/ Shopping

It’s oh so quiet in M&S, is this music to your ears?

Sound system

In a resounding victory for all of you who didn’t pipe down about your distaste for piped music, M&S is scrapping piped music in its stores. Question is – will other retailers follow suit?

Music in shops is a well known pet peeve for many Which? Convo commenters. In fact, over the past few years thousands of you have told us how piped music has ruined your shopping experience, and driven you out of shops.

Well, with thanks to Dorothy who shared this with us, it would seem that the powers that be at M&S have agreed with this sentiment and have scrapped piped music.

A spokesman from M&S told us:

‘We’re focused on putting the customer at the heart of everything we do, this decision is the result of extensive research and feedback from our customers and colleagues’

Hooray – I hear you say – and a victory for those Convo commenters and of course the Pipedown campaign.

Peace and quiet

High streets across the country are currently (unless you’re reading this in the dead of the night) piping out a cacophony of muzak into their stores.

According to an investigation recently carried out by the Daily Mail there are some high street shops out there that are piping out music at 83.8dB – the sort of sound levels you’d find in a crowded bar where you can just about hear the person next to you talking. It hardly makes for a pleasurable shopping experience.

The experience can be far from pleasurable for some. Like Hilary, for example, who told us:

I have recently had to make speedy exits from several retail outlets as I could not concentrate on what I was looking for due to the volume and type of music being forced upon me.

And I can more than sympathise with those of you who told us how piped music drove you straight out of some shops. Harking back to the days of my Saturday job, if it wasn’t torturous enough to be in an airless spotlit shop, the added ‘easy listening’ tunes piped out on loop made it all the more unbearable.

Shush the shops

But at least the shop I worked in played ‘easy listening’ music. There are some shops that may as well be nightclubs.

Now if M&S has been so bold as to scrap piped music from their stores, which other retailers would you like to see follow suit?

Comments
Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Well here is another website this time a UK one , no I couldnt find survey results on UK supermarket muzak yet but I did find results on University students (University of Wales ) while studying on –mindthesciencegap.org/2012/10/08/does-music-help-you-study/ and, sorry to say for “lovers ” of muzak the results were that even liked music was just as distracting as hearing someone talk while doing exams -scores were significantly higher for tests taken in a quiet environment . Another implication for the observant is that most students are around 20 years old give or take a few years so this seems to shoot down in flames the general held belief that most young people prefer background muzak .

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Ah, taking a specific task such as studying and extending the results to cover all situations is not a supportable argument. I would not have expected our design and office staff to have listened to background music, nor did they suggest it, but those on more routine jobs on the factory floor did ask for and enjoyed it. To be fair, the music was not “controversial” in its genre – not too loud, neutral enough for most tastes.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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malcolm isnt that bringing genetics into play ie- grading the innate intelligence of a human being on the level of intelligence required to do a job ? Watch out or the PC mob will be after you – 11+ exams — stopped etc . Shades of a certain ww2 point of view -muzak for the “masses ” serene silence for those thinking on “higher things ” . ergo –those that like muzak in supermarkets have “downgraded” IQ,s ???

Profile photo of DerekP
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Duncan, my take on Malcolm’s point is that the desire to “whistle-while-you-work” is task specific – not IQ specific.

I enjoying having background music if I’m driving but I don’t want it when I’m doing desk work. I don’t actually find it distracting then – but if I’m concentrating properly on design and analysis work, I end up just blanking it out – so then there is no point in putting it on in the first place.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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But he was using that as an example to say my comment on young people not liking muzak more when doing or studying exams belies the general/universal opinion that young people need/enjoy constant background muzak . Most adverts come with background music its built into the younger generation (generally held conclusion maybe wrong but held anyway ) -music= buy this or that -supermarkets are just an extension of the TV screen . Cameron,as we speak, is using the same ploy aimed at young people saying -its their generation who are opposed to a Brexit while (obsolete thinking ) old people are for a Brexit this is even being taken up in the US as they dont want a Brexit for selfish financial reasons. Isnt this “ageist ” in both directions and forming a conclusion in both directions ? What my point made was that young people are not really different from the older generation when it comes down to built in natural thinking noise including music changes their concentration . Okay so some people can blank it out but its seems that the general public hold some strong views on it so it obviously effects them .

