/ Shopping

Which shops play the most annoying background music?

Fingers in ears

We’ve had lots of requests to cover annoying music in shops, from radio stations in supermarkets to pop hits in tech stores. So we want to know which shops and music irritates you the most.

A bunch of Which? members have been in in touch to tell us how annoying they find it when they’re forced to listen to music in shops.

I must admit, I only ever notice if it’s a song I particularly don’t like – or if it’s too early in November for me to be able to stomach festive pop.

I’ve got particularly fond memories of Gorillaz’s ‘Dare’ coming on in a clothes shop, and all the customers and staff spontaneously dancing along. But, for me, shop music is generally something that usually washes over me. Or does it?

How music in shops affects you

There have been numerous studies that have discovered that the volume, speed and type of music played does have an effect on a shopper’s behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, loud music makes people spend less time in a shop. If you’re in a supermarket, music doesn’t affect how much you buy, but it does mean you make your way through the store more quickly. This means that the supermarket can get customers in and out more quickly, freeing up space in the car park and at tills, without seeing a drop in profits.

Slower music is likely to result in shoppers spending more time in a store, and thus buying more. And classical music is more likely to make people spend more compared to pop.

But if a shop gets the type of music wrong (the latest pop hits for over-25s, or easy listening for under-25s) then customers reportedly think that they’ve spent more time in store than they actually have.

So, with all this research to hand, which shops are getting their music wrong and what is it that’s irritating their customers so much? Are there any particular shops that stand out for you for their poorly-chosen, too-loud music? Or are you a shop worker who’s being driven mad by the same songs being played on a loop?

And do you feel the same about music in restaurants and pubs?

Adrian Rudge says:
14 December 2014

Funny how all these retailers trot out the same ” it enhances the shopping experience ” !
So they just reply with what the companies supplying the systems tell them,presumably.
It would be nice if just one major retailer told us the results of what a truly independent survey says about piped music but I guess we all think that no-one in the retail trade has actually carried out such a survey.

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

No one has. All the surveys are from those with a vested interest. Probably the nearest was the one which found that one third liked it, one third were indifferent, and one third hated it – from which you would imagine that the result would be that it would be gone, but no – the third which liked it had to be kept happy. That survey sounded dubious anyway, as far too neat.

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

Many stores and companies will trot out the result of a very recent survey, which came out marginally in favour. The questions asked were like this one – “Would you say that music is something which you would not want to be without?” which is so obviously so vague and general, and bears no relevance whatsoever to piped rubbish in shops! Naturally, most people said ‘Yes, I would say that I would not want to be without music” – but of course most of them did not mean that they could not live without piped shop music! So stores are then conned into providing it.

Hi Lizbie, I think that the reason we quote the “thirds” survey is because two surveys came out with this. They were both impartial surveys and both held a few years apart but this is what the results were:
1 Gatwick Airport Survey 1994: Gatwick Airport Management
43% said they disliked it
34% said they liked it,
23% had no opinion.

2 National Opinion Poll 1998: NOP Opinion Poll
34% disliked
30% liked
36% had no opinion.

We badly need a more up-to-date survey. However, most surveys today are held online, which means that they miss the opinions of older people who often aren’t engaged with online activities in the same way that younger people are.

David Andrew says:
29 December 2014

The usual response is that no one else complains and that everyone else likes it. There is a lot of misunderstanding just how deeply annoying it is to those of us who cant handle it.

Sue_marie says:
14 December 2014

Stores and supermarkets say that health and safety might be compromised if customers used their own earphones, and I can see their point because it’s vital that everyone hears all emergency announcements. However, if stores are determined to play music, perhaps they could look at alternatives. For example, by trialling a scheme whereby customers collect some earphones on entering, either free or for say a 50p deposit (returned at checkout when they hand back the earphones, which are then recycled with new ear buds). They can tune in to pop, classical or middle-of-the-road. Any announcements would cut into the music so that everyone hears it. This way, customers have a choice of whether or not to listen to music while they shop, and what type of music. I’ve had free earphones on some planes and international train journeys and thought it ‘enhanced’ (the stores will like that!) my experience.

Wonderful, Sue_Marie. It has often occurred to me that I cannot hear any safety announcements over the piped music in stores (have they done any research as to the way the hard of hearing are affected by this background noise?)

