Friday, May 30, 2014

Auds'n'Ends: Muzak, 5/30/14

Auds'n'Ends: 5/30/14

I need to get out and mow before the grass reaches knee deep, but I wanted to check in the blog and expound upon a deep and meaningful topic. Muzak. For the past week, I've listened to more Muzak than I have in decades.

I wouldn't have guessed it years ago, but we've been experiencing a pirate in North America on 6771.2 kHz playing music from the old "beautiful music" format, with a variety of old-time radio shows and news on the hour from the Internet.

I think it's interesting that even young adults today don't know what Muzak is. And it's something that's hard to explain. I talked about this phenomenon with a few people lately and no one can really place a finger on it. Sure, Muzak was music made to sell products, but you could say the same about the Black-Eyed Peas. The "beautiful music" format has been replaced by "smooth jazz," which has much of the same soulless sterility, but seems to be sort of "hip" by comparison.

"Muzak" came to be the name used generically by most everyone (much like "Kleenex" is often used to describe a paper tissue by many in North America) to describe "elevator music" or "dentist office" music. But Muzak was a company that dated back to the 1930s. One of its earlier projects was to create music to work to. Using the theories of stimulus progression, it would create 15-minute blocks of calm music that would gradually increase in tempo and energy, with the intention of making employees work faster.

In the 1960s through 1980s, Muzak was best known for creating playlists of lite music for supermarkets, elevators, etc. Its goal was to make people buy things . . . and people didn't appreciate Muzak's goal. The perception that the company was attempting to turn intelligent, independent people into passive consumers, like drugged cattle grazing in a fenced-in field struck people the wrong way.

But Muzak and Muzak-like music was impossible to avoid, between several "beautiful music" stations on the radio dial in most any radio market and Muzak itself playing in so many stores. The backlash against Muzak eventually knocked it off the music systems from most commercial public venues and the "beautiful music" radio format is dead. Because I'm just a radio hobbyist and not from
the radio or retail industry, I don't know exactly when this happened. But I think it was in the late '80s through the early '90s.

Today, I don't know if the stuff that I heard most everywhere was actually Muzak or just similar compositions from its competitors. I've searched YouTube a little for Muzak, but very little is actually there. I've found a number of playlists there called "Muzak," but actually contain songs by groups like Cannibal Corpse, obviously for shock value. And instead of my local meat market playing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," they regularly play a variety of new wave songs (some fairly obscure) from the early '80s.

All of this brings me back to the pirate on 6771.2 kHz. This station has been on the air for days with this old easy-listening music, old-time radio shows, and news feeds. Last weekend, it seemed that most all of the programming was OTR, but this week has been primarily EZL music. As I type this, I've been listening for the past hour and it's been 100% EZL music, aside from the news at the top of the hour. It's strange listening to hours of music that I heard for years. Yesterday, I heard an EZL cover of "Close to You" and this morning it was "The Rose."

Weirder yet is the fact that this music used to epitomize soullessness in audio form. Yet, here it is, the backbone of a rebel radio station . . . a slow, calm, relaxed rebel radio station.


Update: I went to the local meat market tonight (I missed WMID and XLR8 because of this) and heard "Ah Leah" by Donnie Iris. Is this really the music that's optimized to sell steaks and roasts to the consumer of the 21st century?

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