Experts: The Music Played In MI Casinos Is Essential To The Bottom Line

Written By Dave Briggs on March 13, 2024 - Last Updated on March 19, 2024
A group of people cheering and enjoying themselves while at a casino roulette table. There is a large, bright blue musical wave that indicates great, fun music is playing. Two experts with ties to Michigan casinos tell PlayMichigan that the music played in casinos is incredibly important to the bottom line.

The music played in casinos is essential to the customer experience, which is crucial to the bottom line.

So much so, there are entire companies devoted to playing exactly the right music at the right time.

New Level Radio is one of them. Co-founder and CEO Nathan Green said his company programs music for casinos in 27 states, including the Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge in Michigan and some six properties on the Las Vegas strip.

“From a science perspective, I think it’s like .02 seconds that sound hits your ears,” Green told PlayMichigan. “So, it’s before anything else. It’s before smell, it’s before the visual. So, that first impact of what you hear when you walk into a business can really affect if you stay number one, and number two, how long you stay and how often you return.”

John Drake is the Vice President and General Manager of the Hollywood Casino at Greektown operated by PENN Entertainment. He agreed that music is essential to the customer experience. And, he said music can also be crucial for helping casino employees deliver the best customer experience.

“People that are working five days a week, they’re invested in [the music] as well,” Drake told PlayMichigan. “They’re on the floor, they’re listening to it. So they also can give us some good feedback of where we’re missing the mark. It must be good for their energy, as well. If you get the right mix, music is really important. It helps your employees be more customer facing and enthusiastic. … When they start hearing the same things over and over, they’ll tell you.”

Though the Hollywood Casino at Greektown is part of a large casino family, Drake said the music played at the Detroit casino is determined locally and facilitated through a service called Rockbot, which has an office in the city.

“In terms of the defined strategy, we like to keep things upbeat. The beats per minute start to really increase throughout the day. … We want to have energy throughout the day, but it starts to really increase as the evening progresses.

“We start the music off with maybe a little bit of older [songs] and it starts to evolve in terms of getting progressively contemporary as the day goes on.”

Large casinos can have up to 80 zones, each playing different music

Nathan Green, CEO of New Level Radio
Nathan Green, CEO of New Level Radio (Courtesy New Level Radio)

Green said programming music for casinos is much more than creating one playlist that simply plays on repeat.

For the larger casinos New Level Radio has as clients, there can be up to 80 different zones, “all of them with completely unique curated music.”

It helps that casinos usually have very detailed information about their customers.

“On a casino floor, you might have one demographic, at the pool, you might have another and then you might have a completely different demographic for your restaurants because they’re famous chefs,” Green said. “Then there might be a Cirque du Soleil show or an Adele concert.

“So, how do you speak to that plethora of people that is also different in a way that everybody feels heard? I think that’s where the challenge is for the casino floor, because that’s generally where all those people at some point interact or congregate, whether it’s just walking through it, whether it’s just stopping for a minute, etc. But since gaming does have so much focus on demographics and analytics, it does make it more fun and easier for us to program things because they have that info.”

How to avoid the music getting stale

As to what kind of music to play in any casino room, Green said, “Music is very subjective. You can never be all things to all people. There’s never going to be a list that we have that every single song somebody will say, ‘This is the best song I’ve ever heard.’ But there is a way you can get to a 90 or 95% approval rating. Then you’re doing a great job of just speaking to who is actually in your space.”

Green said no matter what genre is being played, the rule is “always play the hits.”

He said it helps that most things in popular culture are cyclical and songs sometimes get new life in movies or television shows. A good example is how the use of Kate Bush’s song Running Up That Hill in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things put the song at the top of the charts 37 years after it was released.

“All of a sudden, you will have a movie or a show that will just catapult that genre back into the ether,” Green said. “So, for us, that makes it great because what’s old is new. If we have a current pop hit list of the last two years, those songs are going to get stale after a year or so. And we’ll have to completely refresh that list. But, in five or six years, those early 2010 songs people kind of want to hear him again. So, we can kind of put those back in the right list where the demographic is appropriate.”

Knowing your customer demographic is key to programming the right music

And demographics are key, Green said.

“A casino in Vegas with a 55- to 65-year-old demographic might need completely different music than one in Arkansas with the same demo,” Green said.

“So, it really allows us, from a science-driven perspective, but also just from the aesthetics of music, knowing that if this person is in this demographic, but in this state, we have much better chance of speaking to them through music than if it’s just, ‘They’re 65 to 75, so we should just play ‘60s and ‘70s music.’ That just doesn’t really work anymore for people because people are too savvy. There are too many choices… Surely, there is a lot of science that goes into it. But, also, there’s a lot of just knowing what music works in specific areas. That’s a huge thing.