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

The notion that customers cannot wear headphones owing to safety concerns, is utterly mendacious – I would just love to see someone try and tell me not to wear headphones if I need them to cancel out the crap which they force me to listen to! If they are really concerned about safety, then they know what to do – turn off the piped rubbish. Then, everyone will be safe – all customers will hear all safety announcements, including those who are hard of hearing & depend upon ambient noise. Simple.

I do not understand, if there is no demand for MUZAK and it causes irritation to a substantial number of shoppers, why on earth do the stores insist of playing it? Somebody must benefit and surely as it is their stores they must benefit somehow, presumably by increasing their turnover which they won’t admit to. They must think that people then want to go there to listen to their music rather than somebodies else’s. I do not believe for 1 moment that they play it just to please a few shoppers if it drives the rest away. There must be some other driving force or somebody is telling “Porky Pies”. Why will none of these stores not tell us the real reason. Maybe they have “POP Star” children who need the revenue from the recording fees?

They believe what sites, such as musicworksforyou, tell them, Stephen. Everyone should be asking the same question (as politely as possible!), “Please can you tell me what research you have done to show that your customers want background music as they shop?” They will either ignore your question (in which case, come back and ask it again); or admit they have done no research of their own (in which case ask them why); or cite research produced by the music industry (both House of Fraser and Scotmid have done this). In which case point this out to them. The sad (and frustrating!) thing is that they don’t seem to realise that they have fallen into the trap of believing what the music industry (the very people who have a vested interest in getting them to purchase licences to play this music is telling them.

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

I don’t know if anyone else remembers this, but a year or so ago there was a radio programme about piped music & the journalist involved made a strong case against it – for the other side, there was a lady for some organization or other – Retailers something? She opined that anyone who disliked piped music in a shop was one of a tiny minority, and was certainly “over-sensitive” since everyone else liked it. The journalist then invited phone-ins to see if she was right – there were about 20 calls, almost all saying she was wrong, that it is not “over-sensitive” to object to it, and so on. He also said that he had had many emails saying how much people hated it, with just one or two expressing support for it.

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

It’s even more frustrating that they do not seem to see how much using piped music dents their profits! It costs them a lot every year (the right to perform not being free, and in the case of M&S they are given a new compilation every few weeks) and they lose so much custom by it. And the custom they lose, is from those with the most money.

Yes, I think I remember that, Lizbie. It was actually November 2011, if I remember properly. Strangely enough the survey had been carried out by Immedia (a music agency). They had been trying to show how important it is to play the right music in your business, ie to get the “branding” correct. What they actually did was shoot themselves in the foot because what their research showed was that 50% of us will leave a shop if we don’t like the music. Petrie Hosken took this up on an LBC radio programme. During the course of the programme someone from the British Retail Consortium(?) described the people who complain about piped music as a “few sensitive souls” (or words to that effect). but during the programme several people e-mailed or texted to say that they, too, disliked piped music.

Retailers are not stupid, so there must be a good reason why they play music. It is a shame none have contributed their reasons. One of the deficiencies of these conversations is we rarely hear from those under criticism. Perhaps we could encourage some of those regarded as “offenders” to give their side of the argument.

lizbie says:
14 December 2014

They have been encouraged many times – I can show you the correspondence. They always have the standard answer, with variants – ‘Our customers tell us they want it” / “Surveys show that the majority like it” / “There are hardly any complaints” / “We think it adds a nice atmosphere” / “Our Customer Experience Consultants (who are not Customer facing) have studied this and overwhelmingly our customers support music in store.” These are all quotations from ‘offenders,’ some at the highest level.

Maybe what they say is correct on the data they have. They have not contributed to this conversation and the comments made; that is what I was suggesting we – or Which? – should seek to achieve.

I have invited companies to take part in Conversations, without success. I cannot say I am surprised. Some have admitted to being aware of problems and that Which? have been looking into them. For example, LED Hut is familiar with radio interference problems with LED lighting, though this is not mentioned on their website.

I have had responses from some companies and organisations on occasions to conversation topics that I have passed on. I would have hoped that Which? would have requested contributions to help add balance or alternative points of view. However judging by the responses Which elicit to magazine articles these might be bland and useless – but you never know!

lizbie says:
15 December 2014

I contacted M&S about the muzak once again, and received the reply that though they do know very well that not everybody enjoys music in store, they still want all their customers to have a relaxing shopping experience…therefore, it will remain. What? Actually, I think there is evidence – I’m sure someone will know – that far from being relaxing, muzak in fact increases stress?

