Bronson, Po Muzak Inc.
By: Michelle Minke
Dec. 15, 2008
This article is about the main man in elevator music, Alvin Collis. 85 million Americans a day are exposed to the one hundred mood settings of Alvin Collis’s music company, Muzak. Whether in Starbucks, department stores or dentist offices, it is his music they hear.
When brainstorming on a mixed album for a new retail store, the example being a cinnamon bun company, he has to think, what kind of music will sell cinnamon buns? The company of Musak goes through many different phases of suggested material, but in order to do this they need to get a sensory and visual experience before they can assess the proper music to be provided. When it comes down to it, it comes down to why people love cinnamon buns, and the kind of memories and emotional responses are activated when having these sensory and visual experiences.
Collis says “We create experiences with audio architecture” and actually refer to themselves as being audio architects. The correct "emotional experience" consists of conjured up memories that will relate to their music. This company believes that each person’s life has their own personal soundtrack, and if you trigger a song to make them feel as though they are walking around their own book or magazine layout, there are results due to that. For example, women who enter a department store with a Martha Stewart meets Africa theme, the music accompanying makes the women who are in that store to feel as though they have just walked into a Country Living Magazine. The employees of these stores confirm the days that they have Sara McLaughlin, or Beth Orton playing, the sales are much greater. We are used to sound in stores because they believe without it we would feel disconnected, and feel like the movie has run out, or the pages in the next chapter are blank.
It sounds like Music being used as propaganda to me. For thirty years or so elevator music has existed in order to create atmosphere, mood, and yes to inspire consumers. I heard once that grocery stores play mostly love music compared to the top ten, because women usually do the shopping , and if they are feeling “loving” they generally buy more. Love songs can emotionally alter your mood, causing you to react in a loving way, and could cause you to buy more things for your family such as special items or prepare a more extravagant dinner. I am just shocked by the research and marketing that actually works behind a big company name such as Musak. They manipulate every detail behind the music choices such as: major or minor keys, songs with or without words,instrumentation and tempos settings. Then according to their employers wishes, and their research they electronically adjust the songs to make the most successful outcome.
I have personally encountered this on many occasions, for example the current time of year. As soon as Christmas music started being played in November, our minds were triggered to the gift giving season. Even though I find it manipulative and am aware that there is propaganda like tendencies behind it, I can’t say I would particularly enjoy shopping without music and I would probably not stay a long time in a store that did not have music playing. There has also probably been a time when I was drawn to a small café playing European music, taking my imagination from the faculty of music onto a street in Paris…. and yes I might have bought a cookie to go along with my coffee to enjoy the “emotional experience” a little more.
Is elevator music such a bad thing then? Probably not, but perhaps consumers trying to watch their penny during difficult economic times would have to be a more conscious shopper and not be influenced by the subtle back ground music.