Turning Down the Volume on Musak

By Jason Menard

If silence is golden, then why can’t we turn down the volume on that most insidious corporate invention – Musak?

It’s as if we have to have some sort of background noise to drown out the empty spaces of our day. Perish the thought that we could actually talk, think, or enjoy a moment of quiet reflection without some not-so-golden oldie wafting out of the omnipresent speaker system.

Oddly enough, it is considered rude to walk around with a set of headphones so that you can enjoy your own musical selections. And it’s not like people want you to share – considering the looks we throw people who are cranking the tunes in their cars with the windows rolled down, or carrying a ghetto blaster (am I dating myself?) around with them blaring their tunes to the world.

Yet, some corporate entity can choose to drown out your thoughts with their pre-selected, mood-setting song stylings. Pacify the masses with Celine Dion’s back catalogue, because we don’t want someone getting riled up by Led Zeppelin in the freezer aisle and going postal with a package of pre-chopped spinach!

The problem with this mentality is that Musak is offensive by its very attempts to be inoffensive. In an attempt to be as broad-reaching and appealing to the widest demographic, Musak prides itself on its commonality. It caters to the lowest common denominator of easy listening. Instead of trying to spice up our lives, the question we are given to ponder is what particular flavour of bland we prefer! Yes, I understand that Richard Marx is a person too – but one would think that being regulated to the Musak rotation would symbolize the nadir of your musical career.

Normally, I’m a proponent of the concept of voting with your wallet and staying away from places that use Musak as the soundtrack of their shopping experience, but it’s impossible when every corporate entity is drinking the same Kool-Aid – just in different flavours.

Whether it’s at work, at any grocery store, in malls, or even in elevators, Musak follows us like a wandering minstrel of mediocrity. Variety only comes in the style of Musak, not the content. Do I want to listen to an instrumental version of Air Supply’s “All out of Love” or would I rather listen to the live version? Do I take the orchestral version, the synthesizer interpretation, or the pan flute rendering from Zamphir’s Greatest Hits?

And instead of pacifying the masses, Musak can actually backfire. In one particular working environment that I’m familiar with, we’re blessed to have musical accompaniment in our workday. However, the service that provides the music seems to be stuck on a permanent loop. For any given one-month period, you’re treated to the same selection of songs – repeated each and every day. I try, as a general rule, to avoid Cher’s “Believe,” yet, short of taking a sick day, I know I’ll be subjected to it on a daily basis.

I may, one day, have to have a root canal that’s unavoidable, but don’t expect me to enjoy each and every day knowing that this particular musical procedure is on its way.

To top it off, our own brains work against us when it comes to filtering out Musak. Instead of filtering out the sludge and letting the cream rise to our consciousness, our brains seem to get a perverse pleasure out of subjugating the songs we may actually enjoy and only alerting us when the tunes we hate are polluting the air waves.

And I know I’m not alone in having one of these infernal songs insidiously worm its way into your consciousness – sticking in your head on an endless loop, unable to be willed out of your thoughts.

When it comes to music, variety is the spice of life. When I cook, I enjoy using a little bit of that and a little bit of this, depending upon the meal I’m creating and the mood that I’m in. I don’t choose to season each meal with the same amount of vanilla each and every time! So why do we expect the same of our music?

Musak distributors around the world, lend me your ears! If you’re going to infest our airwaves with this noise pollution, at least make an attempt to engage our consciousness. Though I may detest it, I’m willing to put up with a little modern country if that means that some ’70s funk may worm its way onto the playlist. Lay off the Phil Collins drum solos and infuse some steel drums, bouzouki, or even a djeridoo!

What’s the worst that can happen? You may wake us up from the stupor brought about by this non-offensive, vanilla-flavoured, which-shade-of-taupe-do-you-like-better, Musak for the masses. You may, in fact, engage our attention, broaden our minds, and make us more energetic and enthusiastic shoppers and workers. That sounds good to me!

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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