Profile photo of malcolm r
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duncan, not at all. I was drawing no distinction between the “intelligence”, as you put it, of the different groups of staff. Simply the type of job they had chosen to do. One requires, for example, concentration on problems, interaction directly or by phone with outsiders such as suppliers or customers, where obtrusive background music would have been inappropriate. The other involved more routine and repetitive work where, as when I am in my workshop or the garden for example, music in the background is “company”.

I think suggesting that unintelligent people are put in certain jobs and intelligent in others is a perception that is well out of date. Ability is different, as we see from people for example who do degrees, apprenticeships, trades.

Profile photo of John Ward
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“Music While You Work” on the BBC radio Light Programme was introduced during the Second World War because the government thought it would improve morale and, as a side effect, boost productivity. It was intended primarily for factories but anyone with a wireless receiver could listen and it was popular in the home. With most of the working population engaged in essential war work this was a matter for government intervention and most large manufacturers relayed the morning and afternoon broadcasts into their workplaces. In those days most production was very repetitive, either turning out identical units in huge volumes or, as in textile mills, making similar items from the same plain material for days on end, so it was helpful in relieving boredom and production fatigue. Remarkably it was still going strong into the 1960’s which roughly coincides with when the UK manufacturing sector started to decline due to a range of factors including industrial obsolescence, lack of innovation, outdated management culture, disputatious trade union behaviour, and a rising standard of living which brought foreign alternatives to the market. The Music While You Work programmes were generally regarded as helpful and it was accepted that they contributed to improved performance, although they were denied to probably half the workforce who worked outdoors, in mines, public transport, schools, hospitals, shops and offices, or were in the armed services. The conditions for which MWYW were most suited hardly apply today and I don’t think shop workers should be suffering monotony for which music is the appropriate relief.

Profile photo of isuze
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“Music while you work” was only played for half hour in the morning and half hour in the afternoon. I expect it seemed like a welcome diversion from worries about the war and loved ones, and did seem to improve productivity. The type of music was carefully chosen though and the volume kept in check.

We live in such a different world now, one in which noise is everywhere and inescapable.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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“We live in such a different world now, one in which noise is everywhere and inescapable.” I lived in an industrial city when Music While You Work was broadcast and I’d say it was as noisy then as now – certainly I don’t see today being significantly worse. Throngs of people were just as noisy, there were noisy trams, buses, steam trains, rattling goods trains. Every Sunday morning a Boys Brigade bugle and drum band slowly made its way up our road, ensuring a lie-in was an awake one. But we managed to live through that as part of life. We also I suggest have just as many worries now as then, just replacing some types with other types.

Profile photo of isuze
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Everyone’s life experience is different. I was not alive during WW2 and I didn’t live in an area surrounded by factories as I was growing up but I now live near a road where the traffic does not stop, day or night, whereas you now live in a rural area.

I think that many people’s hearing was probably damaged by the noise in factories during and after WW2. Now there is more protection for such workers.

To be sure there were industrial areas that were very noisy in your youth, but I think that more people are generally affected by noise now than then.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were about 8,000 cars in Britain, now there are about 35 million. The WHO considers noise pollution from cars to be a serious problem.

However, when I made the comment about noise I was thinking more of the topic of this convo, which is almost inescapable “music” in public places.

My point about “music while you work” was that half hour in the morning and half hour in the afternoon might have seemed like a pleasant change ( or maybe not if they didn’t like it). It certainly would not have been Mariah Carey screaming her lungs out!

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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While not strictly on M&S I was wondering why people are getting more peeved. As I never go the places mentioned I can only guess excessive volume may be a component. I did complain at a pub a few moths ago and it was changed and subsided somewhat. Rock music and fine dining!!

This latest research is interesting as it addresses sound irritation and a concern of mine regarding continual loud music and the effect on the Walkman and later generations where ear-pods can produce loud sounds and they are warn for considerable periods.

The article does not really spend anytime on cause but the effects so early in life must be worrying.

