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Background music (British English: piped music) is 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 video 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.
The use of incidental music dates back at least as far as Greek drama. A number of classical composers have written incidental music for various plays, with the more famous examples including Henry Purcell's Abdelazer music, George Frideric Handel's The Alchemist music, Joseph Haydn's Il distratto music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Thamos, King of Egypt music, Ludwig van Beethoven's Egmont music, Carl Maria von Weber's Preciosa music, Franz Schubert's Rosamunde music, Felix Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream music, Robert Schumann's Manfred music, Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne music, and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt music. Parts of all of these are often performed in concerts outside the context of the play. Vocal incidental music, which is included in the classical scores mentioned above, should never be confused with the score of a Broadway or film musical, in which the songs often reveal character and further the storyline. Since the score of a Broadway or film musical is what actually makes the work a musical, it is far more essential to the work than mere incidental music, which nearly always amounts to little more than a background score; indeed, many plays have no incidental music whatsoever.
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.
Muzak / 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, not for the explicit purpose of listening 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. More recent types of elevator music may be computer-generated, with the actual score being composed entirely algorithmically.
Corporate music (or corporate production music) is a term for background music, made to work with company presentations: rather subtle, understated and unobtrusive. However, it should not be confused with "corporate pop" - pop music produced by corporations and that "blurs the line between independent and mainstream".
Video game music
Video game music (VGM) is a soundtrack for video games. Songs may be original and composed specifically for the game, or preexisting music licensed for use in the game. Music in video games can be heard over a game's title screen, menus and during gameplay. Sometimes, a soundtrack from a videogame can be released separately, as it happened with GTA V's in-game "radiostations"
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.
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
- MTI Digital
- XM for Business
- Music Choice
- CUSTOMtronics Sound
- Applied Media Technologies Corporation
- Couture Media, Inc.
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 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.
- The Rowe Customusic was an endless tape cartridge player, loading simultaneous six C-type Fidelipac cartridges.
- 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.
- Rediffusion’s Reditune system was popular in the 1960's UK.
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