History of Muzak Part 2 Work Productivity and Muzak

About the history of Muzak, the effect it has on workers productivity, different styles and programs.


Citing the practice of beating drums on slave ships to help speed up the rowers, and pointing to the increased production achieved by beaming music to cows and chickens, MUZAK operates on a simple principle: that effectively programmed MUZAK can stimulate certain psychological and physiological responses, such as work interest, and increased muscular activity, as well as minimalize tension and reduce fatigue; that, in short, it can create an atmosphere for the worker that will promote efficiency and productivity.

According to MUZAK engineers, the average worker arrives at his job each morning in a fairly good mood, but that mood gradually dissipates until it hits a low between the hours of 10 and 11 in the morning. While morale again increases toward lunchtime, the cycle repeats itself after the midday break, becoming more intense this time, until the worker reaches absolute bottom for the day at approximately 3:30. MUZAK counters this fatigue with 15-minute segments of programmed music arranged to provide a constantly rising level of stimulation, varying inversely with the Worker Efficiency Curve. Thus, MUZAK moves from "moderate" to "bright" during the 1st work cycle, into mild and restful for the lunch period, and on into a brighter "moderate" to "bright" for the final work period. Of 105 subscribing companies, 86.4% confessed MUZAK "helped them in their work." As MUZAK's aim is to stimulate, not to entertain, its programmers shy away from vocals and tunes with an emotional identification, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Internationale.

Throughout each day, MUZAK offers 4 programs: Industrial, Office, Public Area, and Travel. The 1st 2 alternate in 15 minute segments ("We sell silence," remarked a former president of MUZAK. "Too much noise is as bad as too much silence."), and the last 2 absorb the full combined doses of the 1st 2 until 5 P.M., when Public Area MUZAK takes over completely. Programming after 5 o'clock grows progressively more upbeat and brassy as the evening draws toward a close, until by midnight the tunes are verging on the lively.

MUZAK produces a different program every day, 365 days a year.

A dean of music once described MUZAK as "pallid pap that will rot our musical teeth out," and J.B. Priestley claims that he has "had it turned off in some of the best places." In 1962, Richard Lippold challenged having MUZAK in the area when his sculpture was exhibited in Manhattan's Pan Am building, and he commissioned John Cage to design an "alternative" MUZAK program. Lippold's idea was vetoed finally by the the Pan Am directors, one of whom explained: "The American businessman and the aesthete do not always see eye to eye." At one point, a Stuttgart whorehouse requested MUZAK's "Light Industrial Program." Whether the music was intended to increase worker efficiency or to calm down the patrons was never revealed.

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