Background music

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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 as 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. [1]


Incidental music

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.

Furniture music

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

Elevator music (also known as 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, but it usually involves simple instrumental 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.

More recent types of elevator music may be computer-generated, with the actual score being composed entirely algorithmically. [2] [3]

The term can also be used for kinds of easy listening, [4] piano solo, jazz or middle of the road music, or what are known as "beautiful music" radio stations.

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.[ original research? ]

There are a number of societies, such as Pipedown, [5] that are dedicated to reducing the extent and intrusiveness of piped music. This campaign group proposes that some people can be deeply annoyed by piped music, and even find it spoils their enjoyment in recreation or drives them out of shops. They suggest that eight out of 10 people have left an establishment early because it was too noisy. [5] 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.

Group Fitness Music

With the proliferation of boutique fitness classes in the late 2010s, a new emphasis is being placed on properly licensing music to be used by instructors in a group fitness environment. As it is more interactive than traditional background music, the licensing and cost structures differ.

Internet delivered background music

Internet-delivered background music was delivered by companies as Mood Media (which had acquired Trusonic, which had acquired Muzak). This allowed the retailer to instantly update music and messages which were deployed at the store level as opposed to using older compact disc and satellite technologies.[ citation needed ]

Background non-music

Business audio

Business audio refers to a type of service that provides audio content that is licensed for use in a commercial setting.[ citation needed ]

Business news can be one example. The term background music is another example. Providers of the latter include:

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.[ citation needed ]


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. [6]

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.[ citation needed ]

Historical devices

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 RPM.

See also

Related Research Articles

Streaming media Continuous multimedia operated & presented to users by a provider other than conventional broadcast media channels

Streaming media is multimedia that is delivered and consumed in a continuous manner from a source, with little or no intermediate storage in network elements. Streaming refers to the delivery method of content, rather than the content itself.

Sound effect Artificially created or enhanced sound

A sound effect is an artificially created or enhanced sound, or sound process used to emphasize artistic or other content of films, television shows, live performance, animation, video games, music, or other media. These are normally created with foley. In motion picture and television production, a sound effect is a sound recorded and presented to make a specific storytelling or creative point without the use of dialogue or music. The term often refers to a process applied to a recording, without necessarily referring to the recording itself. In professional motion picture and television production, dialogue, music, and sound effects recordings are treated as separate elements. Dialogue and music recordings are never referred to as sound effects, even though the processes applied to such as reverberation or flanging effects, often are called "sound effects".

Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of instrumental music, it may lack net composition, beat, or structured melody. It uses textural layers of sound which can reward both passive and active listening and encourage a sense of calm or contemplation. The genre is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. Nature soundscapes may be included, and the sounds of acoustic instruments such as the piano, strings and flute may be emulated through a synthesizer.

8-track tape Magnetic tape sound recording format

The 8-track tape is a magnetic-tape sound recording technology that was popular from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, when the Compact Cassette tape, which predated 8-track, surpassed it in popularity for pre-recorded music. The format is obsolete and was relatively unknown outside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Japan. The main advantage of the 8-track tape cartridge is that it does not have to be "flipped over" to play the alternative set of tracks.

A cassette deck is a type of tape machine for playing and recording audio cassettes that does not have built-in power amplifier or speakers or both, and serves primarily as a transport. It can be a part of a automotive entertainment system, or a part of a portable mini system, or a part of a home component system. In the latter case it is also called a component cassette deck or just a component deck.

Muzak is an American brand of background music played in retail stores and other public establishments. The name has been in use since 1934, and has been owned by a division or subsidiary of another company ever since. In 1981, Westinghouse bought the company and ran it until selling it to the Fields Company of Chicago, publishers of the Chicago Sun-Times, on September 8, 1986. Formerly owned by Muzak Holdings, the brand was purchased in 2011 by Mood Media in a deal worth US$345 million.


Monaural or monophonic sound reproduction is sound intended to be heard as if it were emanating from one position. This contrasts with stereophonic sound or stereo, which uses two separate audio channels to reproduce sound from two microphones on the right and left side, which is reproduced with two separate loudspeakers to give a sense of the direction of sound sources. In mono, only one loudspeaker is necessary, but, when played through multiple loudspeakers or headphones, identical signals are fed to each speaker, resulting in the perception of one-channel sound "imaging" in one sonic space between the speakers. Monaural recordings, like stereo ones, typically use multiple microphones fed into multiple channels on a recording console, but each channel is "panned" to the center. In the final stage, the various center-panned signal paths are usually mixed down to two identical tracks, which, because they are identical, are perceived upon playback as representing a single unified signal at a single place in the soundstage. In some cases, multitrack sources are mixed to a one-track tape, thus becoming one signal. In the mastering stage, particularly in the days of mono records, the one- or two-track mono master tape was then transferred to a one-track lathe intended to be used in the pressing of a monophonic record. Today, however, monaural recordings are usually mastered to be played on stereo and multi-track formats, yet retain their center-panned mono soundstage characteristics.

Music Choice American music television service

Music Choice  is a multi-product music service that provides audio and video music programming to millions of consumers nationwide through their cable, satellite and other multi-channel video programming distributors in the United States via televisions, online and mobile devices.

Beautiful music is a mostly instrumental music format that was prominent in North American radio from the late 1950s through the 1980s. Easy listening, light music, mood music, elevator music, and Muzak are other terms that overlap with this format and the style of music that it featured. Beautiful music can also be regarded as a subset of the middle of the road radio format.

