A jukebox with a sheet of A4
explaining that it's not worth putting in money.

The Jukebox Charter

In pubs and bars across the UK, people are being annoyed and ripped off by jukeboxes that have serious design flaws, either through incompetence or greed on the part of the operators. To go to a pub with a good jukebox should be a pleasure, but too often the experience is unnecessarily spoiled.

I have never come across a jukebox in a pub or a bar that meets the criteria of this charter. If you know of one, please let me know.

If you wish to download a "checklist" version of this charter for sticking to the side of your local jukebox, you can download one of these A6-sized "Jukebox Charter Checklist" documents: PDF version, SVG version

1. The jukebox must give a clear indication of the length of the song queue before the customer chooses songs. The length of the queue should be expressed as a time calculated from the length of the songs in the queue rather than, for example, the number of songs in the queue.

This clause is the most important one since it prevents people from being defrauded by paying money to hear songs that won't be played before the pub closes. This happens remarkably often and it's very annoying. You should have some way of determining if it's worth putting money into the machine.

This is a minimum requirement - it would be even better if the jukebox just refused to play songs that would only be played after the pub closed.

2. If you attempt to select a song which is already in the queue or has been recently played, the jukebox should either warn you or prevent you from enqueuing the song, according to the policy of the pub.

This is just common sense; if a song is going to be played shortly anyway, you'd probably rather use that choice for something else.

3. The jukebox should play the songs that a customer has paid for in the order they have been selected, and they should be played in a single sequence.

The problem this point addresses is that most modern jukeboxes will randomize the song queue, so that your selections are played out of order and interspersed with those of other customers.

The biggest problem with this behaviour is that it's fun to take care over your choice of songs, and this shuffling makes it impossible to programme your selections properly. There are any number of reasons you might want to do this: perhaps the transition between two of the songs would be awkward, or maybe you've chosen several songs with a link between each one and the next. In any case, I think that people don't generally appreciate having their selections interrupted by the (quite possibly abysmal) choices of others in the pub.

A second issue is that the shuffling makes it more difficult to be certain that your songs have all been played, since you have no way of knowing where they are in the queue and might well forget what you chose without the order being maintained.

So, why do jukeboxes typically shuffle the the queue? Several reasons come to mind:

The former point could be dealt with more honestly by the mechanism described in item 2 of this charter. The latter point is more interesting. Lack of variety in the customers' choices is always going to be a problem with pub jukeboxes, but I don't believe it's one that's particularly serious. The character of pubs with jukeboxes is always going to be in part defined by the records available and the taste of the customers. I think this is a Good Thing. If someone's selections are genuinely causing people to flee the pub in droves, the people behind the bar can simply cancel the songs, or just turn down the volume for a while.

4. The jukebox should play the songs as faithfully as possible. In particular, this means that the jukebox should not fade in and fade out at the beginning and end of songs.

There are many songs that lose their impact if the first bars are lost by fading in. Equally, fading out loses abrupt endings or any of the silly stuff that bands tack on to the end of tracks...

5. If the jukebox is set up to play random selections while it is is idling, it should always complete the current song before playing anything else that has been requested during that song.

Other people in the pub may be enjoying the tune that's playing while the jukebox is idling, so it often draws negative attention to the customer at the machine when it immediately fades out the current song and replaces it with something else. Even if the customer doesn't care about that, they'd have to be pretty impatient not to be prepared to wait three minutes for their first choice to play.

6. There should be an explanation on the jukebox (or nearby) of how to get a refund in cases where someone who works at the bar cancels a selection.

It would also be good if the jukebox recorded the information that a particular choice has been cancelled, and the number of cancellations was presented in the song listings.

7. The jukebox shall at all times display enough information to allow identification of the currently playing track.

As far as I remember, Graham and I formulated the key tenets of the Jukebox Charter in about 1999, mostly around the jukeboxes of Drouthy Neebors, The Cauldron and Legends in Edinburgh.