Musak is always a horror – because it is injustice done to musical ideas (if you can say so). Background music in shops and restaurants can be very annoying – but it can be a bliss, too.
Sometimes the “silence” without it isn’t enough relaxing or interesting, so an added musical pattern can make the environment more bearable. Or – which I suppose is the idea behind the phenomenon – make people comfortable and happy when they hear a favourite song. The commercial secrets with background music are also to influence the behaviour of customers. Play calm music when you want them to stay for a long time and buy more; use uptempo music when you want a larger crowd of people to move around and buy as fast as possible; chose group-specific music when you want to attract some people and repell other.
My best memory of background music is from a small and cozy McDonalds restaurant in Gothenburg – believe it or not! It was a lazy day just after the end of the term in June 1996, and I had been to the university to collect some printed copies of my thesis and talk to a professor. On the way home, I decided to sit down and drink some Fanta and eat something McDonald-ish, all on my own (very unusual behaviour for me). The restaurant was nearly empty, and I got a table with a view over the Avenue (there is only one avenue in Gothenburg, so it’s called “Avenyn” – the Avenue). And suddenly the music started. It was a cd I liked very much, and they played it from the beginning, so I stayed there for half an hour, to hear all my favourite songs on it. (OK. I’ll reveal which music this was. Ahem. It’s a cd with Madonna’s greatest ballads…)
My worst memory of background music is from a Zara fashion shop in a shopping centre near Stockholm. I went there to look at clothes for the autumn, but could hardly concentrate on the nice things for sale, because there was music playing – and stopping – and starting – and stopping – and starting again. Nice jazz music, but a torture to hear just a few seconds of it on full volume, and then silence, and a new start. The strangest thing was that the staff people showed no reaction to this audio terror. (And of course I was too polite – and angry – to tell them what I thought of it.)