/ Shopping

Your view: background music in shops

Man with fingers in ears

With 260 comments, our debate about music in shops has been making a lot of noise. Here’s a round-up of your comments, including one commenter who actually enjoys listening to tunes while she shops.

Alison finds background music in shops torturous:

‘I regard piped music in shops, public places, restaurants, etc. an invasion into my personal audio space and respond by turning round and leaving. Vote with your wallet is my advice.

‘However, there are areas where it can’t be avoided, such as surgeries, hospitals, and so on which I find intrusive, stressful and unnecessary.

‘It is no surprise to learn that the Americans use loud pop music as a form of torture – personally, I’d spill all the state secrets of which I might be in possession.’

Clare votes with her feet:

‘I don’t go into shops if I can hear music playing from outside and agree with those who regard this as noise pollution. If I’ve entered a shop and there is music I get out again as quickly as possible (sometimes close to panic stricken) and almost always without buying anything at all.’

What’s worse than music in shops? When you can’t escape it. Here’s Malbec:

‘I have decided that the worst culprit of all is Ikea at Croydon. Not only do they play the most annoying trash, you can’t escape quickly because of their maze of aisles stopping one from finding the exit. First and last time I visit.’

Background music in B&Q

B&Q is a popular example in the comments. Alan is one of many to mention them:

‘I have just written to B&Q complaining about the music being played in its stores – I have advised them that I now only visit its stores to view a specific product before immediately returning home and ordering it on-line (not from B&Q) and the product is also invariably cheaper.’

Bob’s fed up with the bad covers in B&Q:

‘B&Q – they cannot be bothered to play original versions of great songs so they use appalling copies. To me it just conveys a message that the company is in such desperate straits that it cannot afford a royalty fee and its days are numbered.’

It’s not just shops, restaurants are invaded by background music too, as Dudley shares:

‘I am tired of music in restaurants. It makes everybody speak louder to their fellow diners and in the end the ambient noise of music and diners shouting at each other is so loud that I can’t hear what others are saying on my table. In the end I switch off.’

Customers and staff singing along

It’s not just the music that annoys Diane; it’s also the customers who sign along:

‘Now I know this sounds curmudgeonly but one thing that I don’t think anyone’s mentioned is that when businesses play music, what’s even worse is that customers and staff alike feel compelled to sing along to the song often in a loud voice. I recently had to endure a customer singing to the song being played and he was totally out of tune, thereby adding to my misery!’

I’d like to end on a counterpoint. Here’s Janet who does like background music:

‘Am I the only one? I quite like background music. Was in B&Q the other day and found myself humming cheerfully along to something from the 70s as I flitted around the aisles. Then I popped into Sainsbury’s, don’t often go there, and noticed how quiet it was; the whole place felt like a ghost town, really depressing, I didn’t stay long. Bring on the Pharrell Williams I say.’

Does background music make you Happy? Or do you long for silence?

Irene Asquith says:
29 March 2015

I recently went into a store and asked at the check out if they sold or provided ear plugs. The young man asked if I needed them for a flight. I replied no to shop in here.
I often walk out of stores because of the ” music” it make shopping on line more attractive.

Good point, Irene, but I don’t think this thread is “live” any more. Please post your comment here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/annoying-background-music-shops-supermarkets/

Hi can anyone help me I live above a fish shop they play the radio quite loud as I don’t speak to them how do I find out if they’ve got a licence to play music as I can hear it above my TV which is so annoying thanks in advance

Johnolotto, more important is for them to turn the music down, isn’t it? First, have you asked them to turn the music lower? If no result you can then complain to your local council – environmental health I think – they can advise what to do and decide if the music is above an acceptable level. You might need to keep a diary for a while of when the music is playing – days and times.

Virginia says:
20 May 2015

Music in restaurants is an even bigger problem. Being forced to listen to music regardless of one’s own music preferences, and having to shout to deal with the ambient noise and then struggle to hear what others at the table are saying does not make for a relaxing eating experience.
I now ask management to turn the music down, or more often seek out a restaurant which respects the fact that its customers dine out to eat and talk. If we wanted to listen to music we’d go to a pub or concert instead.

Elaine says:
21 May 2015

My husband is deaf .We can’t converse in situations with background music . Although our situation is unusual , many people have hearing loss and struggle in noisy situations .

Barbara Potter says:
21 May 2015

I have noticed, when in France, that restaurants are acoustically designed so that it is possible for each table to have a conversation with a degree of privacy, and yet the noise of others talking is neither intrusive, nor needs to be drowned with music. Wake up British acoustic engineers. With a will, we could do the same.
Music is such a personal thing: one man’s meat is another man’s poison: therein lies a problem. By the music that is played, it is clear that the target audience is of a certain age: 20’s or 30’s, generally.
Requests for prog. rock, or classical would be met with baffled indifference.. and certainly certain parts of the London underground use classical music to deter the youth from becoming a nuisance.
I don’t linger in shops if the volume is high, if the beat is fast, and sometimes I just don’t go in.

