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A Muzak van in Indianapolis, Indiana

Muzak is an American brand of background music played in retail stores and other public establishments, and also played at the World Trade Center (1973–2001).

The name Muzak, a blend of music and the popular camera brand name Kodak, has been in use since 1934 and has been owned by various companies. The word Muzak has been a registered trademark of Muzak LLC since December 21, 1954.[1]

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.[2] Muzak was based in various Seattle, Washington, locations from 1986 to 1999, after which it moved its headquarters to outside Charlotte in 2000.[3] Formerly owned by Muzak Holdings, the brand was purchased in 2011 by Mood Media in a deal worth US$345 million.[4][5]

In the United States, due in part to the market dominance of Muzak Holdings, Muzak came to be used to refer to most forms of background music, regardless of source.[2] It may also be referred to as "elevator music" or "lift music" (see also Music on hold). Though Muzak Holdings was for many years the best-known supplier of background music, and is commonly associated with elevator music, the company itself did not supply music to elevators.[6]


Inventor George Owen Squier, credited with inventing telephone carrier multiplexing in 1910, developed the original technical basis for Muzak.[7][8][9] He was granted several US patents in the 1920s[9] related to transmission of information signals, among them U.S. patent 1,641,608 a system for the transmission and distribution of signals over electrical lines.[10]

Squier recognized the potential for this technology to be used to deliver music to listeners without the use of radio,[7] which at the time was in early state and required fussy and expensive equipment. Early successful tests were performed, delivering music to customers on New York's Staten Island via their electrical wires.

In 1922, the rights to Squier's patents were acquired by the North American Company utility conglomerate, which created the firm Wired Radio, Inc. to deliver music to their customers, charging them for music on their electric bill.[11] By the 1930s radio had made great advances, and households began listening to broadcasts received via the airwaves for free, supported by advertising.

Focus on mercantile environment (1934–1950)[edit]

Squier remained involved in the project, but as the home market became eclipsed by radio in 1934 he changed the company's focus to delivering music to commercial clients.[11][12] Intrigued by the made-up word Kodak used as a trademark, he combined it with "music" to create the word Muzak, which became the company's new name.[13]

In 1937, the Muzak division was purchased from the North American Company by Warner Bros.,[14] which expanded it into other cities. It was bought by entrepreneur William Benton who wanted to introduce Muzak into new markets like barbershops and doctors' offices. While Muzak had initially produced tens of thousands of original artist recordings by the top performers of the late 1930s and 1940s, their new strategy required a different sound.

Stimulus progression (1950–1960)[edit]

The company began customizing the pace and style of the music provided throughout the workday in an effort to maintain productivity.[15] The music was programmed in 15-minute blocks, gradually getting faster in tempo and louder and brassier in instrumentation, to encourage workers to speed up their pace. Following the completion of a 15-minute segment, the music would fall silent for 15 minutes. This was partly done for technical reasons, but company-funded research also showed that alternating music with silence limited listener fatigue, and made the "stimulus" effect of Stimulus Progression more effective.

During this period, Muzak began recording their own "orchestra" – actually a number of orchestras in studios around the country, sometimes in other countries as well – composed of top local studio musicians. This allowed them to control all aspects of the music for insertion into specific slots in the Stimulus Progression programs.[16][17]

In the 1950s, it gradually became public knowledge that Muzak was using music to manipulate behavior. There were accusations of brainwashing, and court challenges.[18][better source needed] However, its popularity remained high through the mid-1960s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to pump Muzak into the West Wing, and Lyndon B. Johnson owned the Muzak franchise in Austin, Texas. NASA reportedly used Muzak in many of its space missions to soothe astronauts and occupy periods of inactivity.[19]

Original artist programming (1960–1980)[edit]

With the rise in youth culture and the growing influence of the baby boomer generation in the 1960s and 1970s, Muzak's popularity declined. It began losing market share to new "foreground music" companies, such as AEI Music Network Inc. and Yesco, that offered so-called "original artist music programming." Rather than using orchestral re-recordings as Muzak had for its Stimulus Progression program, they licensed original recordings, and included vocal music. They also offered many styles, from rock and pop to Spanish-language programming (for Mexican restaurants), jazz, blues and classical, as well as the traditional "easy listening." Foreground music markets included restaurants, fashion stores, retail outlets, malls, dental offices, airlines and public spaces.