I’m sorry. After having withdrawn from the hustings, I can’t resist coming back for another comment. The response you had from M&S is quite astonishingly contemptuous, ignorant and illogical. On the last, if they realise that many people hate piped music, how can they go on to say they ‘still want ALL to have a relaxing shopping experience’?

I might add two other related points. I don’t know how you succeed, lizbie in reaching top-level management, but good on you. I am still seeking a satisfactory comment from John Lewis, who are by the way, up-to-now amongst the good guys. Each letter goes directly to Customer Services, which we all know is simply a back-door to the dust bin. Consequently, I wrote in my last letter that I didn’t want it to go there, and if that was the only recourse, they could send it directly to the bin. Since there has been no response, I take it they took me at my word.

Amongst one of the most inane replies I ever had was from Waterstones. I had gone to the Piccadilly branch to buy a supply of foreign language books, but found only one before being driven out by the music. The reply to my complaint pointed out that there were one or two sections in place where there was no music. Obviously I should have gone to one of those sections: I should perhaps buy books on the basis of which area was muzak-free rather than what I wanted.

lizbie says:
15 December 2014

Welcome back, please make it permanent! I love the Waterstone’s comment. Do you remember Borders Books? They had a branch in a beautiful old building in Kingston & they used to play the loudest music. When I complained, they said “You know, we don’t just sell books. We sell music too.” Well, we all know what happened to them.

Yes – it does increase stress, but over a long period – months?years?. For the staff, at least.
Another angle is that there is mostly no discernment as to the type – genre – of music being played. It’s mostly always the same, and it doesn’t vary much. It’s ironic that they really believe that an ‘enhanced shopping experience’ is given by such music., bu then they probably don’t know any different music! If you have been to Glastonbury you will have seen numerous ‘New Age’ shops. Yes, there is musak, but it’s mostly quiet and reflective, even meditative. In fact if all the places that have been complained about in these discussions were to think about it they might realise that such a different background atmosphere could indeed bring about a better shopping experience.

Chris says:
15 December 2014

In my case, and I am sure for others here, the stress is instant and sustained for the duration of the un-enhanced shopping experience.

Sally says:
15 December 2014

I agree. If we are forced to listen to music that we dislike, we hear it as noise rather than music. This is especially true of older people and the hard of hearing who often just hear a loud thudding noise when the “music” is partially covered up by human conversation and other background sounds. Music is enjoyable only if you like it and want to hear it at that particular time. Otherwise it causes negative effects, including higher blood pressure and stress.

lizbie says:
15 December 2014

Then write to Marc Bolland and tell him!

Sally says:
15 December 2014

Have, lizbie – more than once!! Unfortunately, I suspect I am on a list somewhere and any more complaints from me will be disregarded. If anyone else hasn’t written to Marc Bolland, please don’t hold back!

I was wondering how long it has been since you were in Waterstones. Many are now musak free.I think it may be up to the individual manager. If the Piccadilly branch still has musak you could tell them you will in future go to Foyle’s, which is certainly musak free, and not far away in Charing Cross Road

lizbie says:
15 December 2014

How I wish that my local branch was muzak free! The Waterstones in my town is the only bookshop for miles around, & it plays ghastly loud music. I have complained (of course!) & was told “Everyone else likes it.” No evidence provided. Small wonder that we have all been driven to Amazon.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Observer about James Daunt, the CEO of Waterstones. Apparently, Waterstones is beginning to do well again under his guidance. He doesn’t like piped music and is hoping that it will gradually be dropped from Waterstones branches. However, he is leaving it up to the individual managers (next time your local manager tells you that everyone likes background music in Waterstones, lizbie, you could point out that James Daunt doesn’t!)

I, too, am glad to have you back, L Johnston. If it helps, you can often get the CEO’s address (both postal and e-mail) from a site of CEO’s e-mail addresses. Just google it and you should get it. I have written to Andy Street, the CEO of John Lewis, and had a reply. If you want to by-pass Customer Services in M&S, just e-mail the CEO or Chairman of M&S (addresses available on same site). You will get a reply from the Executive Office, rather than Customer Services. And they do always reply (not necessarily what you want to hear but the more complaints the better)

Dorothy / L Johnson, this is a good site for addresses: http://www.ceoemail.com/

Thank you for the ‘welcome back’ messages.