“We’re very hands-on. We’re very engaged with our customers. We talk to them every single month. We’re personally and physically in our clients’ locations all the time to take notes and see what the demographics are like. So, we take a completely different approach than your standard background music company, even to this day. So that kind of gives us an advantage.”

Should you play Motown music in a Detroit casino?

Red "Made in Detroit" stamp

As for how much to localize the music, both Green and Drake warn against the music becoming cliché.

Drake said Detroit music is “less of what we’re looking to program [at Greektown] in terms of the service we’re using.”

Green agreed.

“I think it can backfire if you go too aggressive in that, especially for locals,” Green said. “Wherever you’re local, you do want to hear some local flair, but you also want to say, ‘I don’t want to just hear all the music I’ve heard my whole life.’ So, Detroit, definitely a lot of Motown and things like that make a lot of sense. But, also, we don’t try to go too aggressive with one particular genre just because of the fact that music is from there.

“But one nice thing that we encourage with some smaller properties is if they have a local artists that are not well known, that are playing in their bar or lounge on Thursday and Friday night, we really work with them to say, ‘Hey, why don’t we get these guys on board? We’ll throw them in the overhead program so that way, even when they’re not playing, it’s kind of mixed in before or after people get to know them and it gives them exposure.’ So, I feel like there’s more value in that from a localized perspective, rather than just necessarily saying, ‘Okay, this is Memphis and we’re just going to go all in on Memphis blues artists or it’s New Orleans so we’re just going to go with that vibe.’”

Planning around big local concerts is essential

Drake said the Hollywood Casino at Greektown does adapt the music to suit major concerts in Detroit and appeal to customers coming to the casino on the way to the show.

“We tinker a little bit as the year goes on,” Drake said. “We are more purposeful when there’s going to be a large-scale concert downtown. And, we will certainly make sure our programming is aligned to that.

“For example, if we have a large country act playing, we certainly will find ourselves being more heavy in terms of country on that particular day or days, depending on how many concerts are going to be there… In some cases, we have live DJs as well. So we’ll suppress the house music and just go with a DJ on certain days.”

New Level Radio was founded out of a gap in the market

Green said New Level Radio was founded in 2007 when he and his co-founder, “identified a really big gap in the market for a truly curated solution. Back then, it was more like, ‘Here’s your background music for your restaurant or bar or casino.’ You know, ‘Pick a genre of music, we’ll load that and it will just run like clockwork. It might be a four-hour loop, a two-hour loop, a six-hour loop.’ And it just kind of went on and on and on.”

He said he simply applied his knowledge of music and his personal passion for it to help improve the vibe in different rooms.

“I definitely did not study music anywhere,” Green said. “As a kid growing up I… did a lot of curation for parties and things like that. And I always kind of understood how the right or wrong music could really change the energy in a room.”

Green said he’s proud all of his company’s musical selections are algorithm-free. He said the human touch elevates the playlists.

“Everything today seems to be algorithm driven and that’s frustrating for me and lots of music lovers,” Green said. “It is an art form from the human soul and filled with mistakes on purpose… I don’t want to get into my music soliloquy, but it’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be an individual taste and what you like. So, it’s great that humans are still saying, ‘I think this song would fit this mood in this room at this time with this age group.'”

Whether you are playing the right music will quickly become obvious

In the end, the proof of whether a casino is playing the right music is usually obvious.

“I always tell new clients, ‘Just roll out the list,'” Green said. “‘Don’t tell anybody what it is, what the changes are going to be, what the demos are gonna be. Just launch it and see how people react. See how your guests react. Are they dancing more? Are they moving more are your blackjack dealers more upbeat, or are there some tweaks that need to be made?’”

Green said telling people in advance that the music is changing automatically builds apprehension among some customers because music is such a personal choice. He said it’s better to simply make the change and see what happens.

He said it’s great when clients see a return on investment from better music. But, it’s also fulfilling for him to walk through a casino and see people having a great time listening to the music New Level Radio programmed. This was especially gratifying when Las Vegas played host to this year’s Super Bowl and Green looked a photos of the huge crowds lining the strip.

“They had a shot on that south side of the strip and I was like, ‘Holy cow. That whole picture there. Every single property on that side is listening to our music right now. And we curated it.’  That’s kind of cool,” Green said.

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Dave Briggs

Dave Briggs is a managing editor and writer for Catena Media. His expertise is covering the gambling industry in Michigan with an emphasis on online casino, online sports betting and horse racing sectors. He is currently reporting on the gambling industries in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Canada.

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