I confess to being one of those weird people who actually like background music and have even been known to enjoy the occasional elevator ride but I am finding myself increasingly irritated by music which far from being in the background smacks me in the face like a bucket of wet quavers.

When Shakespeare wrote the immortal words “if music be the food of love” I feel confident in saying he didn’t have the likes of Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols in mind but a nice romantic melody. African warriors played menacing drum beats all through the night before an attack in order to instil terror into their enemies. Just how terrified would the enemy have been if those same Africans charged at them doing a Viennese Waltz? My point is when music is played in public it should be the right music for the right occasion.

As a professional musician I always thought of music as a tool for which I could manipulate an atmosphere. In a restaurant I played relaxing music quietly so people could talk and enjoy their meal. They might not even like the music I played but they would subconsciously enjoy the atmosphere that it created. Sometimes even in the most sophisticated of restaurants I would sense the audience becoming animated so would change the music to suit their mood. If I was playing in a pub I would wait until the audience was warmed up and then rip into something like We Will Rock You at full volume with everyone singing along. It was important to use the right tool for the job because trying to force an atmosphere on an audience that is not ready or willing can ruin their evening.

The problem I have with background music is when it is used in inexperienced or uncaring hands. I have lost count of the number of restaurant meals I have had that were spoilt by music which was inappropriate or too loud. I recently took my parents to lunch in a almost empty restaurant where the owner insisted on playing 70′s disco music. Amazingly when I asked him to play something more appropriate he refused saying it was the kind of music his customers liked. I pointed out that apart from one other elderly table that agreed with me we were the only customers but that made no difference to him and his only concession was to turn the volume down a little. I have no doubt that on a previous night he might have played the same tape in a crowded restaurant and it created a great atmosphere so he had decided that all that was needed to recreate that atmosphere was that same CD.

Sometimes employees are left to play music they like rather than what is appropriate. Many years ago I owned an Italian restaurant and I had the greatest difficulty in getting my staff to play Italian music. Every time I dropped in unexpectedly I was sure to be greeted by Michael Jackson at a volume so loud it made the Pizzas curdle. Worst of all are venues that out of laziness play the radio all day so not only do you have to listen to inappropriate music but also adverts.

Buying clothes can be hell and I recently ended up with a sore throat when I had to shout at a sales assistant to make myself heard over the music. I almost ran out screaming from one shop when the music sounded like someone had got their leg caught in a bear trap (honestly I am not exaggerating) . Of course there are plenty of people who like that kind of music but the point is if you are selling to the general public then the music should selected for people in general, not just those who like to hear people screaming in agony.

So if you are responsible for selecting background music in a public place please consider what is most appropriate for your customers and not for your own or your staff’s personal taste.

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