Background music (British English: piped music) is a mode of musical performance in which the music is not intended to be a primary focus of potential listeners, but its content, character, and volume level are deliberately chosen to affect behavioral and emotional responses in humans such as concentration, relaxation, distraction, and excitement. Listeners are uniquely subject to background music with no control over its volume and content. The range of responses created are of great variety, and even opposite, depending on numerous factors such as, setting, culture, audience, and even time of day.

Background music is commonly played where there is no audience at all, such as empty hallways, restrooms and fitting rooms. It is also used in artificial space, such as music played while on hold during a telephone call, and virtual space, as in the ambient sounds or thematic music in video games. It is typically played at low volumes from multiple small speakers distributing the music across broad public spaces. Music has proven to improve cognitive processes, enabling the brain to process more information.[1] The widespread use of background music in offices, restaurants, and stores began with the founding of Muzak, or light background music, in the 1930s and was characterized by repetition and simple musical arrangements.[2] Its use has grown worldwide and today incorporates the findings of psychological research relating to consumer behavior in retail environments, employee productivity, and workplace satisfaction.[3]

Due to the growing variety of settings (from doctors' offices to airports), many styles of music are utilized as background music. Because the aim of background music is passive listening, vocals, commercial interruptions, and complexity are typically avoided. In spite of the international distribution common to syndicated background music artists, it is often associated with artistic failure and a lack of musical talent in the entertainment industry. There are composers who write specifically for music syndication services such as Dynamic Media and Mood Media, successors of Muzak, and MTI Digital. Multiple studies have correlated the presence of background music with increased spending in retail establishments.[4]



Incidental music


The use of incidental music dates back at least as far as Greek drama. A number of classical composers have written incidental music for various plays, with the more famous examples including Henry Purcell's Abdelazer music, George Frideric Handel's The Alchemist music, Joseph Haydn's Il distratto music,[citation needed] Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Thamos, King of Egypt music, Ludwig van Beethoven's Egmont music,[5] Carl Maria von Weber's Preciosa music,[citation needed] Franz Schubert's Rosamunde music,[6] Felix Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream music, Robert Schumann's Manfred music,[5] Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne music,[7] and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt music.[8] Parts of all of these are often performed in concerts outside the context of the play. Vocal incidental music, which is included in the classical scores mentioned above, should never be confused with the score of a Broadway or film musical, in which the songs often reveal character and further the storyline. Vocal incidental music sets the tone for a film through using various beats or sounds, portraying the emotions of certain scenes.[9] Since the score of a Broadway or film musical is what actually makes the work a musical, it is far more essential to the work than mere incidental music, which nearly always amounts to little more than a background score; indeed, many plays have no incidental music whatsoever, allowing the actors to express their characters solely through words and their expressions.[10]

Furniture music


The term furniture music was coined by Erik Satie in 1917, and demonstrated by him in three sets of compositions: Musique d'ameublement (1917), Sons industriels (1920) and Tenture de cabinet préfectoral (1923). It fell into disuse when the composer died a few years later, and the genre was revived several decades later. After his death, furniture music was reinterpreted and programmed in concerts; many individuals found that it filled the awkward pauses, allowing audiences to become better immersed into the performance.[11] Typical of furniture music are short musical passages, with an indefinite number of repeats.[12]

Muzak / Elevator music


Elevator music (also known as Muzak, piped music, or lift music) is a more general term indicating music that is played in rooms where many people come together (that is, not for the explicit purpose of listening to music), and during telephone calls when placed on hold. There is a specific sound associated with elevator music, but it usually involves simple instrumental themes from "soft" popular music, or "light" classical music being performed by slow strings.[3] More recent types of elevator music may be computer-generated, with the actual score being composed entirely algorithmically.[13][14]

The term can also be used for kinds of easy listening,[15] piano solo, jazz or middle of the road music, or what are known as "beautiful music" radio stations.

Corporate music


Corporate music (or corporate production music) is a term for background music, made to work with company presentations: rather subtle, understated and unobtrusive.[16] However, it should not be confused with "corporate pop" - pop music produced by corporations and that "blurs the line between independent and mainstream".[17]

Video game music


Video game music (VGM) is a soundtrack for video games. Songs may be original and composed specifically for the game, or preexisting music licensed for use in the game. Music in video games can be heard over a game's title screen, menus and during gameplay.[18] Sometimes, a soundtrack from a videogame can be released separately, as it happened with GTA V's in-game "radiostations"[19]

Website music


The early social media website Myspace has supported a feature where specific songs chosen by the user would automatically play on their profile pages.[20]

Group fitness music


With the proliferation of boutique fitness classes in the late 2010s, a new emphasis is being placed on properly licensing music to be used by instructors in a group fitness environment. As it is more interactive than traditional background music, the licensing and cost structures differ.

