The Value of Music in Public Places
Music is everywhere. We hear it in coffee shops, salons, bars, restaurants, gyms, hotel and theatre foyers, workplaces, shopping malls, family leisure centres, tourism attractions and the list goes on.
We feel music through our hearts and communicate it through our brains — music creates a bridge between the heart and head.
Research in music and neuroscience demonstrates the many fascinating ways that music affects human’s mood and behaviour.
Barry Goldstein summarised here the four ways that music affects the brain : emotion, memory, neuroplasticity and attention. Listening to music affects our emotional and physical experiences. A 2009 study from Petr Janata at the University of California found evidence of how familiar music can reconnect us to meaningful moments of our past experiences. The University of Newcastle Australia, broke ground with a study in how popular music can assist patients with severe brain injuries recall their personal memories. Hearing music can help orientate and map alternative routes to reorganise our brains. Music provides a key to engage our brains and hold our attention. Standford University School of Medicine research led to theories of how music supports the brain to anticipate events, activate and sustain attention.
Schafer et al exhaustively surveyed the research of the past 50 years and identified more that 500 functions for music for the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology (2013). Their subsequent survey of a comparatively large sample group distilled these functions to what they call the “Big Three.” The three overarching dimensions of music listening — self-awareness, social relatedness, and arousal and mood regulation. (6)
The paper concluded that the dimension of social relatedness is consistent with research that speaks to the evolution of music for establishing, regulating and communicating collective social cohesion. In contrast, the dimensions of music for self-awareness and mood regulation are consistent with cognitive choices made for the aesthetic preferences, style or genre of an individual.
Music is powerful. Human connections and collective experiences occur when music is heard in public places.
Control of the music curation, screen content and volume in public places can soundtrack an atmosphere conducive to social/cultural cohesion that increases patrons’ attention, emotional and physical experiences and memories of the place.
Music can be consciously created to soundtrack a desired atmosphere. Studies have concluded how different music styles, tempos and volume impact sales and dwell time in hospitality and retail spaces. Music reinforces the responsiveness of the patrons to stay longer, consume more, connect with others and form positive emotional experiences and memories. An individual’s choice of music to suit their mood or taste alone can do the opposite. Consider if a staff member with control of the music choice, tv screen and volume is physically motivated by fast-paced hectic heavy metal when tired or soothed by slow country ballads when nursing heart break.
An individual’s choice of music is rarely congruent with the collective.
Jake Hulyer reported for The Guardian on the evolution and strength of the background music sector. From the early days of Muzak (that sold itself on how it made workplaces more productive) to the technologies developed by background music companies — the hardware developments of multi-deck tape players and cd stackers to the evolution of deep, licenced digital libraries.
As the digital revolution has shaken up the creation and distribution of recorded music almost infinite choices now exist for music curation. The rapid take up of consumer streaming continutes to be both a threat and opportunity to background music companies. The pressure on small businesses to survive, and thrive, beyond the disruption caused by the pandemic has managers realising the potential for music to work harder for their business. The support of human’s curating music using the technology of licenced background music companies is increasingly valued.
Human music curation is a good investment.
Working with experienced human music curators for public spaces venue managers can influence a specific atmosphere — thereby differentiating themselves from competitors, respecting the value of recorded music and providing increased economic returns to artists via royalties.
A set and forget algorithm may serve an individual listeners moods and lifestyle but it cannot be assumed as a good fit for music choices in public spaces. Venue managers who work closely with experienced background music companies make the research work for them. Co-curating music and screen content choices that work with the design of a space, the purpose and culture of the business, ultimately results in a musical soundtrack that benefits their business and the experience of their patrons.
Background music companies offer solutions for small businesses, patrons, songwriters and record labels. As businesses recover from the pandemic the power, potential and value of licensed music in public spaces is not to be underestimated.
Goldstein, Barry. (2017) “Music and the Brain: The Fascinating Ways That Music Affects Your Mood and Mind.” Conscious Lifestyle Magazine.
Hulyer, Jake. (2018) “Inside the booming business of background music” The Guardian.
Schäfer, Thomas, et al. “The Psychological Functions of Music Listening.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 4, 2013, pp. Frontiers in psychology, 2013, Vol.4.
Vitera, Theresa, & Keresztes, Rebeka Barbara. (2013). Music as an environmental factor in hospitality: what is the impact of background music on perceived atmosphere and sales in a school cafeteria? Research in Hospitality Management, 2(1–2), 51–55.
Leanne de Souza is a Non-Executive Director of Nightlife Music, a trustee of the Queensland Performing Arts Trust (QPAC) and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Writers Festival.
Her recent work included the role of Curatorial Advisor (Music) for the Museum of Brisbane’s “High Rotation 30 Years of Brisbane Music” exhibition, and as a researcher for the Brisbane City Council “30 Years of Riverstage.”
Leanne was the 14th most influential person in the music industry for 2019. (Source: The Music, 7 March 2019), a life-member of Q Music, a Donor Member of the Association of Artist Managers and an advocate for gender equity, cultural diversity and inclusion in the Australian music industry.