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Jewish World Review June 22, 2001 / 1 Tamuz, 5761

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Bop While You Shop

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AT the risk of being branded a whiner or curmudgeon or old fogy or spoilsport (or all of the above), I must tell you that the Muzak that is being piped into businesses of late is driving me mad. Once upon a time Muzak was slow instrumental saccharin pap. But at least it was unobtrusive. You knew it was there but you werenít really aware of it. It was harmless.

It didnít hurt anybody. It was sort of the Regis Philbin of music. But things have changed.

Supermarkets and other large chain stores are now playing rock and soul tunes from the seventies as background music, which is anything but unobtrusive. Walking down the aisle you are at once very much aware of the hammering beat of the music. Unlike the old Muzak instrumentals, the songs they pipe in now are generally vocals, which many times include some degree of screaming. Not all that conducive to leisurely shopping for me, Iím afraid.

Iíve been told that there are at least two choices of Muzak channels that a store can select. One is easy-listening, the other is the stuff that I hear most of the time in most of the stores. So why are so many stores choosing the screaming over the more soothing background music? Just check out who works in these stores today -- mostly teens and very young adults. Do you think they want to work in a place that pumps out Percy Faith music all day? Not on your life -- so they choose the screaming. Actually theyíd probably rather have much more contemporary music then that, but since the main office would undoubtedly put their corporate foot down at Emenem, the kids have to settle for Aretha Franklin. Poor them.

But hereís the other thing -- not only have the stores changed the music, theyíve turned it up louder! When I stop for a loaf of bread I donít want the market to sound like a Disco. I was a teenager in the sixties and a young single in the seventies, but I donít want to relive my tortured youth when I pop into the drug store to pick up a bottle of aspirin and theyíre blasting out ďStayiní Alive.Ē

Who needs loud background music anyway? I know, I know. Companies have undoubtedly done exhaustive marketing research which has proven that people buy more stuff when the store plays loud crud from the seventies, right? Well, I, for one, donít. As a matter of fact, loud music has driven me out of stores -- and kept me out. One example that comes to mind occurred several years ago when Barneyís menís store of New York opened a branch in Beverly Hills. I was a customer at the original Barneyís and couldnít wait to visit itís new L.A. location.

I walked in and was instantly hit with loud, overbearing music so obnoxious that I couldnít stay long enough to even walk through the store quickly. On the way out, I mentioned why I was leaving to a worker, who made it quite clear that she couldnít care less. I took her attitude to heart and havenít been back since.

You canít go anywhere today without being bombarded with background music of one kind or another. Shopping malls, doctors and dentists offices, lobbies of offices buildings, even a few nurseries and gas stations will provide some form of musical accompaniment for you while you are at their establishments -- whether you want it or not.

Background music does have itís place, I will admit. If the music is right and at the proper level, it is very nice when dinning at a fine restaurant. The proper level for background music, of course, is in the background. And this small detail has escaped most places of business today, unfortunately.


JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.

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