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Muzak Holdings LLC
Founded1934 Seattle, WA
LocationFort Mill, SC
Key peopleGreg Rayburn, CEO
ProductsDistribution of music
Revenue$60.9 million USD (2005)
WebsiteMuzak Corporate Site

Muzak Holdings LLC is a company based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, which is a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. It is best known for distribution of music to retail stores and other companies. The music it distributes is generically known as elevator music. The company is privately held.

In popular usage, the word "Muzak" is sometimes used (often in a pejorative sense) to describe any type of so-called easy listening music, though, as outlined below, this is not strictly accurate.


Muzak is a trademark name invented in 1922 by Major General George O. Squier when he patented a system for the transmission and distribution of background music from phonograph records over electrical lines to workplaces.

Squier was intrigued by the made-up word Kodak being used as a trademark and so took the "mus" sound from music and added the "ak" from Kodak to create his word Muzak.

Squier developed his system because he had observed that workers were more productive when music was played in the background at workplaces. He used this observation to market his idea. At the time, phonograph records only lasted for one song or tune. As the equipment required to amplify the music was also relatively expensive, Squier's distribution system allowed costs to be shared amongst many subscribers. In the 1920s, radio broadcasting was just being established and for cost, as well as various other reasons, was not a suitable alternative.

The system was readily adopted by many building owners and installed in many shops and offices to mask unintelligible sounds and provide a calming or soothing sound. When installed in elevators the music being played became quite noticeable. The service was later extended to telephone systems.

While the term Muzak is the trademarked name of the transmission system, it soon became associated with the music being played. Research had determined the appropriate music to play over the system, as it had been observed that certain music would increase worker productivity and influence the shopping habits of shoppers. This research influenced the musical selections, much of which was instrumental arrangements of popular songs. Arrangements for violins, brass, piano, and orchestra were dominant.

To further blur the distinction the Muzak Corporation first pressed its own Muzak branded phonograph records, later moving to magnetic tape compilations and most recently CDs. Over time, the Muzak style has become more sophisticated, with selections depending on where the music was being played and the purpose the music is trying to achieve. What was once simply background music is now being called audio architecture.

While some people find the muzak style of music pleasant or soothing, others find it annoying to the point of vexation. In a recent poll, 17% of people regarded piped music as "the thing they most detest about modern life".[1] Indeed, the term muzak has become an epithet for excessively bland music.

Muzak became immensely popular during the 1930s when studies were released showing that playing it in offices and factories would improve productivity. A backlash began in the 1950s when Muzak was accused of brainwashing and it was even challenged in court. It still remained popular in many areas. President Eisenhower was the first to pump Muzak into the West Wing. NASA also used Muzak in many of its space missions to soothe astronauts and occupy any periods of inactivity.

Today the Muzak corporation operates in 15 countries and is still heard in restaurants, shopping malls, elevators, and while on hold.

Muzak has been distributed to customers in several different methods. For decades, it was common for FM radio stations to lease a portion of their bandwidth to Muzak and carry the audio on a subcarrier that can't be decoded by an ordinary radio. Muzak was also transmitted by leased telephone line to Muzak subscribers, and was the method used to distribute Muzak's programming to those broadcast FM radio stations distributing it on their FM radio subcarrier. At one time, Muzak was the largest consumer of leased telephone lines from the Bell System. Muzak is now more commonly distributed via satellite, with bandwidth bought from Dish Network, so FM radio stations have begun to use these subcarriers for other things such as digital radio transmissions.

Although Muzak is a name brand, it is up for debate whether it is merely a brand, a genre (kind of music), or a way of listening. The evolution of the term from a mere brand to mean a genre, to mean "excessively bland" has continued, one could argue, to also mean to listen passively (only). That is, to be completely unaware of it or simply not thinking of it in any way but instead to be affected by it, to have induced in oneself a psychological state. Erik Satie wrote such music which he valued for a psychological state he called "serious immobility."

Some of Muzak's competitors today include DMX Music and Music Choice.

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