What sort of data do you rely on to create a music program?

There’s so much out there in academia and in the private sector when it comes to music psychology and what a certain sound does to the mood and atmosphere of a room. There were, and still are, a lot of resources out there that try to scientifically nail down exactly what ‘you want to hear’ at any given time. This has been going on for ages now. Recently I’ve seen a switch back to a more organic selection process with commercial internet-radio relying on experts like Zane Lowe, Dr. Dre and our team here at RXMusic to create the ‘perfect playlist’ – this, of course, is the Holy Grail.

The ‘perfect playlist’ can’t be created by a person or scientifically nailed down by anybody. In the same way that everybody has a different taste in food, musical taste is still a very subjective thing. All the data in the world can point to someone wanting to hear a certain song next, but this data can still fail to play this song if, for some reason, the song that plays triggers something negative in its audience. In the same way, a DJ or musical curator, a respected expert in their field can think, “this song is perfect, everybody will love this because I know this is what they want,” and still be completely off. This is why I tend to rely on a mix of both to create what will fit the atmosphere of the brand that I’m trying to represent.

Working in an imperfect science is frustrating and freeing all at once. It allows for creativity and a joy in discovery.

Q: Do you feel that this ‘joy of discovery’ is reflected in the music program at Bar Louie?

That’s the goal. Ideally someone can travel from Cleveland to Miami Beach, walk into a Bar Louie by recognizing the atmosphere and trusting in the quality of food and have a great, and individually different, experience at each one.


Music sommeliers for experiential brands