How Houlihan’s Gives Emerging Artists a Voice

Brands are the new DJs. Amid the demise of the music industry, companies ranging from American Express to Coca-Cola now provide exposure for musicians just like music impresarios Murray the K and Alan Freed once did. For indie artists, Houlihan’s Restaurants has a longstanding tradition of providing exposure through the music playlists in its 83 U.S. establishments.

Recently, Houlihan’s put its marketing muscle behind lesser-known artists by launching H-Listed. Each month, Houlihan’s showcases an H-Listed artist by featuring the artist’s music in each Houlihan’s restaurant and providing 1 million impressions via the Houlihan’s website, email outreach, and social media presence. Houlihan’s has already created buzz for its first three H-Listed artists, Big Harp, Feathers, and the Parlotones, starting with a kick-off event at the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival and continuing with online/offline promotions that include free song downloads.

To learn more about H-Listed, I interviewed Jen Gulvik, vice president of marketing and creative director for Houlihan’s. During our conversation, she explained how music flourishes in the Houlihan’s culture through efforts like H-Listed and the company’s involvement in VH1 Save the Music. As Gulvik’s experience shows, music is more than a means to build a brand for Houlihan’s — it’s a way of life.

Let’s talk about your role at Houlihan’s and how you helped H-Listed get launched.

I am responsible for all of marketing in the traditional sense, but also the customer experience. Ultimately, I am responsible for anything that happens in the restaurant, ranging from the uniforms we wear to the music we play. And obviously music is part of the customer experience. Houlihan’s has chosen to make the music you hear in our restaurants a point of differentiation, similar to the way some hotels make music part of the experience they offer.

H-Listed is our program to offer guests musical discovery while Houlihan’s helps emerging artists. Our intent is to make people in our restaurants feel like they are enjoying a sense of discovery in a stylish surrounding. We deliberately choose unfamiliar musicians such as Big Harp, who we are featuring for the month of May, and the Parlotones, who were H-Listed in April.

Their music is promoted and used in our restaurant playlists, which include many other lesser-known artists through a selection put together each month by PlayNetwork, our outside partner that handles all of our music licensing, artist and label relations, and production in conjunction with H-Listed.


Starbucks has been curating music for years in its stores, and I have always wanted to do something like that. Music often falls under Operations in the dining industry, but fortunately music is the responsibility of Marketing at Houlihan’s. When I ran the idea for H-Listed past PlayNetwork, they had all the resources and relationships to make it happen.

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