The music that accompanies us as we eat, as we shop, as we get our hair done – most of us probably don’t give a lot of thought to how it comes to be. But some people give it a whole lot of thought. As I was shopping at Macy’s yesterday, I was reminded of an article I read a long time ago on Muzak – the most well-known company creating background music for all kinds of environments.
Muzak makes custom soundtracks, and also has a variety of standard programs. Prior to reading David Owen’s 2006 piece on Muzak in The New Yorker, I didn’t even know Muzak was a brand name – I thought it just referred to instrumental versions of well-known music. Turns out there are multiple services that provide ambient music. Muzak fancies itself the industry leader, and they take their soundscapes very seriously.
A song’s “topology,” for example, in the industry parlance, is the cluster of cultural and temporal associations that are carried along with a song, and must be given consideration when including that song in an environment. I assume the topology of a song includes knowing if a song was a big part of a major motion picture, or if it was on the top 40 charts for a year and a half.
Of course the insidious part is that it’s all marketing – the idea is that the right songs will set the right mood to keep customers happy and opening their wallets as freely as possible. I have no idea why I thought about this article again yesterday after all these years (perhaps it was the extremely wide-open wallet), but I just re-read it and it still seems relevant. New Yorker articles do have a way of sticking in my head.
Thanks for reading.