Jukebox Etiquette

November 25th, 2008


I admit it, I am addicted to playing jukeboxes. I have been known to judge the quality of a bar by the songlist on the jukebox. There have been nights that I’ve spent more money playing songs on the jukebox than I have on drinks.

While I am not a music snob, I do feel there are certain rules everyone should follow when playing a jukebox. Here are my tips for Jukebox Etiquette:

Take one song to select your songs
Your friends are waiting for you to rejoin them and there are probably other people who want to play the jukebox. Try to select all of your songs during one song.

Never play the same song twice
If you already played a song, it is off limits for the rest of the night.

Play one song per artist
Radio doesn’t do it, why should you? Everyone loves Jimmy Buffett, but no one wants to hear his greatest hits CD in its entirety at the local bar every Saturday night.

Play for your audience (Part I)
The main advantage and disadvantage of Internet jukeboxes is access to every kind of music. So even though you can search for it, don’t play your favorite gangsta rap during happy hour at a blue-collar neighborhood bar. A good gauge of this is the volume: Did the bartender turn down the volume when your song came on — or worse, skip your song? If so, better rethink your selection.

Play for your audience (Part II)
Playing the jukebox is not a contest to see who has the most obscure music knowledge. Pick something you think people will recognize or at least enjoy, even if they don’t know it.

Mix it up
Have you ever been able to guess the who played the jukebox based on the year the last 10 songs that played were popular? Don’t play all your favorite songs from your freshman year of college in a row unless it’s a special occassion, like a high school reunion. It’s lame.

Avoid using the “Play My Song Next” feature
In my opinion, this is another disadvantage of Internet jukeboxes. However, it can be useful late at night when you’re not sure if or when you’ll hear the music you play. My advice: Wait 15-30 minutes. You might be pleasantly surprised and get to play your songs without spending the extra money.

Don’t leave credits on the jukebox
Play all your songs or don’t be surprised if your credits (and therefore, money) are gone when you come back to try to play them later.

Don’t try to influence others
If there’s something you’d like to hear, get out your money and play it. Don’t try to talk a stranger into playing a song for you. Also keep in mind, just because a guy or girl is alone at the jukebox does not mean he or she is an easy target to hit on. Save it for later.

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5 Responses to “Jukebox Etiquette”

  1. Mike on January 26, 2009 4:45 am

    I think that all of the things that you mention are for the most part true, but I do feel that there is a caveat to the ‘Don’t Leave Credits on the Jukebox’ rule.

    One of the first times I used one of the newer electronic juke boxes that they have now (with the play next feature) I was up on the border of Canada and Minnesota. I really wanted to jam some tunes after I had just walked in with my friend and bought a beer. I saw that there were about five songs worth of credits on the juke box. I called out ‘who has credits on the juke box’ several times, and then after about 2 minutes, I played my songs and put in some more money. A guy then came barreling out of the bathroom very upset about it. I apologized profusely (this was my natural instinct), paid him for the songs he missed, and bought him a beer. He actually was still fairly upset, and I thought this was a bit of an overreaction. I did agree with him, though, that it was rude to pick songs on a juke box with someone else’s credits.

    Now, the total converse of this happened to me last week. I was playing a game of pool, and the juke box became available. I put five dollars into the juke box, picked one song, and then got called back to the pool table to take my shot. The pool table was eight feet away from the juke box. When I got done with my shot, some 45 seconds later, I looked up, and the bartender girl had started shoveling money into the juke box. I said ‘I still have money in there.’ She said ‘I am going to pick some songs, you can play yours after mine.’

    I was pretty amazed at how rude this seemed to me. I said ‘do you think I could pick a couple of the songs on this up coming five dollars worth of songs?’ She said OK.

    I was pretty surprised, particularly since she was the bartender on duty and I was the customer. I was even more taken aback when she did exactly the same thing an hour later. I told her that she was being rude, and she hurled a profanity laced diatribe at me. She subsequently kicked me out of the bar. This is a bar that I had tipped a dollar a drink for in the course of four to five months.

    My counter proposal is this:

    If you see that there are credits on the jukebox, make a good faith effort to try to locate the person whose credits they might be. If you can’t find them in 30 seconds or so, then go ahead. That’s essentially what people do on the pool table.

    This is particularly true when there aren’t many people in the bar. In the instance that I spoke of, it was a very quiet night, with maybe 3 bar employees and 6 patrons. The slower the bar is, the more likely that someone would presume that his or her credits are not going to be skipped. If the bar is more crowded, I can understand your rule.

  2. ed on January 26, 2009 8:10 pm

    I disagree with Mike, wholeheartedly. If you put money in the jukebox & then walk away, you’ve forfeited that money. It is unreasonable to expect people to “make a good faith effort to try to locate the person whose credits they might be.” If you only have time to choose 3 songs, then don’t put a $5 bill into the jukebox.