Just two comments, in order to clarify. First, the Waterstones incident is not recent, as I ought to have made clear. However, I wouldn’t know whether or not policies have changed, since they lost me then as a customer. Second, I have usually been able to discover the names and addresses of CEO’s, but it does no good. Sometimes I get a reply from a clerk, saying that ‘(the CEO) has asked me to reply on his/her behalf’, when we know the CEO hasn’t even seen the letter. On other occasions, as in the case of letters to Andy Street, the response just comes from Customer Services with no pretence that he has seen it. He has more time, apparently, to spend on political matters, such as slagging off France or trying to affect the outcome of the Scottish referendum than dealing with matters that might affect customer relations. (Sorry in advance.)

Thanks Malcolm. I see this website lists also lists customer service email addresses. I prefer using them to filling in web forms because it is easy to keep a track of correspondence.

Christine says:
15 December 2014

That was a very good link Malcolm giving the e mail addresses of CEOs. . I have forwarded the Which link to Marc Bolland any chance he will read the comments? No I don’t think so either.

Adrian Rudge says:
15 December 2014

Surely the question of “safety announcements” is rather academic. I have been going in shops for some 70 years and never once have I heard such an announcement. Besides which even if one has headphones on there is the visual element – it would be fairly obvious as everyone rushes to the exit!
The other point is that whilst one can hear the dire music being imposed on customers, the spoken words are often unintelligible.

Brain hurts says:
16 December 2014

I find the music in shops is a barrier to me and many others who do not want to go in. I have heard that the age of over 50 make a lot of people more sensitive to noise and especially music. It affects your concentration for shopping and so many shops that want to stay on the high street are losing money! The vibration the music creates in the head is so painful at times, there is enough noise of everything else in the day that effects me and does not need more as music. I have asked some staff how they work in the sound and they go home with headaches! They are too afraid to say anything because of losing their job. Even some managers have agreed its not right because it stops people shopping. I have been in Next shop and they turned it off – thank you. Superdrug if awful, Debenhams has the barrier – don’t go in. It goes on…

Was just on Twitter and someone tweeted….

“James ‏@hiimjames_ 2 minutes ago


More staff loving music while working, it’s not just me!

lizbie says:
16 December 2014

According to the companies, the music is there to give shoppers a more pleasant experience, and not to provide entertainment for the staff. Your Pink Floyd loving friend is the first one I’ve ever heard of to actually like the music.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer. We need properly conducted independent surveys to determine what the majority of shoppers – not shop workers – want. Or simply take the default option and provide shops just for shopping, not for noise.

It is with deep regret that I have to announce that my local Marks & Spencer store is playing Christmas music. I have been a customer since their sweaters were 100% wool and made in the UK. The singer kept repeating that he wished it could be Christmas every day, a truly frightening thought.

I grabbed a couple of items and presented myself at the cash desk, where I was the only customer. After wishing the assistant a Merry Christmas I commented on the music issuing from a music player perched out of my reach and she said: ‘it’s driving me mad’.

I am beginning to see the advantage of online shopping.

Sally says:
17 December 2014

Wavechange, you are very lucky if this is the first time your M&S has played music. The vast majority of branches have been playing it for years. From what you say, it sounds as if it is temporary. I wasn’t going to complain about Christmas music (I complain enough the rest of the year!) but my local Tesco branch was playing the most excruciating noise earlier this week. I suppose it must have been Christmas music but it was unrecognizable to me. Chief reason was that it was being played on a really tinny music player and the sound was completely distorted. I’ve noticed this is often the case in small branches of Boots, too. As for my local House of Fraser, their music players often are within reach, on the floor. Many a time I have been tempted to accidentally kick one over…

I realise that I have been lucky, Sally. The M&S store may have played music at Christmas before but I try to avoid shopping at Christmas, when shops are busy.

Your comment about distorted music being excruciating is interesting because I have found this since I was a teenager in the 60s. My Tesco is playing music through very low quality ceiling speakers and it is the distortion more than the music that makes me cringe. When they have played music on some form of music player I’ve just turned it off.