The nature of the early tinnitus and irritability with noise ,,,,
Tinnitus is associated with reduced sound level tolerance in adolescents with normal audiograms and otoacoustic emissions
nature.com/articles/srep27109

Profile photo of isuze
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diesel

I have a friend in her forties who got a Walkman as soon as they appeared and has been wearing ear buds in public places ever since then. She already has quite a bit of hearing loss and frequently has to ask people to repeat what they said.

Of course, this may have happened to her anyway but there seems to be no genetic hearing loss in her family and she works in a quiet environment.

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Dorothy says:
8 June 2016

I don’t think it’s just the volume, dieseltaylor; it’s the fact that it’s becoming more and more widespread. Not just some shops and restaurants but virtually all of them. And now banks and medical practices. Perhaps people are becoming more peeved because this continual background noise is encroaching further into their own space.

I have been campaigning against unnecessary background music for some time. I’ve been amazed at the way the music industry keeps citing “research” which shows that playing music is good for sales. I am sad enough to have even read some of the papers in full. The famous one by Milliman certainly 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. However, what the music industry never reports is that Milliman also concluded that “there was no statistically significant difference in sales volume between [no music] and [slow tempo music].” He also says that “only instrumental selections were employed in this experiment” and “the music’s volume level was set to be perceived as soft background music” Hardly the stuff that is being churned out in most shops today!

Another seminal paper by Yalch and Spangenberg in1993 is often mentioned by the music industry because it demonstrated that people made more purchases when music was playing. However, what Yalch and Spangenberg also discovered was that the average amount spent per person making a purchase (as opposed to the number of shoppers) was highest in the NO MUSIC condition. The music industry never reports that latter fact.

I could go on and on with examples but I will spare you! However, recently I’ve been noticing a definite trend towards people becoming aware of the dangers of loud music, and also a desire for more “quiet”. I am very much hoping that the decision by M&S to turn off their background music might encourage other businesses to do the same. M&S say they did “extensive research” before reaching this decision. Please could other businesses do the same and read the research in full rather than be guided by the very people who have a vested interest in getting them to play background music?

Profile photo of malcolm r
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Dorothy, may I agree with you that research should be fully read before drawing particular conclusions. I am in favour of knowing real facts when considering a decision. These should include effects on different groups of people, if known rather than surmised.

I am always a little wary of “campaigns” and campaign groups, because they, clearly, have taken a particular point of view and then seek to persuade others to the cause. Rather like being selective in quoting from research they might (perish the thought) be less than forthcoming about information that does not support their campaign. Regrettably some Which? campaigns (even) fall into this category.

I might be hard to shift from some of my preconceived ideas but I do like to see fair, balanced and factual cases put forward, particularly when we want to change something. An example of a campaign that exemplifies all that is bad (in my view) is the EU Brexit/Remain one. Have you ever seen worse attempts to influence an intelligent electorate (well, apart from General Elections perhaps)?

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Dorothy

Not sad at all, like many of us you have had enough.

Do you , by any chance, have a link to the Yalch and Spangenberg research?

It is the ubiquity of it all that tires us out; there is no real choice as it seems to be everywhere. Even my new dentist, who has a tiny waiting room, with seats and receptionist desk in the size of a box bedroom, has a TV screen playing adverts for dental products on a loop. (A little tune plays in the background of it as well as the voice over).

There are even spas and hotels that now have underwater speakers in the swimming pool. You aren’t even allowed to drown yourself in peace to get away from it…..

Member
Dorothy says:
8 June 2016

Hope this link works, Dax5
http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7531

My dentist plays local radio in his waiting room (I think radio is the cheapest option when it comes to purchasing music licences). On my last but one visit I had to listen to a quiz, two car adverts and some rap music, none of which I wanted to hear. On my last visit I was given graphic details of a child abuse and murder case. Trouble with radio and TV news channels is that the doctor/dentist has no control over what might be broadcast. I have written to my dentist but was assured that everyone else liked it…

Profile photo of Dax5
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Thank you Dorothy. The link was fine, and it’s not too long to read through. Well done finding these things.

