Though people don't really go to strip clubs for the music, it's hard to imagine what they would be like without songs.
Imagine going into a club that offered no background noise to obscure the verbal exchanges between dancer and club patron, the stomps of thick heels on the stage, the clanks of shot glasses being toasted, or the laughter of friends exchanging words.
The audio transparency would get uncomfortable fast.
What would Flashdance have been like without the music?
Because music is such a prominent force behind a night out at the club, it's begs the question: Is there a strategy behind it. Is there a marketing ploy attracting you like a fly to a fluorescent light, convincing you to spend money?
Probably not. Some clubs will tell you strategy is unnecessary, that it's completely dependent on the quality of the dancers. Others say they do, although it's not as manipulative as we would have assumed.
It's impossible to deny music's role in a strip club, from the background noise to the songs the girls dance to. Music exaggerates fantasies, creates ambiance, sets an energy, and plays into feelings.
So what is the formula?
It depends on whom you ask and which club they work for, but here are the four main components in the anatomy of strip club music in Phoenix.
Music is aware of its demographic. A great song choice for a club in South Phoenix can be a devastating one for a club that caters to an Arizona State University crowd. Knowing your audience is a key characteristic to success in any business, and the same is true for strip clubs. Music helps accessorize the environment of a club, and it's important to play music that a crowd will be into.
As one of the managers of HiLiter Gentleman's Club, John Zanzucchi has co-managed HiLiter's diverse demographic for about six years. Given its Central Phoenix location, HiLiter attracts clientele from all walks of life. Which is why Zanzucchi explains that strategy is important for music played at the club.
"We'll never play a certain type of song back-to-back, so we would never have an R&B song followed by an R&B song. You'd have an R&B song followed by a rock song, then switch it up to techno and then you could go to Top 40, and country even. But the rule of thumb we use at our club is never play any genre more than twice in a row."
HiLiter was established in 1962, and even as ownership has changed, it's been able to thrive amid the changes in Phoenix's urban landscape. Zanzucchi attributes knowing HiLiter's mixed crowd and maintaining a general vibe — not pigeonholing the club as this or that — to part of its success.
"Once a year we have bike week that comes in. If the DJ starts playing rap or hip-hop, you will see people walk out the door. So, once bike week goes on, I'll talk to the DJ and say I want nothing but rock," says Zanzucchi. "Depending on the club, you want to cater to the clientele."
Music helps create the atmosphere. "If you let the dancers play what kind of music they want to play. They'll play stuff from 1985 or 1990. They pretty much stick to boring slow songs. So you kind of have to regulate a little bit," says Cary Anderson, owner of Le Girls Cabaret in Phoenix.
Unlike Zanzucchi, Anderson does not see music as a vital component to a club's success. For Anderson, club ownership has been a family business. He has owned Le Girls since 1993.
"There's no magic in the music that's being played," he says. "Say, for instance, Spearmint Rhino [in Las Vegas]. It's one of the best strip clubs in the world. I can't tell you what kind of music they play."
Although Anderson does implement a loose formula to maintaining the club's atmosphere. Anderson explains that a large portion of his clientele is ASU students, which is why it's important to maintain a fresh, upbeat atmosphere.
"The girls can pretty much play certain genres of music. Our formula is that we don't like R&B. We don't like the slow stuff. We like the action, the happy dance music-type stuff. Rock 'n' roll — that's just our formula," says Anderson. "[The dancers] get to pick whatever that's in those genres."
Music is responsible for keeping the energy intact. "After 1 p.m., every song we play, whether it's country, hip-hop, '80s, or rock, it has to be more than 100 beats per minute," Zanzucchi says. "Once you get a crowd going, you never want to drop the music lower than 100 beats per minute."
The reason for his philosophy may be surprising. It isn't solely related to keeping a crowd excited, a dancer pumped for a song — it's about keeping patrons drunk.
"The philosophy is that people drink more when the music is fast," says Zanzucchi.
The more a person drinks, the more drinks they buy and the more likely they are to spend even more money on extras like the VIP room, bottle service, and food.
It's all about the dancer. Most managers and owners will say that when it comes down to it, it's all about the dancers. The music is there for various reasons, but it's the individual performer that the club's success is built around.
"It's about the atmosphere. Obviously, music is involved because there's dancing, but it's all about the girl," Anderson says. "Music just adds to the atmosphere."
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But a dancer or DJ may see things differently. As a lot of the time, a dancer's performance is dependent on how she feels about a song. She creates movements that parallel the movements of the song.
"If you ask a dancer, they're going to say it's all about the song. But as an owner, no," says Anderson. "They're the one that's the artist. Let's say it's her favorite song or something like that. She'll say 'Oh, I love dancing to that song' — it's all good. It's just, in reality, guys don't even care. They want to see a naked girl."
Zanzucchi says there aren't specific songs that make people spend more or correlate to more success for a night than another. Although, he mentions that during breakup songs, like "I Will Survive" by Diana Ross, the cash flow onto the stage increases drastically.
"No joke," he says. "When we play that song they all get up out of their seat and tip the girl on stage. For whatever reason. If you play other songs along those lines you will see more money flow."