I have noticed that portable systems playing music are often placed out of reach, so maybe I’m not the only one who turns them off. Please turn them off, Sally. Let them know what we think of their music. 🙂

lizbie says:
17 December 2014

“It’s driving me mad.” Sums up how most staff in the stores feel – yet M&S and others persist in their quest to please the tiny minority who profess to “love” it. I endorse the “only customer” remark – my local M&S is half empty (I don’t go in any longer, but you can see through the window) whilst the John Lewis is heaving. Wonder why?

Distorted music – then go for telephone on-hold for an even worse experience. Designed to make you hang up?
Rather than broadcasting music, perhaps shops should go for the spoken word – broadcast short stories. That might entice customers to stay longer to ensure they didn’t miss the ending (or return later to catch up?). Longer stories at Christmas to keep you shopping and entertain the kids.

That’s an interesting thought, Malcolm. I think I would prefer Radio 4, which would make me feel very much at home. I suspect that many of our contributors to Which? Conversation are avid Radio 4 listeners anyway.

For anyone annoyed by telephone hold music, just put your cordless phone in your pocket, on the handsfree setting, and get on doing something useful. When the faint music stops, grab a seat and a pencil.

Shops could also broadcast the Sale of Goods Act in spoken form, for the benefit of customers and to ensure the staff were fully conversant with their obligations. 🙂 🙁

Don’t know if anyone else has noticed this but, whenever “experts” are giving guidance on setting up a website, they always seem to advise you NOT to have background music because visitors to your site might find it annoying. Why do they offer this advice for websites but not for shops? At least you can turn off the music when you are searching online…

It seems that a huge majority of those commenting in Which? Conversation are against music in stores so I wonder why retailers continue to broadcast it if it annoys so many people. Perhaps this is not a representative sample of the shopping public.

Lisa Barber, Which? Magazine Deputy Editor
Is Which? Conversation seeking views on this topic on Twitter and Facebook? It would be interesting to know if those on social media are also anti music in stores of if they are the ones the retailers are trying to attract.

Surely retailers should be trying to attract all shoppers, not just those on social media? A third of the population is aged 50 and over but this population demographic is far less likely to be active on social media. The music industry floods social media with its “research” and businesses seem to believe it.

Perhaps seeking the views of those not likely to be participating in Which? Conversation may explain why retailers continue to play music. They would be very stupid if they continued to annoy a majority of their shoppers and although they may be influenced by social media they would soon change their tune if their receipts are falling,

Agree, Figgerty. Suspect there will be more “for’s” on social media but it will be interesting to find out just how enthusiastic shoppers are.

lizbie says:
17 December 2014

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? However, there is ample evidence to show that they are indeed that stupid – how else to explain their intransigence in the face of the fact that muzak-free stores are doing much better than those which play it?

It seems obvious to me that the so-called background music is meant to drive shoppers to use the internet. The retail outlets can then become distribution centres operated by overworked, underpaid workers who will tolerate plain, less expensive decor and conditions thus reducing heating and lighting and fitting out costs. Those customers not on the net will eventually starve and if they are elderly, die. This ties in with government policies to eliminate those who no longer earn and are deemed to be in the way. The result will free up housing, any savings or investments held by the deceased will be inherited by the young who will be more willing to spend thereby boosting the economy for which, the government will claim credit. I haven’t mentioned the pensions and health care costs too numerous to list.
Of course this is all tongue in cheek, it would never happen…………….would it?
Remember….you will all be the elderly one day!

Sally says:
18 December 2014

In the end I did write to Tesco about the quality of the music player in my local branch. I congratulated them on recognising that many of us dislike piped music and so not playing it throughout the year. I said I wouldn’t normally complain about the Christmas music but, if they were playing it, they should make sure they had suitable equipment to play it on. I could escape after a few minutes but their staff had to endure the badly-distorted music all day long, etc.

Tesco replied by return, asking for the exact address of my local branch. I e-mailed it to them this morning and, when I popped in for some shopping this afternoon, I found the music had been turned off. Don’t know if this is permanent or just until they get some better equipment. But at least I felt they listened to and acted on my complaint. Well done, Tesco!