Muzak merged with Yesco in September 1986.[20] When Muzak began programming original artists in 1984, it was after merging with Yesco, and the programming was done by Yesco.[2] This necessitated abandonment of the Stimulus Progression concept.[citation needed] Since 1997, Muzak has used original artists for its music,[21] except on its Environmental channel.[22]

A small contingent of Muzak's business continued to provide their trademarked background music sound where it remained popular, particularly in Japan.[23]

New business model[edit]

Muzak was, since the 1940s, a franchise operation, with local offices each purchasing performance licenses for subscribers to the music, delivery technology, and brand name for their geographic areas. The company (franchisor) changed hands several times, becoming a division of the Field Corporation in the mid-1980s.[24]

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Muzak moved away from the "elevator music" approach and instead began to offer multiple specialized channels of popular music. Muzak pioneered "audio architecture", a process of designing custom music playlists for specific customers.

Even with the changes in format, rocker Ted Nugent used Muzak as an icon of everything "uncool" about music. In 1986, he publicly made a $10 million bid to purchase the company with the stated intent of shutting it down. "Muzak is an evil force in today's society, causing people to lapse into uncontrollable fits of blandness," Nugent said. "It's been responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation." His bid was refused by Muzak's then-owner, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.[25]

By the late 1990s, the Muzak corporation had largely rebranded itself. As of 2010, Muzak distributed 3 million commercially available original artist songs. [26] It offered almost 100 channels of music via satellite or IP delivery, in addition to completely custom music programs tailored to their customers' needs.

According to EchoStar, one of Muzak's distribution providers, Muzak's business music service was broadcast on rented bandwidth from EchoStar VII, in geostationary orbit at 119 degrees west longitude. Other rented bandwidth included an analog service on Galaxy 3C and a digital service on SES-3.[27]

On April 12, 2007, Muzak Holdings, LLC announced to its employees that it might merge with DMX Music.[28] This merger was approved by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division one year later.[29] However, by April 2009, the deal appeared to have faltered.[30]

On January 23, 2009, a spokesperson said Muzak was attempting to restructure its debt, and filing for bankruptcy was one of several options. The company had ample cash but had large amounts of debt coming due in the midst of a difficult economic climate.[31]


On February 10, 2009, Muzak Holdings LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[32] Kirkland & Ellis was hired as the company's bankruptcy law firm. Moelis & Company served as the financial adviser.

On September 10, 2009, Muzak said it had filed a reorganization plan which would cut the company's debt by more than 50%. The plan would pay all banks everything they were owed in some form and would give high-ranking unsecured creditors ownership in the reorganized company. Other creditors would receive warrants to buy stock.[33] The company said an "overwhelming majority" of unsecured creditors supported the plan.[34]

Final logo

On January 12, 2010, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the plan to reduce Muzak's debt by more than half, allowing Muzak to officially emerge from bankruptcy.[35]

Following bankruptcy, the company announced an initiative to realign its corporate structure into three specialized business units: Muzak Media; Touch, a Muzak Co.; and Muzak Systems. These units will focus on content acquisition, Sensory Branding, and new delivery platform technology.

In March 2011, Mood Media agreed to purchase Muzak Holdings for $345 million.[4][36] On February 5, 2013, Mood Media announced it was retiring the name 'Muzak' as part of its integration plans.[37][38]

Mood Media[edit]