I have sat in hospital waiting rooms when accompanying a relative who has a lot of health problems where everyone has had to put up with daytime television programmes discussing cheerful subjects such as Alzheimers disease and the spread of global terrorism. Lovely…

Profile photo of John Ward
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I think the M&S decision will be greeted with great relief by many shoppers as they can now use their mobile phones with less interference.

Profile photo of Ian
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🙂

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bill says:
8 June 2016

i was talking to there customer service about the music today they said they have had a lot of people complaining that the music has stopped also lot a of people on facebook twitter hare not happy about it.

Member
Sally says:
8 June 2016

That’s odd, Bill. Did you look at the comments from the press coverage last week? It was something like 95% supporting M&S switching off the music and 5% opposing it. I asked the staff in my local M&S and so far most seem happy although one or two in our local M&S outlet are finding it a bit quiet. As a customer I am loving being able to browse again.

Profile photo of richjenn14
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Hmmm… forgive my prejudice, but “lots of people on Facebook/Twitter” says something significant about that democratic to me.

Suggests that M & S are getting it right!

Member
Richard M says:
8 June 2016

We’ve all gone a bit off topic. Lauren from Which? asked which other retailers we would like to see removing piped music. Here’s my list: Co-op, who have ignored years of complaints, and B&Q who’s stores resemble discos. Also Spar, who broadcast Radio 2 with its irritating chatter in between the pop music. However, I’m sure Lauren has noticed that most of want all retailers to follow the M&S example, and not just the few on my hit list!

Profile photo of DerekP
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Perhaps we should all be very grateful that, unlike some multimedia webpages – their is no “soundtrack” or background music that comes as a part of Which? Convo!

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Your right Derek but there is an app for that , its usually American websites when you access them . I have a real hi-fi speakers ( meant for upmarket non- computer use ) with a good hi-fi amp attached to a £200 audio card and when it comes through its like its broadcasting to the street using TV advertising methods . Some browsers allow you to cut the audio. Its called compression instead of sound peaks at 75DB you get a “wall of sound ” at the maximum allowed amplitude which doesnt actually exceed the legally allowed volume but sounds like its full volume. The US brought out laws against it but its all talk and no real action or heavy fines.

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patrick donnelly says:
10 June 2016

My favourite music in shops – piped silence! Such a difference.

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Sally says:
10 June 2016

I notice that Boots UK has a new boss. Perhaps he can be persuaded to follow the lead of M&S. In some ways the music in Boots is worse than the music that used to be played in M&S. Often the music from the different make-up counters is competing with Boots’s own music and results in a cacophony of noise. If their pharmacy is within earshot of the music I don’t use it (after coming across an online forum for pharmacists in which some of them were complaining that they couldn’t concentrate on doing their prescriptions when background music was playing!)

Profile photo of Dax5
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I would also like to see the music turned off in Boots. Also Costa and all banks and building societies. It’s so unprofessional to have a television in the corner blaring away in a bank, right above the counters where you need to hear what is being said.

Also, I find Wilkinson’s, an otherwise useful store, to have some of the worst and loudest music. Most songs are interrupted at least once for a staff announcement, so what is the point of having it on at all?

Profile photo of RobertLawrence
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Completely agree. Boots is one of the worst offenders and it’s almost impossible to find a coffee chain in London that’s free from the menace of canned music. Interestingly some branches of Cafe Nero (e.g. Blackwells Oxford) and the CoOp (in Charlbury) don’t have it – probably because the locals objected – so it is possibel. More and more banks are succumbing and almost always the staff say they can do nothing about it. Wilko used to be OK, but have succumbed. I never go to the DIY “sheds” because of it.
Dentists, GPs and the NHS Blood donor clinics increasingly are offenders. The latter cite patient privacy (a dubious claim as you’re forced to speak up to be heard). I’ve given up trying to get the message across to dentists. I always take my noise-cancelling headphones to the GP surgery – the last thing an ill patient wants is to be made worse by somene elses music. I seriously consider stopping my blood donations every time I go because of the loud music.

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Jacquie Wain says:
16 June 2016

Robert hello. Do noise-cancelling headphones block out all sound? I am driven to distraction at the gym by wailing divas fretting on about their bad life-choices. Would these headphones help?