Sally says:
19 December 2014

After posting the above, I had a follow-up message from Tesco Customer Services. They said that they had phoned the manager of my local branch and he had admitted the music had been played through a “relic” of a machine and that playing music in this way was not “helpful”. (Not sure if he meant it wasn’t helpful to customers or to staff, or to both). Apparently he was very grateful that a customer had pointed this out so maybe the staff were relieved not to have to listen to it anymore.

Then a friend told me she had visited Curry’s this morning and the Sikh assistant was complaining that he had had to listen to the same Christmas music for three weeks. She said she told him about Pipedown. He hadn’t heard of it.

Sally – I had not heard about Pipedown until I read about it on this Conversation. If you search for something like ‘annoying music’ you will find this Conversation, but Pipedown is nowhere to be seen. As a very amateur website creator I can see that Pipedown has not done what is necessary to give it priority in Google searches. Also, if you are going to attract attention your homepage needs to be eye-catching, even naff.

Which? is going to contact the companies we have complained about and I suspect that this – plus our continued efforts – will have more effect. I hope so because at the present rate I’m running out of places to do my shopping.

Really important to publicise how many people are troubled by annoying music in shops and cafes, etc. We started up a local Pipedown group in Edinburgh in 2012. Recently we set up a website listing shops, restaurants and pubs in the Edinburgh area that don’t play background music. http://www.quietedinburgh.co.uk/
Last week we managed to get coverage on BBC Scotland – on two radio bulletins and two TV news bulletins. We have been amazed at the response. People seem to be delighted that this problem has been highlighted; some have suggested other “quiet” places for our site; some have pointed out other groups who have difficulties with background music, such as sufferers from ME. So many of us are affected but, if we don’t get our message across in the media, very few people going to be aware of the problem.

I had decided not to go near my local Tesco store until after Christmas, to avoid the Christmas music. I realised that I needed milk when I was passing Tesco and decided that it made more sense to face the music rather than a long drive. No music, so took the opportunity to buy a lot more than a bottle of milk. Thank you Tesco.

Ralph says:
20 December 2014

I have started a list of cafes, pubs and restaurants in London which have no background music. Does anyone know of anyone else who is compiling such a list, so that we can combine? We also need someone to help Pipedown to be more prominent online.

Sometimes you have to pay extra to increase your ranking. Pipedown has limited funds. This is definitely a David and Goliath situation. I have every admiration for Pipedown. If you don’t already belong, please join!


There is a site called Quiet Corners, Ralph, which includes London cafes, pubs etc


Don’t know of any other lists.

I don’t know what the rules of this forum indicate, but I have a feeling that this will not be accepted. I admit it is lengthy, but it sums up for me what seems to have been the value of the discussion so far, and I hope I won’t be thought presumptuous to write it.

First of all, it is clear that there is a large group, even if a minority, that consists of people heartily sick of being subjected to noise everywhere they go, ranging from gyms, surgeries, hospitals, boutiques, and supermarkets, to banks and other commercial and financial institutions. Unfortunately, they appear to be helpless in their attempts to obtain a peaceful and calm atmosphere, largely perhaps because our society has become so accustomed to noise that people are unable to abide silence.

Second, we have learned a great deal about the mendacity of retailers. We have suspected it for a long time, and individuals have been played off one against another, but now there is proof that we are in the right.

1. We are continually presented with lies; ‘we have had not other complaints’ being perhaps the most blatant, since it is quite clear that many people are complaining in all parts of the country, and we have seen in a couple of instances that one complainant has been told that even after hearing someone else making the same point to a manager.

2. We are told that the vast majority of people like piped music. Nothing I have seen supports that view, and

3. We are not offered any proof, except statements about ‘customer feedback’, which means nothing without knowing its extent and being given some information, such as how the feedback is obtained and how it is analysed.

4. The English language is debased as proprietors and customer relations ‘experts’ invent or adopt phrases probably taught in sales propaganda school, such as ‘enhancing the shopping experience’ Why can’t it be accepted that we go to shops for loo paper, dog food, nappies, and the like and do not expect to experience something akin to a trip to Bali?

5. The fact that we are offered the same excuses no matter the source, indicates that there is some kind of collusion to ward off criticism. Shopkeepers wouldn’t all simultaneously use the same expressions, such as the one mentioned above, ‘customer feedback’, ‘our research’, ‘we have had no complaints’, and so forth, without some coordination.