Fred says:
22 May 2015

If I want to listen to music, I go to a concert. If I want to eat and have good conversation, I go to a restaurant, where I certainly don’t want the intrusion of somebody else’s choice of music. Never the twain shall meet, in my view.

Iona Wall says:
22 May 2015

I absolutely hate Muzak in public places. I regard it as an intrusion on my privacy. I ask invariably for it to be turned down at least which happens for just a short while if I,m lucky and then is turned up. I usually tell the management I’m not coming in to eat or buy because of the music. It annoys me as much as smoking used to. Mindless and very irritating.

Geri says:
27 May 2015

I’m so glad people are talking about this. It kills conversation in restaurants and pubs (which is one of the main reasons for going to these places). And why is it now in banks? Rubbish music and inane radio chat does not inspire confidence in what I feel should be a serious business environment, and provides a ‘cheap and nasty’ atmosphere. It’s all been said in the above posts however. The question is what can be done to minimise it?

Doris The Wedge says:
27 May 2015

In reply to letter of the month in the June issue regarding music in restaurants; my 96 year old Dad has two hearing aids and still has difficulty hearing in noisy situations. On the occasion of us eating out I make a point of asking politely of the restaurant staff if there is an area where the speakers could be turned down or off for the duration of our meal. I have never been refused, even in pubs.

Dutch in London says:
31 May 2015

I would rejoice in hearing Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower belting out. I would enter the shop regardless what they sell. My wife however would instantly leave her favourite shop never to return. I guess the question for a shop or restaurant manager is this: For my target clientele, will I please more customers by switching it of? Or will I draw in more customers by, hopefully, playing music that they happen to like? Unless you are very sure of yourself, I reckon that for most managers the answer should be to turn it off.

Dudley Bason says:
2 June 2015

I regard music in shops to be tolerable but music in restaurants to be deplorable. I understand that music in a restaurant when there are few diners is there to create an ambience but when a restaurant is well patronised it just serves as an extra piece of noise to shout above when conversing with friends or family. I think the music is there as much for the staff as the customers. I always choose a seat that is as far away as possible from the infernal ceiling speakers and will refuse a table under one. Many people (not just oldies) have problems blocking out background noise when listening to conversation. For them background music far from adding to a restaurant experience, is an unpleasant and unwanted distraction.

Dorothy Brown says:
5 June 2015

Re Restaurants- I am finding it more difficult to locate good restaurants where noise is not a factor.
There seems to be a need nowadays for continuous noise and in some places it is impossible to have a conversation. Jamie Oliver’s restaurants are usually far too noisy just to mention one.

I go to a restaurant to have conversation, not to listen to music and I dont like doing both together.I realise this is probably a generational matter but I do not understand how it is possible to have a serious/intimate conversation and have music battering away. I often have to ask the manager if they could lower the decibel level which usually they are happy to do. We need a campaign for quiet restaurants. Of course the very expensive restaurants are quiet but one doesnt go out to eat at those places often, if at all.
I fear that much of the music we hear has not to do with choice but to do with money making.

I’m not sure this is a generational matter – I’ve recently been visiting the COSTA in Waterstones, Dundee, and it always seems to be full of young people (as well as older), older school kids and students, visibly enjoying the wonderful quiet atmosphere…

Mummykins says:
11 July 2015

So oftenthe music seems to be the choice and the entertianment for the staff, rather than for the customers… Recently sat ina resturwnt with only 2 tables occupied, couldnt barely hear our conversation… When we aksed if the music could be turned down the staff looked like wed spoilt there day out ! We had a maincourse and left. Customer focus seems to be a lost art.

Grace says:
21 July 2015

I am so bothered by dreadful pop music played in shops that I don’t go shopping anymore and buy everything I want online. I don’t want to do this actually, I used to love going shopping and want to support the High Street but if I have to go into 10 shops with each one playing a different piece of rubbish music at a different volume I won’t. It’s intolerable, anti-social and an abuse.

Eating out is so awful, to try sit and try to enjoy a meal out and a chat when you have to shout at each other or put up with ‘bang, bang, bang’ bass as the actual treble is drowned out by the chatter. Pizza Hut which I endure for the kids is a terrible offender – who knows what the music actually was it was like an apocalypse of sound in there! Even Gastro Pubs now do it as standard. I usually walk out if I hear music, and friends usually agree.

Worst of all? GP’s and HOSPITAL! Yes, hospitals – that place you go feeling ill, distressed or waiting for life changing news. I sat for 6 hours in A&E last month and the radio was on loudly throughout. It’s utterly disgusting.