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richjenn14 says:
25 June 2016

Sorry Jacquie – no! They are great at constant noises – e.g. the roar of a planes engines, but you still hear the “outline” of the music, and it’s potentially even more annoying. Tried it!

I still make a habit of telling the staff/management if my anger hasn’t reached such proportions that the only way is a rapid exit!!

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Sally

This is a risk self assessment check list for pharmacists for purposes of insurance. It’s an American company, but clearly they have assessed loud background music as a distraction risk. See non distraction policy if Which? allows the link.

http://www.phmic.com/RM/Documents/Tools/Pharmacy%20Self%20Assessment%20for%20Professional%20Liability.pdf

Member
Sally says:
11 June 2016

Thank you for that, Dax5. Could be useful ammunition in getting pharmacies to switch off music. Wonder if there is a British equivalent. Will have a look.

Member
Robert Lawrence says:
11 June 2016

Ah, that is good news: I might start going to M&S again if the reports are true that they’re ending their noise pollution.
Broadcasting music in a “public” space is inevitably going to annoy at least some people who either don’t like the music played or simply don’t want to listen to it at that time. Like many others, I find unwanted noise (especially “music”) a major source of irritation, and very often the chosen material is musically semi-literate, so I either leave immediately or buy the item I needed as quickly as possible and flee the source of the annoyance. I’m fortunate to have very good hearing (maybe that makes the problem worse?) but I’m told that people with hearing problems (a significant proportion of the population) are very badly affected by “musical” noise pollution. Staff working in chain stores often tell me how irritating they find it but are powerless in the face of “head office” policy.
One way I’ve found to reduce my irritation is by making a joke of the problem with staff and asking them to give a “Pipedown” card to pass on to their manager. (Pipedown is a non-commercial society campaigning against unwanted music and provides cards saying things like “I left your store without buying anything because of the piped music). The staff almost invariably seize the opportunity with glee. This seems to go down well in the Boots chain which is rolling out noise pollution across its stores.
I’m told that many of the worst offending chains (such as the CoOp and Boots) completely disregard complaints so presumably the head office managers responsible for imposing the noise on customers and staff have been well and truly duped by the false information from the industry about the benefits and popularity of canned music.
I can only hope that, as with M&S, if enough people continue to complain then something may change . In the meantime I’ll carry on using my noise-cancelling headphones and Pipedown cards.

Profile photo of isuze
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I wonder how much it costs to play music in a large department store or indoor mall with multiple floors. They have to pay the music supplier who compiles the playlists and either supplies a disc or pipes the music in, usually through a satellite connection.

Then there are the PPL and PRS licences. PRS charges a higher rate for the first year and then a standard rate after that. I suppose the drop in rate encourages “customers” to keep playing the music.

A PRS licence for 10,000 square metres of audible area costs about £2,400 for the first year but I’m afraid I just can’t visualise how large an area that is compared say, with a three story shopping mall. Any thoughts?

Profile photo of John Ward
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In the UK a superstore [like a large Asda, Morrison, Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose] is generally around 30,000 square feet [3,000 square metres]. Multi-storey department stores might be several times larger. Shopping malls vary widely and are often on different levels of different areas. Presumably for music performance licences the floorspace in malls excludes the areas contained within the individual units since most retailers seem to have their own conflicting choice of music.

Profile photo of isuze
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Thanks for that John. In my local three story shopping centre the centre music can be heard for the first thirty or so feet into individual shops. The PRS people are very keen on payment for everywhere it can be heard, indoors or out, so I assume they have to pay for that area as well. Also, you can hear it in the lift lobbies and it drifts outside the main doors as well. It’s ironic that piped music used to be called elevator music and now the lift seems to be the only place that you can escape it for a few seconds.

The shop music also “leaks” into the main centre so that they all clash horribly. I have very acute hearing and can often hear about four different sources of music.

The shops will bear the cost of the centre music in their rent and their own music has to be paid for, so we will be paying several times over for it in the goods that we buy.

I have no idea how much they pay the people who make up their play lists and pipe it in to them.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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According to PEYE PRS for Music fees are £1600 per year per 10 000 sq metres of floor space.

