Library Music and the Importance of Background Music

What is library music? Library music, or stock music, is music composed to be used in television, or radio. Popular examples include things like the Crimewatch theme tune (Rescue Helicopter by John Cameron) or Ski Sunday's theme tune (Pop looks Bach by Sam Fonteyn). These are all readymade pieces to be used, but some real effort goes into creating these pieces, especially as they have to instantly evoke a mood in the sometimes seconds in which they are played. These pieces were produced by 'music libraries' which had back catalogues full of pieces ready to be licenced.

One such example is 'Bruton Music' which was created in 1977 by Lord Lou Grade. This was a large library full of some more post-industrial sounding music. These are all pieces made to slot into pre-existing programmes but sound great on Here is an example of Bruton's work - Fuel Injection their own, perhaps you can imagine how they'd be used in films or TV shows.

This isn't to say that this started in the 70's, this practice has been going on for years; a notable example is 'Powerhouse' by Raymond Scott which has been used in Warner Brother cartoons for years to portray the noise of factories. The first library was 'De Wolfe Music' setup in 1909 that made music for silent films.

Tangentially related is the Muzak company, now synonymous with tacky sounding music. The Muzak company produced records made specifically for play at the workplace or supermarket or other public space. They sent out tape casettes and they were played on specifically made casette players that could loop.

Muzak programmed in 15 minute blocks, starting slow and getting faster. This was to speed up workers or shoppers. There would then be a 15 minute silence followed by another block of this gradually increasing in tempo music. An example can be found here This, they called 'stimulus progression'. When the public found about about the fact that Muzak were manipulating people via music there were accusations of brainwashing and even court cases over it. However it remained popular and Lyndon B. Johnson even owned a francise of Muzak in the 1960's.

However Muzak's influence faded with the introduction of more 'foreground' music, Muzak were experts in making music that practically didn't exist, and when new companies like AEI (now dmx) and Yesco created 'original artist programming' Muzak started to decline. Muzak filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and in 2011 it was bought out by 'Mood Media' who then retired the name.

Another name to mention is kmart who produced their own kmart radio (a lot of recordings are available on the internet archive) that tried to achieve the same effect.

So, why is background music so important? Simply put, whether you realise or not music affects people. It sets a mood. When you walk into the supermarket and you hear the radio, that music is specially chosen to influence you. But why must we hear music that's made for listening to actively? To cover up the sounds of the places that they are heard, the 'ugly' sounds of an active workplace or supermarket. People have spent years in the 20th century to make music that is for background listening, that is ambient and we have forced corporate earworms into our lives. Why do we not return to the ambient sounds in the supermarkets and keep the foreground music for listening? Why must we cover up noise with loud music when we can revel in the sounds that already exist in the shop, and how they interact with the music that it's made to interact with?

I propose that we take back the idea of background music, and allow ourselves to manipulate the surroundings with music that sits in the back of peoples heads, this would allow us to appreciate our surroundings a lot more. Removing the noise that is blared to make money and cover up the ugly sounds of shops working and markets bustling would greatly improve our connection with the world around us.

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