The ‘piped music industry’ often publishes surveys based on reputedly scientific research showing that its music is liked by most customers. Typical is that from Musicworksforyou, the research site for the two main licence fee collectors, PRS and PPL. According to this group, 71% of us like to listen to music whilst on hold. (A poll conducted for the Co-op Bank suggested just the opposite: 60% of people hate being forced to listen to unwanted music when on hold.)
An even stranger statistic is that ‘99% of staff who work in stores without [background] music agree that they think customers would be happier if music was played in store’, and 93% ‘agree that if the music was turned off in their workplace, then they would ask their manager to turn it back on.’ These implausible figures are blazed on the group’s website and, it seems, believed by enough people in the retail and entertainment worlds to ensure a plague of piped music. The fact that the research is directly linked to the music industry is ignored.
A typical statement about how everybody loves piped music comes from John Brodie, Chief Executive of Scotmid, which introduced piped music into some Co-op stores. In response to protests, Brodie said that Scotmid had research to show that customers loved piped music: ‘We have also read a number of reports about the impact of music in public places and in one particular summary it mentions two key elements – “people rank music as more difficult to live without than sports, movies and newspapers” and “music enhances wellbeing amongst customers and employees in workplaces”.’
Note what is being suggested here. Because most people say they value music highly – not a surprise – they must therefore love inescapable forced piped music. A similar distortion of people’s real reactions to unwanted music comes from Heartbeats International, ‘a global brand communication agency with offices in Stockholm, Tokyo and New York. Our mission is to help clients worldwide to use the power of music and sound to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace and increase customer engagement’.
All these agencies have a strong vested interest in persuading stores/hotels/restaurants to play piped music. To take their findings as impartial suggests huge gullibility.
As two academic research papers are often cited as proof that playing background music boosts business, it helps to look at what their authors actually wrote.
Milliman (Ronald E) “Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers” Journal of Marketing Vol 46 (Summer 1982) pages 86-91
In this paper Milliman concluded that playing music can influence the behaviour of shoppers. He reported a 38.2% increase in sales volume when slow tempo music was played, rather than fast tempo music. And “There was no statistically significant difference in sales volume between [no music] and [slow tempo music]” In view of these findings why do most shops now play fast tempo music, which Milliman demonstrated is the worst type for sales volume? Who is advising them to play this type of music? And why play music at all when there is no statistically significant difference in sales volume between slow tempo music and no music, and when so many people dislike it?
Yalch (Richard F) and Spangenberg (Eric) “Using store music for retail zoning: a field experiment” Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993 Pages 632-636
This paper is often mentioned by the music industry because it demonstrated that people made more purchases when music was playing. However, this is what Yalch and Spangenberg actually said: “When music was played, about 55% of the shoppers made a purchase compared to 47% when no music was played. However, this difference is not statistically significant. Further, it did not affect total expenditures because the average amount spent per person making a purchase (as opposed to the number of shoppers) was highest in the NO MUSIC condition ($51.70 compared to $43.29 when music was being played)”. At the beginning of this article Yalch and Spangenberg thank Ellen Goldblatt of MUZAK “for assisting in planning and executing this study”. So, although a piped music company, MUZAK, was involved in setting up this research, Yalch and Spangenberg ended up showing that shoppers actually spent more when no music was played!