What on earth is wrong with no sound? With quiet? Who decided that pop music was the default noise? It’s insulting to assume that everyone likes contemporary pop music, like we’re this great homogenous lump instead of individuals who don’t have different tastes. .

I’d like to see some serious discussion about this in the press and some research done into how this effects people and what the true picture of people’s opinion of this is. What about Which? or one of the other organisations being active about this and seeking to give, or example, a ‘Quiet Shop/Restaurant’ certificate/award to be displayed proudly on doors as a sign of a quality shopping experience that is bucking the trend? Make it be an active choice for companies to respect their customers.

Bear says:
1 August 2015

There are many of us that detest noise pollution manifested by musac in public places.
What gets me is not just the row which we are subjected to in the likes of B & Q , the Doctor’s Waiting room and restaurants, but the audacity of those who ASSUME that this is what we want. THEY HAVE TO BE TOLD. Given overwhelming complaints, they may then turn it off or at the very least, reduce the volume.
We go to B &Q to buy screws etc.,the Doctors because we are unwell, and restaurents to enjoy food and conversation, NOT to be forced to listen to musac.

Mike Brown says:
9 October 2015

Glad to find this site and comments! I too totally detest bacground/pied music in shops, cafes – in fact it’s now gotten so it’s EVERYWHERE!
I went to the loo in a shop recently and the bloody awful racket was in there too!

everyone else does it
makes the palce cheerful, doesn’t it?
There are several issues here – and by the way – I totally agree that this is an invasion of privacy/personal space and noise pollution etc.
I have tried to ask shop staff and manages personally, on the phone and by email/online comments WHY they play this crap WITHOUT asking their customers if they would like it – and invariably get these kinds of answers…
– it’s company policy
– everyone else does it
– makes the place cheerful, doesn’t it?
– the staff like it etc
AS I have so informed companies/shops etc – the WHOLE premise that started using background music int he USA in the 1950’s HAS BEEN DISCREDITED insofar as it was designed with the aim of making customers feel comfortable and soothed and therefore more likely amenable to buying products.
It was initially tried out as a series of psychological experiments, and the more avaricious stores latched onto it – BEFORE the experiments proved to be at best inconclusive, and at worst a failure!
But – the idea was promoted amongst “go-ahead” and ruthless company owners and has mushroomed ever since despite evidence to the contrary.
BUT – even with this false concept, the music tested was INSTRUMENTAL and/or classical – NOT “popular” songs!!!!!
In the UK, it seems to have become more prevalent over the last 15 years or so – and there are now even companies arranging to supply the music and/or licences to do so. Some companies like supermarkets have their own “radio stations” for God’s sake!!
t certainly is irritating and annoying – and thankfully some companies (John Lewis, Sainsburys, and until recently, Marks & Spencers – although I think they have “fallen” for the false idea?) are frre of this insdious ans hateful trend – and are all the better for it!
Another issue, is that customers tend to just “blank” the music out – and therefore why should it be played if no-one is listening?
Also – it reflects the change of approach to listening to music over the last 20 years or so due to music videos, digital music downloads; ipods etc . In the past, people listed to music as a prime activity – ie: because the yew anted to do that – nowadays people almost always listen to music whilst doing something else!
It is unclear whether commercial piped music has caused or reflects this trend!
Personally, I am a big fan of certain types of music and fairly intolerant of others. I wholeheartedly detest modern r&b; hip hop and the pop/chart rubbish of today…but that latter is usually what is piped!!
I am therefore doubly irritated b y this phenomenon!
I don’t think it is justified, but if music must be piped – then use instrumental music – preferably classical! The abhorrent, incessant “r&b” wails of manufactured pap send me crazy.
Anyway – rant over.

[This comment has been removed for breaching the community guidelines. Thanks, Mods]

for the record the ‘music’ played in Band Q and a certain storage facility is,I believe ,of un-signed bands.
It has a bloodless quality ,as if it was recorded in a vacuum. Tuneless and talentless;these groups have no right to torment users of these shops.
In Big Yellow,which I used for several months,I certainly didn’t hang around and expressed sympathy with the staff.In B and Q I agree with the comment along the lines of”get in ,get out and buy elsewhere”

Dorothy Haughton says:
25 July 2016

Join Pipedown http://www.pipedown.info/ and add your voice. We have to keep on complaining but I get from Pipedown a series of small cards which I can hand out to staff which say, for example, that I have enjoyed being here because there is no piped music. Handing one out can often start a conversation with staff about how they prefer to work on a music-free environment.
Does anyone know of a music-free bank?I tried Co-op but they are useless.

The music in shops is far too intrusive so I will be trying to keep away from shops playing it. Sometimes you can’t have a conversation with someone when discussing a purchase. It must be very difficult for the deaf or people who have a hearing problem