Muzak is actually a real "elevator music" corporation with strict, well defined rules for musical structure and melody. Composing a piece that fits muzak standard is an interesting stylistic experiment.

Muzak is produced mostly from adult contemporary and new age music, transformed by removing the low and high frequencies. This results in a slow melodic noise, with a somewhat hypnotic quality. Muzak played in stores serves the purpose of slowing the thought processes and actions of the consumer, making them unconsciously spend longer looking at the products on the shelves.

Oh my God, they're playing Muzak. In my office. The office I was just this week assigned to for an on-site project. I've been here for four days and I just noticed they're piping Muzak through the speakers in the ceiling and forcing all the employees to listen to it all day long.

I'll never be able to stop noticing it from now on, of course. I just know it. It's going to irritate me day in and day out for as long as I'm here, or at least until I can get a good pair of headphones and some CDs to stick into this computer.

Sweet Lord. In a corporate environment, they're subjecting us to this. I'd hoped that when I quit my high-school retail jobs I'd be able to escape, but no. There is no escape. Muzak is everywhere.

I need some trance in here. And fast.

Muzak is an evil licensing entity. Their scam works a little like this:

Muzak: Hi, friendly proprietor of a mom-and-pop shop!
Pop: Uh. Hi. Can I offer you some coffee?
Muzak: Nah, I was just in here admiring the music coming from that stereo on the wall over there.
Pop: Yah, its just some old Country-Western 8-tracks.
Muzak: Is that right? Have you got a license from BMI or ASCAP?
Pop: A what? From who?
Muzak: Well, cuz if you don't, they could sue you into the poorhouse. I'm just looking out for you, here.
Pop: Really? But they're my 8-tracks! I bought them!
Muzak: No, you just bought a license to play them in the privacy of your own home. Sucks, doesn't it? But I'm on your side, of course.
Pop: How about it I just play the radio? The station paid the license fees, didn't they? Its over public airwaves, isn't it?
Muzak: Ahhh... no. My hands are tied, here.
Pop: You're kidding.
Muzak: But we have a solution for you. We're be happy to sell you a piece of hardware, and the service that runs on it, to play crappy, but licensed music through your shop, so you don't get sued.
Pop: You want me to buy your system? This is a sales call? Get out of my shop!
Muzak: Lemme put it this way: If you don't, we'll tell on you, and you will be sued.
Pop: Right. I guess I'll take two.

Fight ASCAP and BMI. This isn't the way businesses should be run.

But how does Muzak get to Mom'n'Pop's Store?

It's hitching a ride on a covert channel: The SCA subcarriers on the regular FM band.
Subcarriers need a baseband frequency on which to ride. So in a manner of speaking, Muzak() really is an evil parasite leeching bandwith from, say, your favorite NPR station. This method of transmission is being phased out (pun!) in favor of digital satellite channels.
Oh and by the way, don't try to demodulate that subcarrier, it's illegal.

Listened to, but not heard.

Muzak is everywhere. Founded in the 1920's by General George Squier, the Muzak Corporation (from 'Music' + 'Kodak') boasts an excess of 80 million (admittedly captive) listeners -- making Muzak by far the most listened-to music provider in the world.

Restrictive licensing created a niche for Muzak -- and it's flourished. You're very familiar with this warning, I'm sure:

This audio recording is for home use only. It is not licensed for any other use. All other rights reserved. Any public performance, copying or other use is strictly prohibited. Duplication in whole or in part of this audio recording is prohibited.
This means that an individual can't play their own CDs in a commercial building -- that's considered a 'public performance' and carries with it a hefty fine. Similarly, playing the radio is a no-no. Enter the Muzak Corporation.

The Muzak library contains over 5000 recordings and is growing by roughly 1000 a year. Muzak employs approximately 2000 individuals and has 250,000 subscribers. For a fee, Muzak will supply a business or organization with audio recordings (on monthly CDs or streamed right into the building via the FM band or digital satellite, according to Stavr0).

Muzak offers sixteen 'channels', fifteen of which provide original artist recordings -- only the sixteenth (the 'Environmental Channel') sounds like what one would expect from Muzak: Retooled popular music, minus the vocals and harsh instrumentals. Designed to counter the ups and downs experienced by the average worker, Muzak is produced in fifteen-minute blocks with each block culminating in a minor climax. Current Muzak is subtle enough that, for many shoppers, 'Oh my God, they're playing Muzak' never comes to mind.


Muzak Corporate Site:

The Straight Dope

Muzak. It's everywhere. Venture through any shopping centre or arcade and it's inescapable. The soulless squawking of some has-been female vocalist. The inane, banal lyricism of some tired, but highly paid record producer, brimming with false emotion and writing under the guise of a once-famous (or perhaps never famous?) solo artist.

Trite chord progressions in the plastinated style of yesteryear. Almost remind the shoppers of their childhood and adolescence. At some near-conscious level they hear, and something tells them that they like what they hear. The reminiscent sounds of once-tastes triggers an impulse: be pleased, and consume.

Engineered to be as inoffensive as possible, and thus devoid of anything even remotely real, it actually succeeds in offending some people in one of the most profound ways possible.

Women are genetically wired to respond to a baby's cry. I've been told that for many women it is completely impossible for them to block out the wailing of a child.

I, and others like myself, are wired in a similiar way. However, our resonance is with music. I am completely unable to block out any music, be it good or bad. At times I am thankful for this, but more often I feel cursed. This filth, this trite, soulless, inane muzak affects me in a most detrimental way. My mind is jarred by its complete incongruity of spirit, of life. I yearn for escape, for shelter from this terrible cacophony. I contemplate death and it seems a reasonable alternative.

Oh god, make it stop.

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