Music on hold (MOH) is the business practice of playing recorded music to fill the silence that would be heard by telephone callers who have been placed on hold. It is especially common in situations involving customer service.

Digital-television radio, DTV radio, or DTR describes the audio channels that are provided with a digital television service. These channels are delivered by cable television, direct-broadcast satellite or digital terrestrial television. In terms of variety, DTR falls somewhere between regular AM and FM radio, and satellite radio. However, because it is delivered through a digital signal, the actual sound quality can exceed both.

Professional audio

Professional audio, abbreviated as pro audio, refers to both an activity and a category of high quality, studio-grade audio equipment. Typically it encompasses sound recording, sound reinforcement system setup and audio mixing, and studio music production by trained sound engineers, audio engineers, record producers, and audio technicians who work in live event support and recording using mixing consoles, recording equipment and sound reinforcement systems. Professional audio is differentiated from consumer- or home-oriented audio, which are typically geared toward listening in a non-commercial environment.

WVKS Radio station in Toledo, Ohio

WVKS also known as 92.5 KISS-FM is an iHeartMedia-owned station serving Toledo, Ohio with a Top 40 (CHR) format; it is the most popular Toledo station in this format.


Mood Media North America is a commercial music company and a wholly owned subsidiary of Mood Media Corporation. Founded in 1999 as a small business unit (SBU) of the now defunct, Trusonic provided background music to businesses. During the shutdown of, Trusonic Inc, a new corporation co-founded by Joe Tebo and Dan O'Neill purchased the assets (technology/IP/etc) of the Trusonic business unit including the rights to the majority of the independent artist catalog. In October 2007 Trusonic Inc was acquired by Fluid Media Networks. Fluid Media Networks acquired Mood Media in 2010 and Trusonic Inc changed its name to Mood Media North America in 2011. The Trusonic brand remains as the name of the primary Technology Trusonic Media Player in use today.

InStore Audio Network

InStore Audio Network is a retail media provider of narrowcast in-store music, in-store video content and audio advertising for delivery within supermarkets and drugstores. InStore Audio Network's music programming is housed locally on a music server at each location, containing the music library, audio messages and ISAN's proprietary scheduling and delivery software. This software enables each server to receive new audio ads and music playlists as often as necessary, transferred over the Internet. The playlists dictate what will be played during the following week in that particular store so that every retail store can be customized with its own music and/or audio messages. InStore Audio Network works with America's premier retailers to use audio for branding and marketing purposes in the shopping environment.

Applied Media Technologies Corporation (AMTC) is a Tampa, Florida-based provider of commercial sound equipment, "on hold" messaging to US and Canadian businesses under the brand name TelAdvantage, and background music for businesses as a partner of SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

DMX (music service) Branding agency and digital music service

DMX, a Mood Media company, is a "multi-sensory" branding agency based in Austin, Texas. DMX also provides music for cable and satellite television networks worldwide, including DStv in Africa.

Mood Media Corporation is an international in-store provider of music, digital signage, hold music, on-hold messaging, scent, integrated audio/video, and interactive mobile marketing products. It was founded in 2004, and is based in Austin, Texas. The company provides services to a variety of retailers and other business verticals such as restaurant, financial, healthcare, hospitality and QSR. Mood Media Corporation has expanded its product offerings through acquisitions of Somerset Entertainment in Canada, BIS Group in Europe, and Trusonic, AEI Music Network Inc., Muzak, DMX, Technomedia, and GoConvergence in the United States.

The Pipedown Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music is a UK-based environmental campaign founded in 1992 by the author and environmentalist Nigel Rodgers. It has links with the sister group in Germany and other countries. In Scotland there is a sister group Quiet Scotland, so named because the term 'piped music' sounds too similar to 'pipe music' to Scottish ears.

Rowe Customusic is a background music system of the 1960s and 1970s. The playback machine can load up to six Fidelipac type C endless magnetic tape cartridges, which could hold the longest tape of its kind. It plays up to 60 hours. The case is 13⅝" wide, 11⅛" high and 13¾" deep. Like the 3M Cantata 700, the playback machine moves the tape head in between the cartridges, and also usual for Fidelipac playback machines, track by track on the current cartridge, to access each to the four tracks per cartridge. The current cartridge number is indicated on a seven-segment display. Changing to the next track was triggered automatically by a conductive tape strip where the endless tape joined its both ends, or even manually by pressing a key to move the tape head to the next track. Another switch located next to the main switch disables changing the cartridge an make the player remain the playback procedure on the current cartridge.


  1. Milliman, R.E. (1982). Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. Journal of Marketing. 46(3). 86-91.
  2. Murphy, Michael (August 26, 2015). "People are confusing computer-generated music with the works of J.S. Bach". Quartz. New York. Retrieved Jun 16, 2021.
  3. Wilson, Chris (May 19, 2010). "I'll Be Bach: A computer program is writing great, original works of classical music. Will human composers soon be obsolete?". Slate. New York. Retrieved Jun 16, 2021.
  4. Mark Ammons (6 Aug 2010). American Popular Music, Grades 5 – 8. Mark Twain Media. p. 52. ISBN   978-1-58037-983-0.
  5. 1 2 See Pipedown Archived 2007-05-01 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "Muzak", Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001, doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.53254