I think we have been successful in putting the noise-lovers on the defensive, at least with respect to chain stores. I’m not certain how it is possible to reach the small independent boutiques who seem to think they have to copy the larger merchants.

An important question has been asked, and no noise supporter has come up with an answer; i.e., what possible justification is there for the use of muzak? Can retailers prove that they gain more financially by having the music than by losing sales to those who walk out? If not, why insist on it, and in the case of Coop and M&S especially, in a particularly unpleasant manner.

We have also managed to get Which? to recognise that the problem causes widespread unease and may even get them to consider taking some action. (I recognise and appreciate that they have provided this forum.)

I personally would like to support a national petition, but there are difficulties, and I agree with the Hon Sec of Pipedown that unless it is given a good deal of support, it might do more harm than good. (I hope I am not mis-quoting him.) Ideally, a truly independent survey might give the lie to all the arguments put forward by shopkeepers and the rest.

However, I would like to make one very important additional point: a survey would not provide the final answer. It would not be enough to say, even in the unlikely event it proved to be so, that a majority badly want piped music. There are others in society who cannot abide it, not only for reasons of maintaining sanity but because they are physically and/or emotionally harmed by it. Older people in particular, and the hard-of-hearing suffer when they are subjected to it, and these groups have to be kept in mind. As I have noted before the lack of noise might disappoint a few, but they are not harmed by its absence. Its presence, however, can have serious effects.

Pipedown says:
21 December 2014

L Johnston makes very good points but at one stage misunderstands what Pipedown suggested: an impartial, large-scale national opinion poll (not petition), similar to those carried out on many topics, by a reputable pollster such as NOP, Youguv, MORI. This could discover people’s real attitudes to piped music in supermarkets, shops, restaurants etc today. The RNID, now Action on Hearing Loss, sponsored such a poll in 1998 which showed that more people disliked piped than liked it (34% against music versus 30% in favour, while 36% did not notice or did not care.) This poll needs updating. Pipedown unfortunately has not got the money to commission such a large-scale poll.

The problem we are up against is that some people do like background music, or something louder. That’s why we have juke boxes. Watch people feeding them with money or eagerly pressing buttons if they are free. Many are conditioned to listening to music when walking, running and on public transport. From discussing the problem of background music with people over many years, it is clear that many don’t have a strong feeling.

I agree that the shops may not be telling the truth but considering what nonsense we are fed in advertising and supposed special offers, I’m not surprised.

My view is that we need to get more supporters who are prepared to make comments and send emails. The most effective ones are likely to be those who have a problem with hearing and staff who have to put up with music every working day.

Pipedown – Never mind what people’s preferences are because no survey is likely to produce overwhelming evidence of opposition to background music. A survey may not show the results hoped for. 🙁

May I suggest that you focus on the problems for those with hearing loss and employees who have to listen to music every working day. A focused approach is, I believe, more likely to be successful.

Pipedown says:
21 December 2014

Wavechange: it is impossible to predict what results a genuinely impartial opinion poll might produce but, judging by recent straw polls, a substantial minority will object strongly. And minorities of 30% or so have both rights and, when united, clout.
However Pipedown is particularly concerned with three groups of people:
Those with hearing problems, including presbycusis (the inability to distinguish foreground noise like conversation from background noise such as piped music).
People who have to work in piped music filled places, especially shops.
And people in hospital, who may be lying in a bed or on a stretcher and so literally unable to escape music (and television.)


Pipedown – The point I was making was that you are not going to get an overwhelming majority supporting a new poll. Look at pre-election polls and it is easy to imagine that the results could be different from what is expected. I’m finding more background music, not less, and I suspect there is a growing demand, even though you and I hate it. What would you do if a new poll produced another indecisive result or showed that music is now more popular than before?

I think there is a very much stronger case if you focus on the three groups you mention and also places where there is little chance of most people avoiding the music. I believe that you should include the workplace, because being to listen to music all day and every day can be hell.

So far we don’t seem to have many people objecting to efforts to get rid of piped music, but that could change if we become too vocal. Its important that Pipedown makes it clear that piped music has a place where we have a convenient opportunity of frequenting venues with or without music, according to choice. Much as I hate piped music I respect that others have a different view.

lizbie says:
22 December 2014

There is no evidence for a ‘growing demand’ – quite the opposite. Look at Waitrose, John Lewis & Lidl, doing well without it! Respecting others is fine – but the best way to do that, given that it’s impossible to please everyone’s taste, is to have quiet & allow those who must have noise, to provide it themselves.

