Why Does No One Like Elevator Music? A Better Alternative for In-Store Music

Why Does No One Like Elevator Music? A Better Alternative for In-Store Music

In-store music is at the heart of any sensory marketing strategy — and Muzak was the first brand to figure it out, when it came up with a kind of soft background music that people later classified as “elevator music”.

After dominating the market for decades, it eventually lost its appeal.

If you’re wondering how that happened and why elevator music is brought up in a derogatory sense nowadays, you’re not alone! After all, what is wrong with a little light, jazzy or orchestral background music? Isn’t musical taste subjective?

Well, it’s not that simple when discussing retail music that attracts customers.

So, let’s uncover this topic together! Here is what you will find in this article:

  • What is elevator music, and how did it originate?
  • Bits of elevator music history and why this type of retail music is not as popular today
  • Alternative background music for retail stores that we would recommend
  • What music streaming services Australia has available.

Stay with us until the end if you want to learn more about elevator music and get some inspiration for what retail music repertoires should include nowadays!

What Is Elevator Music?

Elevator music consists of easy-listening instrumentals that are usually played during phone calls or used as background music for retail stores, waiting rooms or offices. Essentially, any location can be made cosier with some jazz or classical music, as it doesn’t distract people’s attention. This type of music is either produced with real instruments, or it’s computer-generated.

You can’t bring up elevator music without referring to Muzak, an American brand that started providing retail companies with background music in the early ‘30s.

In fact, due to Muzak’s dominance of the market, people sometimes refer to elevator music as “muzak” — a phenomenon called genericness.

  • Genericness means using a brand name or a proprietary eponym as a generic term. Popular examples include Thermos, Xerox, and Escalator (speaking of elevators).
  • Fun fact: if the company loses its trademark status, i.e. consumers don’t associate the good or service with the brand anymore, it’s called ‘genericide’. Examples of genericide are Aspirin and Linoleum.

Surprising Elevator Music History Facts

Did you know that Muzak’s creator was a military professional from the U.S.?

He was called George Squier and was also a scientist who invented telephone carrier multiplexing (essentially allowing multiple calls over a single wire). He also broadcasted music to consumers’ households over wires and, later on, through the radio medium.

The founder was also drawn to the idea of collaborating with commercial businesses. That’s why he launched Muzak and experimented with various tempos, volumes, and even moments of silence to increase workers’ productivity and alleviate fatigue.

Some of the first research on the way in-store music affected behaviour was done by Muzak.

In the ‘60s, their background music was used at the White House, as well as during stressful NASA missions. Muzak broadcasted background music to over 300,000 locations in the U.S. and, I guess we could say, to outer space.

Muzak ended up having competition from other providers as people’s tastes in music evolved, and they wanted to listen to vocal, rock, pop, and Latin in-store music as well.

Muzak had gone through several episodes in which they reinvented their style and strategy, but they had already got a bad rap. In part, it was due to their research and attempt at influencing consumer behaviour through music, which was seen as manipulation. Another contributing factor was the fact that they recorded instrumentals of then popular songs (because of rigid copyright laws that didn’t allow them to rebroadcast the original versions), and obtained that inconspicuous elevator music sound.

Eventually, because of the tough economic climate and debt accumulation, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. However, it didn’t take long for the brand to rise from the ashes and be acquired by a few tech businesses over the years.

How Elevator Music Lost Its X Factor

While Muzak did not become a victim of genericide, it did fall flat amidst the richness of music appealing to the newer generations of consumers.

The main problem with playing elevator music (or “environmental”, as they liked to call it) is the lack of personalisation oftentimes associated with it. The repetitive nature of this type of music also generates boredom among listeners.

Is There Better Background Music for Retail Stores?

Muzak deserves credit for pioneering and broadcasting in-store music, as well as showcasing the work of countless talented musicians. Having said that, there are more appealing ways of reaching customers’ ears and hearts nowadays. In this sense, we can talk about commercial music streaming services.

Australia’s leading retail companies are levelling up their in-store atmosphere with carefully curated tunes that are relevant to their brand and target consumers. That can include anything from upbeat pop music in young adult shops to relaxing indie for cafés and corporate environments, or motivating electronic music for gyms.

Various research confirms that in-store music plays an essential role in customer experience, especially among younger audiences — and this holds true worldwide.

According to a report published in Forbes:

  • Respondents from China, Australia, Spain, and several other countries said that in-store music is highly invigorating;
  • 84% of U.S. consumers think that shopping is better with background music;
  • Music lowers the perceived waiting time, according to 77% of the respondents;
  • 37% of consumers admitted to making impulse purchases due to the enjoyable atmosphere.

Lastly, we must stress the importance of differentiating personal streaming services (like Spotify and Apple Music) from commercial streaming services.

As music is protected by copyright, you need a One Music licence for any public performance. It is illegal to play music from CDs or applications that are designed for personal use. Your most handy solution is to employ a commercial streaming service or a subscription-based service like Storeplay Radio — that allows you to legally download the music of your choice on any iOS device.

With New and Updated Music Streaming Services, Australia’s Retail Scene Is More Musical than Ever

While elevator ‘muzak’ had its glory, now is the time to tune in to the needs and preferences of your customers, as well as to the heart of your brand, and identify the particular soundscape that reflects who you are.

StorePlay not only ensures you find your authentic sound, but it also helps you legally broadcast it through a hassle-free monthly subscription. Should you also need appropriate audio equipment for your venue, we have that too!

If you want to find out more, check out our case studies on how we helped some of Australia’s leading brands to let their personality shine through in-store music specifically selected for them. Feel free to get in touch with our team whenever you want to talk about the right music for your business.