Somehow, Muzak Has Become Cool

Anyone of a certain age remembers the golden age of Muzak. Founded in 1934, the company's lilting sounds were the constant companion in elevators that offered something not quite music, but not quite silence.

Muzak executive Bob Finigan says it all started out well.

"For years it was a very positive thing to be Muzak," he told Sunday Morning Richard Schlesinger. "We were one of the first companies that figured out that putting music in a business was a good thing to do."

Trouble was, Muzak was to music what Manilow is to Mozart. It went in one ear and out the other.

"We became very lame," he said. "You know, to be 'the Muzak guy' was not a cool thing to be."

But Finigan, who works in a very cool new headquarters, boasts Muzak the company has discovered Music the art form and now programs real songs by real artists — even some who are up for Grammies this evening. Today, he says Musak is hip and happening.

Muzak chooses songs from a CD collection a teenager could only dream of. It's a bigger collection than Muzak programmer Steven Pilker ever had.

"I'm trying to figure the past and the present and kind of mold that into the future of Muzak," he said.

Muzak promises it can help any company with any musical taste build any image and build business, even ice cream chain Coldstone Creamery.

"Music is one of those great mediums that can really control emotion, and in our stores we use that emotion to get our customers excited," Coldstone Creamery marketing executive Jana Fendly said.

Madonna was pumping through one Coldstone Creamery ice cream parlor — not exactly something you'd expect to hear from Muzak.

The OLD Muzak might have put people to sleep but the new Muzak is supposed to do just the opposite. And believe it or not, there are at least eight marketing studies that show the right music in a store can increase sales.

"ABBA is on our program," Fendly said. "Well, who is gonna admit that they love ABBA? But it's there and you're tapping your toes and you don't even know it."

You might find Muzak in a lot of new places, but there's one old place you won't: elevators.

"We actually have music everywhere in our building other than the elevator," Finigan said.

Maybe it just would bring back too many bad memories.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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