Pipedown says:
22 December 2014

Wavechange – Thanks for your comments.
There is no need for a poll to show that an ‘overwhelming’ majority hates piped music, merely that a significant – at least 20%, say – do, to reinforce our arguments. If anything, recent straw polls suggest growing dislike, not acceptance, of piped music. But they may be misleading.
As you will see from our website http://www.pipedown.info/ Pipedown is NOT calling for a universal, ban on piped music. In places where most customers probably welcome it – pubs, boutiques and other spots frequented mainly by the young – it is totally acceptable.
Only in places where people do not have a choice – especially hospitals and the workplace – do we want piped music banned. If you contact us via our website, we can send you our booklet “Whose Choice is it Anyway?” about exactly this.
Merry and peaceful Christmas to us all!

Why not start with what could be a quick win, such as getting rid of music in hospitals?

Pipdown – According to the Pipedown website you are campaigning for freedom from piped music, yet now you say: “Pipedown is NOT calling for a universal, ban on piped music. In places where most customers probably welcome it – pubs, boutiques and other spots frequented mainly by the young – it is totally acceptable.” That seems a more realistic approach.

I very much endorse your wish for a Merry and Peaceful Christmas for us all.

I was in my local hospital’s outpatients’ department this morning; there was a large television in the waiting room, with a noisy and prolonged fight scene being played out on it complete with shouting, crashing, smashing and grunting etc. I was asked if I was allergic to anything so I replied ‘I’m allergic to that bloody television out there’.

The world has gone mad.

Your summary is fine.
It is true that society generally cannot abide silence these days, and this, I think, is a major reason for the attitude of many shops and other places, regardless of the shortcomings – or not in some cases perhaps – of their alleged surveys. For this reason alone it is difficult to combat the problem as it is ingrained within the psyche, as it were. I risk being pessimistic but I do believe that all those people such as us on this forum who would like to see piped musak diminish should keep up their endeavours.

Unless you want legislation to ban music in shops, restaurants, hotels and other public buildings, then I’m not sure what a national poll would set out to achieve. Those who use background music need to be convinced that it is damaging to their business. I do not see it is in their interests to use it if it were. Perhaps it is not?
As is often the case the best solution for those who can, and who care enough, is to vote with their feet and let the culprits know why. Although I suspect a majority may not feel sufficiently strongly about it to do that.
Does the Noise Abatement Society have nothing to say on this topic. I see they are concerned about public announcements – particularly lack of clarity – but can see nothing relevant about muzak on their website

I’m a great believer in voting with my feet but it seems to be becoming harder to find places that are free from music. I arranged to meet up for a drink with a former colleague before Christmas and chose a place that I knew to be quiet. It had changed hands recently and one of the changes introduced by the new owner was music. On my first visit I was complimentary about the changes and decided to say nothing about the music. Next time I will, and that may be my last visit.

I am happy to pick restaurants and pubs that are free from music but when it comes to large supermarkets, I really don’t think we need it.

Does anyone remember Music While You Work broadcast on the BBC Light Programme from June 1940 to September 1967, aimed to help factory workers to become more productive? You can read more about the psychology behind it at en.m.wikipedia.org. Broadcast twice daily during and after WW2 you can still hear it’s famous introductary theme played on YouTube. The music played was quite different to that which is played nowadays and probably more to people’s taste at the time.

In the sixties I worked for a while on an assembly floor, testing and fault finding electronic equipment. I have an idea that the assemblers might have quite like it, but my colleagues in the testing team all hated it because we couldn’t think properly about what we were doing. It was a great relief to me to leave that all behind and move on.

I liked the radio broadcasts “Music While You Work” and actually made a compilation tape on my reel-to-reel tape recorder so I could play it at other times of the day. But then I also liked the music that accompanied the television test card and had a few tape casettes of that. I sometimes wish I had kept all that stuff from the sixties but our lives move on with the hope of better things to come. The significant difference between both those musical presentations and today’s ubiquitous output was the absence of vocals. I could tolerate music in shops if the squawk factor was eliminated.