    I can’t think of any other scenario where this sort of expectation would be accepted as reasonable. If you get a free soda out of a soda machine, are you required to shout, “hey, is this anyone’s soda?” before taking it? Would you feed a $20 bill into a slot machine then walk way, play another machine, and expect to find your $20 of credit still there when you returned?

    Would you go to the drive-through car wash, but the top-of-the-line $10 wash, then drive away, expecting that you could use it later? Of course not. You put your money in and you claim your purchased service immediately. Not later.

  3. Mike on January 28, 2009 12:15 pm

    Really? I can think of a million examples.

    If I put money up on a pool table, and then go get a beer, I expect that people will say ‘whose money is this that is next?’ In many instances, at a pool table, there will be little circles where you put your place in line with quarters. If I put my money in #3, and the game ends, and there is money in #2, I call out ‘who is #2 on the pool table?’ I call out and wait for at least a few minutes, and after the good faith effort, I then say ‘well, I guess we can go ahead.’

    Same with putting your name up on a chalk board to play pool. If you play pool a lot, you will know what I am talking about. You put your name up, and if you are not standing right there, it is expected that someone will make at least some effort to track you down before skipping your place in line.

    How about at a gambling casino? If you walk away from a pile of chips, do you think that someone can walk up and suddenly take over your money?

    The bottom line is that there is no law governing this. It is, as the post suggests, a question of etiquette. Etiquette means the social lubricant that makes things run smoothly. I can think of two people (myself and the gentleman in Minnesota that I mentioned) that were deeply offended by someone taking over their money on the jukebox.

    I also think that it does depend on the situation. I have debated the etiquette of pool many times, but never the etiquette of jukebox money.

    I was completely shocked that the bartender woman (who works there, by the way, and I am the customer) was so convinced of this rule, that she would skip over five bucks I had in a juke box two times in the course of an hour and a half when there are six people in the bar, I am five feet away from the juke box, and I was taking a 45 second shot in a pool game.

  4. ed on January 28, 2009 3:03 pm

    Your examples miss the mark. When you put money down on the pool table, you are reserving your spot in line. When you put your name on a list, you are saying “I’m up next, call me when you’re ready.” When you put money into a jukebox and walk away, you’re saying “Hey, I expect that none of you will touch this money, even though I’m not even using the machine.” It’s akin to starting a game of darts, a game of pool, then going and playing Big Buck Hunter. You don’t get to monopolize every machine in the bar.

  5. mike on January 29, 2009 2:16 am

    I do not believe that trying to pick songs on a jukebox while finishing a game of pool is inherently rude. I think that it is good etiquette to give people the benefit of the doubt before ever cutting in front of them for anything. You really have to show that they are rudely monopolizing someone’s time before cutting in front of them is justified.

    You stated that ‘It’s akin to starting a game of darts, a game of pool, and then playing Big Buck Hunter.’ I think you would agree that this is a stretch. It’s natural to listen to music while you are playing pool. Your purpose is not to prevent someone from getting on the juke box; not in the same way as throwing a quarter in on a game of Pac Man is while you finish a game of darts. You don’t play Pac Man and darts at the same time.

    Both of the times that I put money into the juke box, there were no songs being played at all. I was going to have all of the songs chosen before the first song that I picked played through. I was only taking a single turn in pool before going back to the juke box. As I mentioned, the bar was almost entirely empty. I was not at all trying to monopolize any time from any other person. This might sound surprising, but people had thanked me before for putting money into the juke box when things at the bar were slow.

    Here is different circumstance. At the same bar about three months ago, I was waiting to play pool. A drunk guy that was next to play racked the balls, and then proceeded to wander out of the bar so he could smoke a bowl and talk to his girlfriend on his cell phone. Me and a girl waited for him for 5-10 minutes, called his name out many times, and then proceeded to skip him in line. He came back furious, and I eventually let him have his game, but there were some unfriendly words exchanged between the two of us.

    I have a feeling that these are the types of circumstances that you have in mind, not a situation where a female bartender, and employee of the establishment, actually races around the bar to shovel money into the juke box basically just to prove a point.

    I think that as a rule of thumb, you are right, you shouldn’t put money into a juke box and then walk away. It’s also a good rule of thumb not to skip people in line. (in my circumstance, another very important rule of thumb that was entirely forgotten is ‘the customer is always right.’)

    As an obsessive pool player, I have to constantly remind myself that other people simply don’t feel that strongly about the game of pool, and I have to work with it when I am at a bar. People that have come to be obsessive about juke boxes should take the same thing into consideration.

    It’s good etiquette.

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