Posts Tagged ‘elevator music’

Inventing a Business Model

Posted by Brittany Lyke on 1/25/11 • Categorized as Blogging the Archives, New

444px-Waldorf-Astoria_1904-1908bBy the 1920’s, the administration of music rights had become a major business.  The American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded, serving as a member-owned organization to fight for fair compensation when recorded work was publicly performed.

While radio stations could license programming for personal performance, they could not track where music was being played and take responsibility for its licensing. Muzak’s business model, however, was ideal for this task. Because every Muzak receiver could be uniquely identified, it was easy for Muzak to track who was using their service and what the service was being used for.

In the late 1930’s Muzak moved to New York City and began to cater to the hotel and restaurant market in such famed venues as the Chambord, the Stork Club, and the Waldorf Astoria. Audio would subsequently be sent to clubs through leased telephone lines. Speakers would be hidden amongst large plants, thereby making the music seem to come out of nowhere and lending the name “potted palm” music. With the disappearance of any visible means of sound production, Muzak exceeded the gramophone’s capacity to make sound autonomous. In delivering programming to the workplace, Muzak soothed the minds of employees, enhancing their productivity while eliminating the distractions caused by commercials, scripted programs, and other verbal content.

Sending music to the workplace was in keeping with the vision that General George Squier had left for the company. As Chief Signal Officer of the US Army Signal Corps, Gen. Squier used music to increase the productivity of his secretaries. Afterward, he investigated ways that music could recapture the benefits of pre-industrial song, in order to soothe the nerves of employees while increasing their output. The idea of using music to improve an environment was not uncommon by the 1930s, when dentists employed music to augment or even replace anesthetic. Even though a compliment to the power of music, I wouldn’t try this at home!

Muzak soon proved effective in locations beyond the office or factory floor. As skyscrapers reached ever taller in North American cities, building owners employed Muzak to calm anxious elevator riders; quickly earning its programs the name “elevator music.”

Contributed by Bruce McKagan

Posted by Brittany Lyke on 1/06/11 • Categorized as Blogging the Archives, New

Galli Sisters

I’ve spent the last few posts getting you up to speed on the Muzak recording sessions held in our Manhattan during the late 1930’s. But why did Muzak need to record so much music… and in so many genres? Wasn’t Muzak primarily into instrumental versions of traditional songs?  You know, “elevator music” versions of classic melodies?

Well, in the early years of Muzak, our business model was much different than you might think.  Starting in 1934, Muzak’s business model was created not only to offer high quality music to businesses, but also to homes. Muzak’s means of distributing music was via telephone lines (the broadband cable of its day) offering customers clearer and more consistent reception than by the less reliable radio. And, since radio stations could not broadcast records sold to the public (due to licensing restrictions) most of the music was performed live, which had its own quality issues.

So just imagine: Muzak’s transcription recordings were high quality soundtracks by exquisite musicians and arrangers, broadcasted via state-of-the-art telephonic technology. And Muzak’s library was building by leaps and bounds on a weekly basis. With such high quality content delivered by a high quality signal, businesses and residences were lining up to get their subscription.

After only a few short years, it became extremely apparent that there was an additional revenue opportunity for Muzak.  In 1935 Muzak corporate introduced Associated Program Service (AMP).  This new business arm offered Muzak’s transcription library to radio stations, giving broadcasters a viable option for more cost effective and quality music programming.  Radio stations across the country immediately began to sign up for the service.  AMP provided a healthy revenue stream for Muzak for nearly two decades.

All of this meant that executive producer Ben Selvin’s task was clear – record lots and lots of music for Muzak’s library:  a variety of artists, playing all kinds of musical styles for a multitude of business models and a broad listening audience.  And that he did – nearly 8,000 recordings in his 13 years at Muzak (1934-1947). No person and no company has produced more quality recordings by top artists than Ben Selvin and Muzak in the 1930s and 40s.

Elevator music?  Not even close.  Muzak captured the soundtrack of American Pop Culture and we’ve got thousands of master recordings in our archives to prove it!

I’ll be back in just a few days.  See ya then.

Contributed by Bruce McKagan