From "Stimulus Progression" to "Audio Branding" in 60 Years: A Short History of Contemporary Capitalism


In The New Yorker: a fascinating profile of the Muzak corporation.

NEXT: Gretchen Wilson Beware

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  1. For some reason, just seeing the word muzak causes muzak versions of Burt Bacharach songs to play in my head. Must be a flashback to being 5 years old and at Sears.

  2. For Ann Taylor, you do something completely different. The Ann Taylor woman . . . wants everything bright and positive and optimistic and uplifting, so you avoid offensive themes and lyrics, and you think about Sting and Celine Dion . . .

    HA! That guy totally Diss – Missed Sting as inoffensive Ann Taylor Musak. I’ve been saying that for years. Well actually what I’ve been saying is more along the lines of “Sting is an over-rated ass, high on the smell of his own farts”.

  3. The company that became Muzak was founded by George Owen Squier, a career Army officer, who was born in Dryden, Michigan, in 1865. Squier earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University

    WTF? What was electrical engineering in 1865? Edison’s light was still over a decade away, not even an electric motor to run a fan on. There was the telegraph, but I can’t think of a single other electrical device to be engineered. How could there possibly be a doctorate program?

  4. He was born in 1865, Warren. So he could be looking at a doctarate 25 years later, say 1890. Besides, the telegraph was an electric device as was in use by 1865.

  5. The article says he was born in 1865, not that he earned his doctorate then.

  6. David beat me to it. Never mind!

  7. Ah ha, punctuation trouble. Like the illiterate slut, I missed a period.

  8. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this article is a piece of shit. Owen knows nothing about the topic and is another pathetic boomer who needs to insert his own Klassik Rock Koolness every other paragraph. How bold he is, to be dismissing “bland, soulless” elevator music. Imagine the courage it takes to brave the wrath of Percy Faith and Mantovani at this late date! And the science he deploys…it’s mind-boggling: The stark contrast between the Colonel’s Taylorite pseudo-science and the state-of-the-art precision of contemporary Muzak, which is so custom-designed it requires a questionnaire of “seven or eight” questions!

    Anyway, I’ve been itching to rip this article up and I’ve got a lot more to say, but since I missed my chance I’ll just say: David Ownen, you’re no Marshall McGladbrooks.

  9. Eh, I see that stuff as an acknowledgement of Muzak’s traditional status among tastemakers. “People began to use the company’s name as a generic term for anything bland, soulless, and uninspired–so much so that today many don’t realize that the word has a non-pejorative application.” That’s true, innit?

  10. A by-no-means exhaustive catalogue of Owen’s terminology:

    syrupy orchestral “elevator music”

    no longer terribly popular anywhere, except in Japan. (“The Japanese think they love it, but they actually don’t,” a former Muzak executive told me. “They’ll get over it soon.”)

    sanitized instrumental arrangements

    Muzak’s bowdlerized hits

    anything bland, soulless, and uninspired

    sever itself from its stodgy past

    boring background music

    And then this gem:

    When I was in high school, my father brought home a Muzak-like record called “The Beatles Songbook, Vol. 4,” by the Hollyridge Strings. He meant the purchase as a gesture of conciliation, but from my point of view the album might as well have been called “Why We Are in Vietnam” (or, more to the point, “Why I Am Not Going to Clean Up My Room”). As popular music acquired its increasingly rich topology of cultural, political, and sexual associations, Muzak?s bowdlerized hits seemed more and more like an affront.

    Imagine! The Man with all his hangups trying to bust the music of Owen and his Supah-Phreaky generation. I’d say he’s not just acknowledging the status: He’s letting his freak flags fly in right-on solidarity. (The Hollyridge Strings, by the way, were arranged by the great Stu Phillips. The work he did on the Beatles Songbook is really interesting, and if Owen weren’t so offended by the idea that a square could cover the soundtrack of his life he would know that.)

    I restate, more vigorously, my original point: Owen hasn’t got Clue One what he’s talking about, from an historical, musical, cultural, sociological, or demographic perspective. Any spare Gladwell or even David Ross the New Yorker’s got hanging around would have done a better job on this article. Maybe I’ll write this argument up on my own site, but I’m not going to put it into the form of a disagreement with my right honorable colleague.

  11. Owen casts himself (or his teenage self, anyway) in the doubter role. Does he stand by his former position, or does he reject it? You can make a case either way — I read that Beatles story as self-mocking, but maybe I’m prone to projection. (At age 13 I claimed to have been offended by a Muzak version of a song by my then-fave rockers Styx.) Modern Muzak has certainly won over the adult Owen; and if its “audio branding” is no more scientific than “stimulus progression,” it’s certainly interesting, especially for those of us who have spent far too much time watching commercial radio stations attempt to do a much less precise version of the same thing.

  12. Tim,
    At first I thought you were attempting sarcasm. But now I have no idea what you’re raving about. Are you sincerely suggesting that the slushy orchestral remixes of pop tunes that made up the audio backdrop to my 70’s youth are some overlooked musical masterpieces? The only thing I can figure is that you have some deep hated of Owen. Did he get some job you were up for? Does he owe you money? Fuck your sister?

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