Tuning Up: How To Go Digital With Your Jukebox

With more music options than ever before, why classic jukeboxes still matter.

By Christopher Tarantino
Editor-in-Chief

From the original turn-of-the-century 78rpm jazz record-changers to the 45-filled, tableside doo-wop machines at the malt shops of the ‘50s to the hard-rawking pool hall beasts in the mid-‘80s, to the meticulously-curated indie compact disc rock-boxes of the 2000s, the jukebox has always been there, providing patrons with a soundtrack to the times. During Prohibition and The Great Depression—arguably when people needed music most, but often couldn’t afford it—jukeboxes were there too. In financially-trying times, the prevailing attitude became: Why buy music to listen to alone at home when you can simply rent your favorite songs to listen to again and again amongst all of your friends?

There even existed unofficial online and print list ‘cool contests’ for which establishments had the best selection within their jukeboxes, thus encouraging like-minded patrons to congregate at specific bars. If you wanted to hear some punk rock deep cuts, you’d head over to this pub in that part of town, or if hip-hop was your thing, then the newest tracks from the dopest MCs could be found in that bar in this part of town. It engendered a sense of community, akin to a big city sports bar, where you always knew you could find the local team’s games on. 

But then everything changed. Technology helped erase this crowd-sourced sense of community with 2007’s invention of the iPod, essentially putting a personal jukebox into everyone’s pocket. Omnipresent wi-fi connections then rendered music of any genre from any time period or artist equally and easily searchable, obtainable and own-able with the simple push of a “Buy” button, or these days “Stream.” This gave us even more music than we all knew what to do with, more music than we could even listen to in our entire lifetimes if we tried. 

As prices dropped, storage grew, fidelity improved and all of a sudden, everyone was a DJ. So where does this leave our old friend the jukebox? The device that carried us through 120 years of public music enjoyment? In this new and ever-changing landscape, littered with entire dying mediums and dead business models, how is a classic device like the jukebox meant to compete with cloud-powered music mega-machines? The answer, like that for many 21st century business models, is that it doesn’t have to. Why compete for dominance when you can adapt for improvement? Here are some of the recent advances that have married technology to the classic jukebox and why these classic machines in your bar still matter.

You might be thinking to yourself right now, “Why would I need one of these physical devices in my bar in 2017?” Well, like ATMs, vending machines, video games or any other kind of point-of-purchase devices, jukeboxes can be electronic golden geese, offering on-premise customer convenience to prevent them from having to leave the establishment to find what they want elsewhere. 

AMI Entertainment introduced one of the first selective jukeboxes in 1927, and still continues to innovate in the market today. “Our Ultra music video jukebox plays both songs and music videos, as well as incorporating something called Ad Manager, which can connect to multiple screens and enables the owner to intersperse their specials or upcoming events between songs, basically turning the device into digital signage,” said Ron Richards, Chief Technology Officer at AMI. 

In 2017, AMI will continue their rollout of new geo-fencing technology along with something known as Beacons, which utilizes proximity marketing. “If you have our app, as you enter a bar, it will let the customer know that there’s a jukebox on the premises, as well as letting them know about any specials or bar news,” added Richards. “Music playing in bars and restaurants is often just background music, so you don’t have that interactive component. Jukeboxes still have the ability to create a unique experience that allows the customer to play DJ, which everyone likes.” 

And while many industries have struggled to adapt to
recent digital technology, jukeboxes have only been emboldned by it. TouchTunes, one of the industry leaders, revolutionized the business by utilizing the transfer of digital files directly to individual on-premise jukeboxes, as opposed to relying on bar owners to purchase the newest CDs or records to keep playlists current with the latest pop hits. “We have over 55,000 locations in North America with TouchTunes jukeboxes, most of which are bars and restaurants and a handful of national clients like Hooters, Waffle House and Buffalo Wild Wings,” said Marc Felsen, Senior Vice President, Corporate & Product Marketing. 

Their two different offerings, the smaller Playdium unit, and the larger and more robust Virtuo, both link to their newly-redesigned mobile app, which has been downloaded over six million times. “The app offers a lot of features and convenience, which millennials especially tend to enjoy. For example, through the app, you can build your own playlist, find out what’s currently playing or coming up, as well as cue up a song without having to lose your seat.” Both boxes can also be used as a photobooth or for karaoke. The
photobooth feature is also free for jukebox users and non-users, alike. “Our goal is to create that emotional connection to that moment that people are in,” Felsen added. 

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