A Brief History of Irish Music

Until the early part of this century, traditional Irish music was virtually confined to unpaid sessions in people’s homes. There were not the vast range of public concerts, pub sessions and recordings that we have today. In centuries past some musicians traveled from place to place within their own area and they were often the only form of entertainment available,.

All important social occasions in Ireland use music as an essential ingredient, from weddings to wakes, from formal religious ceremonies to impromptu gatherings in pubs and clubs. Music is permanently present in the landscape of every Irish person from cradle to grave, and, some would even argue, way beyond.

The American-inspired folk boom of the late fifties and early sixties found eager ears in Ireland. Artists like Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary had a major impact and that lead naturally to many people, including Irish, English, and Scottish, rediscovering their own indigenous music. Before long The Clancy Brothers, who had socialized with Bob Dylan and the rest of that set in New York’s Greenwich Village, became a dominant feature in Irish music, their unprecedented commercial success launching a ballad boom. Soon nearly every pub in Ireland offered ballad sessions and concerts most nights of the week, while guitars and Aran sweaters, as worn by The Clancys, sold by the thousand. 1967 saw The Dubliners score a hit in the British charts with the rather risqué’ ballad ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ and in succeeding decades brought their riotous brand of Irish music all over the world.

The shadow of the music can be found in often surprising places. Bob Dylan, for instance, has always credited the Irish folk group, The Clancy Brothers, as one of his most important influences. As The Pogues have proven so emphatically, Irish folk can even be successfully fused with Punk Rock.

Today, of course, Irish music and musicians are renowned throughout the world in almost every genre, with the success of U2, The Corrs, Van Morrison, Damien Rice, The Cranberries, Sinead O’Connor, Hot House Flowers, Westlife, Boyzone and many others.


Managing Music in Your Pub

Music is an essential ingredient in the operation of any great pub. Either live or playing from the internet, it needs to be suitable to the occasion, played at an appropriate volume level and delivered through a system that enhances the sound and conveys it without effort evenly throughout the space. Your pub has many different types of customers throughout your operating hours and music is that critical to your guest’s good experience. Therefore, you need to be sensitive to any adjustments that need to be made, managing it in the same way you would heating or lighting to improve the ambiance.

Depending on how well you manage it, music can be an instrument for great magic in your pub or a very costly disaster that creates long-term damage to your brand and business. The ethos of an Irish Pub promotes social interaction, the art of conversation and an exchange of views, humor and musings. Trying to do this to a loud background of Led Zeppelin tends to ruin the moment.

An Irish Pub does not need to play traditional Irish music all the time. In fact, traditional Irish music can sometimes be quite repetitive and irritating for guests if played over long periods. So, along with some traditional and contemporary Irish music, genres such as bluegrass, jazz, country, blues and even classical can easily blend in. Whatever source you are using for music, ensure that the playlists are carefully selected and mixed according to the style of business being conducted. At lunchtime, your guests are probably meeting socially or for business, therefore music that intrudes into conversation, by way of volume or style, delivers a very negative guest experience. At cocktail hour, you will probably have more lively music played at a slightly louder volume but still not impeding conversation. During dinner, music should be lively and at a volume that can be heard but never above the buzz of conversation. For late night business, there is usually a desire for loud, very lively music from your clientele.

During the development of your pub, you may consider looking at a music system that deliver sound in zones throughout your pub and therefore can control volume in different areas…louder music in the bar than in the dining area, for instance.

Managing Live Music in Your Pub

The Irish pub concept offers the pub management a unique and special opportunity to present authentic traditional and contemporary live Irish music.  This music selection may range from simple Irish folk music to modern Irish rock and roll bands.  Proper entertainment selection is important because live entertainment does add to the character and uniqueness of the Irish pub experience.  However, the main objective behind hiring entertainment is to obtain a financial return through increasing the number customers and the sales of additional food, beverage, and promotional merchandise.

Putting on live entertainment is not a slam dunk for generating new business or maintaining existing business. In fact, if mismanaged, it can produce the opposite effect. The fact is that there are many bands available, some good, some bad, and it’s difficult to know which they are until they start playing. At that point, if they are not to your guests’ liking, it’s too late to stop the damage. So researching your bands and live entertainers, either through internet reviews or other pub owners, is really important. Also, working through a reliable local or regional music promoter who completely understands your concept and customer is strongly advised. A promoter will also be able to advise you on the best way of handling payment to bands and ensuring you are not incurring any IRS liability.

Always carefully test live entertainment to insure that it can generate incremental profit.  Each event must generate at enough incremental profit (profit above what would normally be achieved on the same day of the week) to pay for the entertainment, the cost of the advertising and any additional staff required.

Never rule out the possibility that you may not need live music. Depending on your location, other types of entertainment may work. A late night DJ might work in a college town, simply cranking up your sound system with a great playlist might work with an older crowd.

Finally, live music is a double-edged sword. Once you commit to a program of late night live music events, it’s very difficult to back off. So think about it carefully before you proceed.

Music Licensing for Your Pub

Most music that is available today is protected by copyright. This includes any background music that you may play in the pub either through an MP3 player, internet-enabled system or other medium capable of playing uninterruptable programming.  Songwriters and copyright holders have a constitutional and federally protected right to demand the collection royalties on music played in you pub whether it be live or recorded.  This means a royalty must be paid on all music played in the pub regardless if it is the same music listened to at home or on the car radio for free. These royalties are paid through licensing fees that are collected by “performing rights societies”.  These societies license you the rights to play music and then in turn distribute the licensing fee as royalties to the composers and publishers.  Four organizations are responsible for license performance rights in the United States. They are:

  1. The American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers(ASCAP)
  2. Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI )
  3. SESASC, Inc.
  4. SoundExchange


As a pub owner and operator, it is recommended that you enter into licensing agreements with all of these organizations annually.  Familiarize yourself with the licensing criteria and the types of fees that are required.  The appropriate procedure to apply for each license is to contact each organization and work through the local representative. In turn, you will receive a certificate or a decal for your establishment which should be displayed on the front door, or in a spot where it can be easily seen.  These organizations do hire representatives to spot check for compliance.

For convenience, you may think about contracting with a music provider that will include the cost of the licensing agreements with  their cost for providing music. A internet search will bring you to companies such as www.muzak.com who can take a lot of the concern and administration off your shoulders.

Owner Insights
….in this economy, we can afford to go easy on our meal prices because they are partially subsidized by high beverage volume and low beverage cost.
Irish Pub Operator | TEXASView Owner Insights
Pub Facts

The Irish Pub Concept came about inn 1992 as the result of an initiative by Guinness Brewing Worldwide, who had watched the great growth of Irish Pubs in Europe during the late 1980's and 1990's.

We ask for your name and email address simply to verify you as a genuine user. Thank you.