Founded in 2004, Mood Media had a market capitalization of about $380 million as of 2011.[39] In March 2011, Mood Media agreed to purchase Muzak Holdings for $345 million.[4][5] Although Muzak first appeared in 1934, it had its largest impact in the 1960s and 1970s.[36] In 2013, Mood Media announced it would be consolidating its services under the name Mood, ceasing to use the Muzak brand name.[40] Muzak provided background music to over 300,000 US locations and made most of its money through multi-year contracts.[39] In 2013, the company provided on-hold messaging and video programming, although piped music remained its forte. Mood hoped to use Muzak's US footprint to introduce more digital services.[2] In May 2017, Mood Media filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in an attempt to restructure their debt.[41] The following month the company was acquired by Apollo Global Management and GSO Capital Partners.[42] In January 2021 Mood Media was acquired by Vector Capital, a private equity firm specializing in investments in technology businesses.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Wfrecruiter.com". Retrieved July 9, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d Luke Baumgarten (September 27, 2012). "Elevator Going Down: The Story Of Muzak". Redbull Music Academy. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  3. ^ Blecha, Peter (June 19, 1956). "Muzak, Inc. -- Originators of "Elevator Music"". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Das, Anupreeta (March 24, 2011). "Marketing analytics startup Adometry lands $8M from Shasta Ventures". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Toronto's Mood Media buys Muzak". National Post. March 25, 2011. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Dunning, Brian. "Skeptoid #370: The Science of Muzak". Skeptoid. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Clark, Paul W.; Lyons, Laurence A. (2014). George Owen Squier: U.S. Army Major General, Inventor. McFarland. ISBN 978-0786476350. During the 1920s and '30s, Major General George Owen Squier was one of the most famous men in America and abroad, as a scientist, soldier, military ...
  8. ^ "George Owen Squier Invents Muzak". In 1922 American Army Signal Corps officer and inventor Major General George Owen Squier of Washington, D.C. created "Wired Radio," a service that ...
  9. ^ a b "The rise of elevator Muzak began with this Michigan inventor". September 13, 2017. Major General George Owen Squier. The name may not be familiar, but his work in the fields of aeronautics and radio communications ...
  10. ^ "Patents". Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Stuart Isacoff (January 31, 2014). "Environmental music". The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd Edition.
  12. ^ Jesse Jarnow (July 25, 2013). "Elevator music". The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd Edition.
  13. ^ Toop, David (2001). "Environmental Music [background music]". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.43820. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  14. ^ "History of Muzak, Inc". FundingUniverse.com.
  15. ^ Anika Lampe (2006). Building a better consumerism. Kaufentscheidungen durch Musik am Beispiel des Klangkonzeptes der Mall of America. University of Lueneburg.
  16. ^ Lanza, Joseph (2004). Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong; Revised and Expanded Edition. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472089420.
  17. ^ Passman, Donald S. (2011). All You Need to Know About the Music Business. RosettaBooks. ISBN 9780795309779.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Debbie Yi. "Are you being brainwashed by Muzak?". Serendip. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  19. ^ Julia Finch (February 11, 2009). "Debt-laden Muzak finds that recession is a mute point". The guardian. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  20. ^ "Yesco Merger Next for Muzak". Chicago Tribune. September 10, 1986.
  21. ^ Owen, David (April 10, 2006). "Annals of Culture: The Soundtrack of Your Life". The New Yorker.
  22. ^ "Encompass LE Program Listing" (PDF). Muzak Corporation. November 10, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 23, 2007. Retrieved April 19, 2007. (PDF)
  23. ^ "On the Road Through Asia". February 6, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  24. ^ "Muzak, Inc. – Originators of 'Elevator Music'". HistoryLink.org.
  25. ^ "Muzak to his ears". The Ottawa Citizen. March 17, 1986.
  26. ^ "On the next edition of The Other Side: Sequestered episode 15 "Muzak & Elevator Music". – KVMR Community Radio". Retrieved May 19, 2024.
  27. ^ "Muzak Holdings Finance Corp – 10-K Annual Report". getfilings.com. December 31, 2004. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  28. ^ John Downey (April 13, 2007), Muzak Seeks Merger with Rival DMX, Charlotte Business Journal
  29. ^ "Muzak and DMX Receive DOJ Clearance to Merge". PR Newswire. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  30. ^ Pete Iacobelli (April 6, 2009). "Muzak Is Still Upbeat". The News & Observer.
  31. ^ Adam Bell (January 24, 2009). "Muzak Facing Hard Choices". The News & Observer.
  32. ^ Muzak files for bankruptcy under heavy debt, Associated Press, February 10, 2009
  33. ^ "Muzak reorganization plan cuts debt in half". MSN Money (Associated Press). September 10, 2009.
  34. ^ Rochelle, Bill (September 11, 2009), A chorus of support from Muzak creditors, The Charlotte Observer
  35. ^ Aronoff (January 13, 2010). "Muzak poised to exit bankruptcy". The Charlotte Observer.
  36. ^ a b "Easy-Listening 'Muzak' Reborn As 'Mood Media'". NPR Music. February 5, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  37. ^ Sisario, Ben (February 4, 2013), "Muzak, Background Music to Life, to Lose Its Name", New York Times
  38. ^ The Day the Muzak Died, BBC radio documentary by Falling Tree Productions, broadcast 30 March 2021
  39. ^ a b Anupreeta Das (March 24, 2011). "Mood Media to Acquire Muzak for $305 Million". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  40. ^ Ben Sisario (February 4, 2013). "Muzak, Background Music to Life, to Lose Its Name". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  41. ^ Sanchez, Daniel (May 25, 2017). "Mood Media, Muzak's Parent Company, Seeks Federal Bankruptcy Court Protection". Digital Music News. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  42. ^ Lazarus, David (July 7, 2017). "Whatever happened to Muzak? It's now Mood, and it's not elevator music". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  43. ^ "Vector Capital Completes Acquisition of Mood Media". January 7, 2021.

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