Could piped music in shops cause customers to make a bolt for it? | Letters

Jake Hulyer seems to accept the claims of the piped or background music industry with remarkable credulity (The long read, 6 November). Piped music is loathed by many in Britain. People with a huge range of health problems – from autism to tinnitus, ME to hyperacusis, impaired vision to reduced hearing – find that non-stop music in public places makes their lives a misery. Those with impaired hearing, about 15% of the population, are too often unable to hear others talk. Belatedly realising the problem, supermarkets such as Asda, Morrisons and Tesco have begun introducing “quiet hours”. Perhaps they are also aware that they may be offending under the Equality Act 2010 by blasting customers and staff alike with inescapable music. The idea that such music is essential to commercial success ignores the fact that many chains – including Wetherspoons, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose/John Lewis – have thrived without it.

And it is not just people with health problems who loathe piped music. Some of the keenest supporters of our campaign group, Pipedown, are musicians of many types.

Unsurprising, perhaps, since all impartial polls have repeatedly shown that more people hate piped music than like it.
Nigel Rodgers
National secretary, Pipedown – The Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music

Your article on background music was a fascinating read. However, it doesn’t point out that the music industry has been very good at cherrypicking research findings over the years. Before Adrian North’s research in the 1990s, widely supported by the music licence company PRS for Music, there were two other seminal papers that had a huge influence on the way piped music was sold to businesses.

The first was by Ronald E Milliman in 1982, “Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers”, which found that people move more rapidly through shops when fast-tempo music is played. However, it also reported a 38.2% increase in sales volume when slow-tempo music or no music was played. So why do most shops now play fast-tempo music?

The second was by Richard F Yalch and Eric Spangenberg in 1993, “Using store music for retail zoning: a field experiment”. This paper is often cited by the music industry because it demonstrated that people made more purchases when music was playing. However, it also found that the average amount spent per person making a purchase (as opposed to the number of shoppers) was highest when no music was playing.

I suspect that Pipedown’s claim, highlighted in your article, that there is “no genuine evidence” that background music increases sales might be nearer to the truth than the music industry cares to admit.
Dorothy Lewis

Jake Hulyer does a good job of mapping out the codswallop mindset on which so-called background music is based. But even as he quotes from Pipedown’s critical literature he misses the point it makes. Many people, including service-industry employees forced to grin and bear the racket in order to keep their jobs, abhor the unrequited presence of imposed music, regardless of its supposed relevance, quality or finesse. As Jacques Attali observed in his 1985 book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, enforced listening is both aggressive and authoritarian.

The music Hulyer describes can quite simply never by “background” enough. That such mood-manipulation is now thoroughly professionalised only shows how greedy businesses become when told their profits and control of customer behaviour can be even further increased.

The naturalisation of perpetual music is vulgar and inane. Pipedown and its supporters are right to vociferously refuse it.
Peter Suchin

In the 1960s I worked as an engineer in a factory where muzak was playing 16 hours a day. I always carried large bolts to throw at the loudspeakers to find some relief until they were repaired.
Hugh Edwards
Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

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