Internet delivered background music


Internet-delivered background music was delivered by companies as Mood Media (which had acquired Trusonic, which had acquired Muzak). This allowed the retailer to instantly update music and messages which were deployed at the store level as opposed to using older compact disc and satellite technologies.[citation needed] Using this technique enables the creator to include more meaning in their work and effectively convey their messages. Playing music that affects the mood of the audience urges many emotions, making the work more memorable.[21]

Background non-music


Business audio


Business audio, also known as copyrighted material, refers to a type of service that provides audio content that is licensed for use in a commercial setting.[22]

Business news can be one example. The term background music is another example. Providers of the latter include:

In the United States, the terms "elevator music" and "Muzak" are commonly used to refer to business audio services that provide background music in retail settings.[23]



Founded in 1934, Muzak was among the early background music providers.

Business audio is produced off-site and delivered to the client via a number of methods including DBS satellite, SDARS satellite, coaxial cable, FM radio subcarrier, leased line, internet broadband, compact disc, and tape.[23]

Most audio content is licensed for personal and home use only. Business audio services allow clients to use audio content in public and commercial settings by paying appropriate royalties to performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GEMA in Germany.[citation needed]

Historical devices

  • The 1959 Seeburg 1000 was a stack record player, playing both sides continuous and repeating up to 1000 songs and up to 25 special 9" vinyl records with a 2" center bore at 16⅔ RPM.
  • The Rowe Customusic was an endless tape cartridge player, loading simultaneous six C-type Fidelipac cartridges.
  • The 1964 3M Cantata 700 played continuous and auto-reversing one of its large and proprietary magnetic tape cartridges, containing up to 26 hours of music.
  • Rediffusion’s Reditune system was popular in the 1960s UK.

See also



  1. ^ D. Lane, Scott (December 24, 2022). ""Don't Stop the Music," Please: The Relationship between Music Use at Work, Satisfaction, and Performance". Behavioral Sciences (Basel, Switzerland). 13 (1): 15. doi:10.3390/bs13010015. PMC 9855069. PMID 36661587.
  2. ^ Goldsmith, M. (February 2005). "Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong". American Library Association – via ProQuest.
  3. ^ a b Lanza, Joseph. Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-listening, and Other Moodsong, University of Michigan Press (2004)
  4. ^ Milliman, R.E. (1982). Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. Journal of Marketing. 46(3). 86–91.
  5. ^ a b Lamothe (2008, p. 142)
  6. ^ Lubbock (1957, p. 130)
  7. ^ Lamothe (2008, p. 1)
  8. ^ Schwarm, Betsy. "Peer Gynt". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  9. ^ Britannica (December 18, 2014). "Incidental Music".
  10. ^ BridgeTTC (2024-02-24). "What Is Acting?". The Bridge Theatre Training Company. Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  11. ^ Coraline, Potter (2016). Erik Satie: A Parisian Composer and His World. Boydell & Brewer, Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-78204-648-6.
  12. ^ Hervé Vanel. Triple Entendre: Furniture Music, Muzak, Muzak-Plus, Oxford Academic (2013), ch.1
  13. ^ Murphy, Michael (August 26, 2015). "People are confusing computer-generated music with the works of J.S. Bach". Quartz. New York. Retrieved Jun 16, 2021.
  14. ^ Wilson, Chris (May 19, 2010). "I'll Be Bach: A computer program is writing great, original works of classical music. Will human composers soon be obsolete?". Slate. New York. Retrieved Jun 16, 2021.
  15. ^ Mark Ammons (6 Aug 2010). American Popular Music, Grades 5 – 8. Mark Twain Media. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-58037-983-0.
  16. ^ "How corporate/business music sounds (1 minute read)". 9 August 2021.
  17. ^ "Is Corporate Pop Music Here To Stay?". 4 October 2022.
  18. ^ Rogers, Scott (2014-04-16). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9781118877197.
  19. ^ "Rockstar Releases Soundtrack Versions Of GTA Radio; published: April 12, 2013 by Cheat Code Central Staff".
  20. ^ Lakshmin, Deepa (2014-12-15). "23 Sceney Songs That Were Your Myspace Background Music". Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  21. ^ jeanmfp (2020-10-06). "Importance of Background Music | Music for Productions". Music For Productions, Stock Music, Production Music. Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  22. ^ "What Musicians Should Know about Copyright | U.S. Copyright Office". Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  23. ^ a b "Muzak", Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001, doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.53254

Works cited