The Day The Muzak Died: A Toe-Tapping, Annoying History

Just rebranded as Mood, the sleep-inducing tunes will still play in elevators everywhere.

Muzak, the musical equivalent of white bread, is no more. That's the message coming from its parent company, Ontario-based Mood Media, who today announced that it's killing the brand, launched in 1934, and renaming it Mood (think emotions, not the noise of ruminants). Beginning today, the brand, which was bought in 2011 for $345 million, is to share its name with the rest of Mood Media's sensory marketing tools, including smells, interactive displays, and signs. Mood Media's chairman and CEO, Lorne Abony, called it "the end of an iconic American brand." So, to the sound of Then, let us now pause and remember the passing of a (tinkly, slow-jamming) friend.

Once upon a time, there was a type of music called Muzak. Beloved of hotel owners, shops, and couples d'un certain age, whose love for Manitovani and his magic orchestra knew no bounds, Muzak's rise went largely unnoticed. It was bland, inoffensive, and everywhere—even accompanying the Apollo 11 astronauts on their journey to the moon—and no one cared about it—until the Blues Brothers came along, and made a great joke about it.

And then suddenly, Muzak was the thing to hate. From Waikiki versions of big pop songs of the moment to strings-infused Beatles offerings (see below), to the cool, Muzak was even more offensive than if, say, Iggy Pop were to embrace Christianity and embark on a second career as an Episcopalian bishop—just hold that image right there.

But a funny thing happened in the mid-'90s: the bland, lounge-y sound became cool again. Led by bewigged crooner Mike Flowers and his Abigail's Party-esque bacofoil-clad backing singers, they turned Britpop anthems into the kind of thing that your parents would have frugged wildly to, but with a knowing dose of irony. Muzak was back. (Bak!)

In the past 10 years, however, retail has undergone a revolution. Malls, shops, and hotels all recognize that this sensory marketing is a huge factor in making their brand cool, their customers flock and, in short, sell stuff. So, it's down with Muzak—preferably in the service elevator—and up with "music experiences" and video imagery to "deliver that Indispensable cool factor" (that's from the DMX website, a sensory marketing firm also owned by Mood Media).

The end is near. Muzak, RIP.

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  • ewf

    This "article" is very ill-informed.  Muzak had rebranded itself a long time ago to include more than just "elevator-instrumental" music.  They offered a huge variety of genres that included current hits.  In fact, Muzak was trying to sell their music as part of "an experience."  It was their inability to inform consumers, such as the writer of this article, that they had changed that is partly to blame for their demise.