The Thing About “Muzak”

If you’re blindfolded and led into a retail store, a restaurant, a doctor’s office, could you tell whether the music in the background was Muzak?

You may think so, but the syrupy “elevator music” most people associate with “Muzak” hardly exists anymore. Muzak sells almost a hundred pre-packaged and customized programs, and only one – the “Environmental” – fits the “Muzac” stereotype;  the “contemporary instrumental versions of popular songs”. It’s no longer popular anywhere except in Japan, but as one former Muzak executive stated “The Japanese think they love it, but they actually don’t.”

All of Muzak’s other programs are drawn from the company’s enormous digital inventory, called the “Well”.  It contains over 1.5 million commercially recorded songs, and a host of “genres and subgenres” like acid jazz, heavy metal, shag, neo-soul, contemporary Italian, etc. Like a virus; it’s growing at the rate of twenty thousand songs a month. There are now 775 tracks recorded by the Beatles, 135 by Kanye West, 324 Led Zeppelin, 84 by Gwen Stefani, 159 by 50 Cent, as well as numerous versions of “Paint It Black”.

There are so many songs no one knows whether it was Muzak or not– but you could tell by listening one executive said. The trick is, few really listen, it’s ‘background noise’.  We tailor our music to who will be hearing it.

Armani Exchange Shoppers there are looking for clothes that are hip and chic and cool; twenty-five to thirty-five years old, and they want something to wear to a party or a club. So you make the store sound like the coolest bar in town. For Ann Taylor, The customers are conservative women. She wants ‘bright, positive, optimistic and uplifting, so you do Sting and Celine Dion.

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