Elevator music: historic oddity or model for the future?

Music in Elevators

It is a truth universally acknowledged that perfection comes with time. Consider human dwellings: We went from caves and grass huts, to wood cabins and brick homes. And today, we have penthouse apartments, earthships and smart homes.

Music is no different. Classic paved the way for jazz, which opened the door to soul, rock and pop. Today, all that music history has reached its zenith (or nadir?) in elevator music. But is “muzak” dying out? Urban Hub looks at why fewer and fewer modern elevators are playing those reassuring tracks of pulse-lowering perfection.

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The rise of smooth, up-lifting tunes

Elevator music. Many wonder at the term, having never actually heard music played in elevators. And it’s true: it is quite uncommon to find elevators that actually play music nowadays. So where do the terms “muzak” and “elevator music” come from?

“Muzak”, the common synonym for elevator music, is derived from “Muzak Holdings”, a company specialized in providing easy listening music to retailers and commercial buildings (and founded by a US Army General). But why put music in elevators? In the early 20th century, people were nervous about riding in elevators and, so it was thought, relaxing music would keep them calm.

Muzak Holdings is now owned by Mood Media, a company that offers audio, visual, multimedia and “scent marketing” solutions. Though it’s no longer lifting people’s spirits in elevators, muzak is far from gone. You can still experience elevator-ish music in many doctors and dentists’ waiting rooms, or when you’re put hold.

Elevator music question II
Do you think music in public spaces can affect people in a positive way?

A model for the future?

It must be said, however, that the objective of elevator music was not just to relax passengers. A major selling point for retail locations was the assertion that certain music would put shoppers in the ideal mood for spending money. While the moral implications of that application are questionable, could it be possible to use the mood altering power of music for more noble aims?

The “Really Good Elevator Music” initiative of the Asian Arts Center in Philadelphia tried to do just that, by attempting to improve urban living through music.

Independent musicians produced some non-traditional tracks which they felt would get people talking. Although their goal to “promote community” is hard to quantify and evaluate empirically, the idea has potential.

Elevator music question I
What kind of music would you like to hear in elevators?

Will the smart city be a musical wonderland?

Noise pollution is a growing problem in many urban areas. Could the calming sounds of muzak – strategically placed throughout the city – help counteract the adverse effects of city noise? Let us know what you think in our poll!

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