Background music refers to a mode of musical performance in which the music is not intended to be a primary focus of potential listeners, but its content, character, and volume level are deliberately chosen to affect behavioral and emotional responses in humans such a concentration, relaxation, distraction, and excitement. Listeners are uniquely subject to background music with no control over its volume and content. The range of responses created are of great variety, and even opposite, depending on numerous factors such as, setting, culture, audience, and even time of day.
Background music is commonly played where there is no audience at all, such as empty hallways and restrooms and fitting rooms. It is also used in artificial space, such as music played while on hold during a telephone call, and virtual space, as in the ambient sounds or thematic music in massively multiplayer online role-playing games. It is typically played at low volumes from multiple small speakers distributing the music across broad public spaces. The widespread use of background music in offices, restaurants, and stores began with the founding of Muzak in the 1930s and was characterized by repetition and simple musical arrangements. Its use has grown worldwide and today incorporates the findings of psychological research relating to consumer behavior in retail environments, employee productivity, and workplace satisfaction.
Due to the growing variety of settings (from doctors offices to airports), many styles of music are utilized as background music. Because the aim of background music is passive listening, vocals, commercial interruptions, and complexity are typically avoided. In spite of the international distribution common to syndicated background music artists, it is often associated with artistic failure and a lack of musical talent in the entertainment industry. There are composers who write specifically for music syndication services such as Dynamic Media and Mood Media, successors of Muzak, and MTI Digital. Multiple studies have correlated the presence of background music with increased spending in retail establishments.
Incidental music is music in a play, radio/TV program or some other form that is not primarily musical. It seeks to add atmosphere to the action and evoke or reinforce emotions being portrayed. It can be dated back at least as far as Greek drama. A number of classical composers have written incidental music for various plays. It can range from simple drum sequences or bass notes to complex orchestral arrangements.
The term furniture music was coined by Erik Satie in 1917. It fell into disuse when the composer died a few years later, and the genre was revived several decades later. Typical of furniture music are short musical passages, with an indefinite number of repeats.
Elevator music (also Muzak, piped music, or lift music) is a more general term indicating music that is played in rooms where many people come together (that is, with no intention whatsoever to listen to music), and during telephone calls when placed on hold. There is a specific sound associated with elevator music that usually involves themes from "soft" popular music or "light" classical music being performed by slow strings. This type of music was produced, for instance, by the Mantovani Orchestra, and conductors like Franck Pourcel and James Last, peaking in popularity around the 1970s.
This style of music is sometimes used to comedic effect in mass media such as film, where intense or dramatic scenes may be interrupted or interspersed with such anodyne music while characters use an elevator. Some video games have used music similarly: Metal Gear Solid 4 where a few elevator music-themed tracks are accessible on the in-game iPod, as well as Rise of the Triad: Dark War, and Earthworm Jim.
Some people can be deeply annoyed by piped music, and even find it spoils their enjoyment in recreation or drives them out of shops: Eight out of 10 people have left an establishment early because it was too noisy. There are a number of societies, such as Pipedown, that are dedicated to reducing its extent and intrusiveness. The Good Pub Guide 2017 called for a ban on piped music in pubs, already the case in houses managed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.
Video game and blog music
Background music (often abbreviated BGM) is the music in video games (sometimes written VGM) and music in websites.
Internet delivered background music
In recent years the proliferation of Internet-delivered background music by such companies as Trusonic has gained traction. This allows the retailer to instantly update music and messages which are deployed at the store level as opposed to using older compact disc and satellite technologies.
Business audio refers to a type of service that provides audio content that is licensed for use in a commercial setting.
Business news can be one example. The term background music is another example. Providers of the latter include:
- Cloud Cover Media, Inc.
- StoreStreams Inc
- Muzak Holdings LLC
- XM for Business
- Music Choice
- Applied Media Technologies Corporation
In the United States, the terms "elevator music" and "Muzak" are commonly used to refer to business audio services that provide background music in retail settings.
Founded in 1934, Muzak was among the early background music providers.
Business audio is produced off-site and delivered to the client via a number of methods including DBS satellite, SDARS satellite, coaxial cable, FM radio subcarrier, leased line, internet broadband, compact disc, and tape.
Most audio content is licensed for personal and home use only. Business audio services allow clients to use audio content in public and commercial settings by paying appropriate royalties to performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GEMA in Germany.
The 1964 3M Cantata 700 played continuous and auto-reversing one of its large and proprietary magnetic tape cartridges, containing up to 26 hours of music. The Rowe Customusic was an endless tape cartridge player, loading simultaneous six C-type Fidelipac cartridges. The 1959 Seeburg 1000 was a stack record player, playing both sides continuous and repeating up to 1000 songs and up to 25 special 9" vinyl records with a 2" center bore at 16⅔ PRM.
- Milliman, R.E. (1982). Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. Journal of Marketing. 46(3). 86-91.
- "Royalty Free Background Music - The Benefits" Music 4 Retail, 2019
- Mark Ammons (6 Aug 2010). American Popular Music, Grades 5 – 8. Mark Twain Media. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-58037-983-0.
- See Pipedown Archived 2007-05-01 at the Wayback Machine
- "Muzak", Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001, doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.53254
- The King has Just Left the Building: an art project related to elevator music