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The Rise and Fall of Elevator Music

It was once common to hear piped music in elevators – so much so, that it’s often used for comedic effect in films and TV shows, such as this clip from the animated adult sitcom Family Guy.

However, it’s not something that you actually encounter that often these days, so we thought that we would take a look at the origins of elevator music – and why it’s declined in popularity.

Elevator music was first used early in the 20th century; as skyscrapers began to rise in both stature and popularity, some people were still unsure about the idea of riding up so many floors in a little box. Soothing music was therefore piped into the elevator to help soothe the nerves of worried passengers.

Often known as “muzak” (originating from the Muzak Holdings company, who dominated the market for many years), elevator music tends to be a simple, relaxing tune which can easily be looped without a gap. This is because the passengers will not generally be in the lift for an extended period of time, so repetitiveness is not a great issue, and it avoids the problem of passengers entering the lift to be greeted by the silence between tunes.

Interestingly, in movies and television, one tune tends to be used more than any other – The Girl from Ipanema by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s thought that this tradition began with the famous director John Landis, who used the same music every time he filmed a scene in an elevator as an in-joke. Other directors then picked up on the joke and used it themselves.

The phrase “elevator music” soon began to be associated with the background music used elsewhere – in shops and other public venues. It was also soon realised that background music could have an effect on people’s behaviour; quick marches could be used in areas where it was desirable for people to move through quickly, and slower, more soothing tunes in areas like shops where the managers wanted customers to linger and browse for longer.

By the 1960’s, however, consumers began to learn about these kinds of tricks. Many people were uncomfortable with the idea that they were being manipulated in this way, and elevator music gradually began to lose popularity. By 1986, the backlash reached the point where outspoken American musician Ted Nugent made a $10million bid to buy the Muzak firm in order to shut it down. His bid was refused, however elevator music still bore a negative connotation, and the Muzak name has now been phased out by the company’s owners.

Here at Axess 2, we offer high quality platform lifts that certainly don’t require the use of music to make them more comfortable – for more information on our products, contact us on 01200 405 005 today.

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