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Dorothy says:
13 June 2016

I once asked M&S how much it cost them to play background music and was told that the information was “business sensitive”. Received the same reply from Nationwide. Was a bit miffed at the latter’s response because I am one of their customers and felt they were using my money to pay for it!

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Clearly it is a business embarrassment.

Profile photo of isuze
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Yes, that’s for the standard rate for the PRS licence. The PPL licence standard rate is about £220 per 1,000 sq metres of audible space. Both of those figures are before VAT is added.

I have not found anywhere how much the companies who organise and pipe in the actual music charge for the service.

Profile photo of John Ward
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For companies with hundreds of large stores [M&S has over 800] the total cost of the piped music service is considerable and although only a small percentage of overall operating costs it is entirely avoidable. The cost obviously inflates retail prices and the VAT gets passed through into the overall VAT paid by shoppers.

The companies that provide the music service probably charge quite a lot as they have to organise the transmission system and pay the carriers for airtime, supply and maintain the in-store receiver and broadcast equipment, identify the playlist specification, source the music tracks and cover all the copyright and reproduction issues [maybe some overlap here with the PRS who deal with artistes’ royalties]. To the extent that original artistes’ recordings are rarely used there is presumably an organisation hidden within this web that commissions and records the cover versions using session artistes and musicians. Ignoring all other concerns with regard to piped music, the notion that the annual costs are exceeded by additional profits seems hard to sustain.

The PRS collected over £500 million last year for distribution as royalties. Much of that money comes from firms who use music in their workplaces but I would not be surprised if half of it came from retailers and shopping malls. Added to the broadcast service charges and VAT that’s a lot of money added to consumers’ shopping bills. Another good reason to keep protesting about this annoyance since we are paying for it through the nose as well with our ears.

How on earth banks and building societies can justify this expense when their charges are so high and their interest rates so low amazes me. They give this weak excuse that background music helps preserve customer confidentiality. Well, if they had kept a bit more of the mahogany instead of turning their branches into open plan leisure lounges they might not have had such a problem.

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Some more good news for those of you with a distaste for piped music in shops, and another win for the Pipedown campaign – Waterstones has joined the likes of M&S and turned off the muzak in its stores. The bookseller decided to impose a ban after trialling muting the music in some of its stores, with almost 300 stores imposing a full back in recent years. Chief Executive, James Daunt, said that most customers want ‘peace and quiet’ when visiting Waterstones book stores.

Further info here: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-3624312/Waterstones-reads-musak-rites-Bookseller-stops-piping-tunes-shops-customers-peace-browse.html

So are you pleased to hear that Waterstones will no longer be piping out music while you browse it’s bookshops? Or do you think that music adds to the ambience of a bookshop?

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I am very pleased by this because I like browsing in bookshops and nearly always buy something. Many years ago I used to visit a bookshop in central London that had gentle classical music playing but I found that would grate sometimes if it was not to my taste or if it was the same old “standards”. So for book-browsing, in my view, silence is best – and it keeps the other customers in check as well because they can speak softly instead of raising their voices.

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This is great news and I will make a point of visiting Waterstones next time I’m in town. Please can B&Q be next?

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Good that Waterstones have looked at this and made what is, no doubt, a commmercial decision that many will favour.

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Richard M says:
16 June 2016

Excellent news about Waterstones! As we know, lots of their shops had scrapped canned music already; when visiting these I always congratulated the staff, telling them that had they been playing music they would have sold nothing to me because I wouldn’t have come into their store. Hopefully my comments might have had a hand in Waterstone’s recent decision! Hmmm…..

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Richard M says:
16 June 2016

I’ve just read the ‘This is Money’ article. It doesn’t say that a complete ban has been imposed, and it looks as though we might be in the same situation as we have been for some time, whereby individual branch managers are free to decide whether or not to use piped music.

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I went into a Waterstones a few days ago that still had music playing.

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Richard M says:
17 June 2016

Yes indeed; the article states that three quarters of Waterstone stores have stopped the piped music. This is old news really.

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Bob says:
16 June 2016

I am pleased that M&S have stopped the music and hope that many more will follow suit. I always walk out of pubs and restaurants that play music and keep my visit to shops with music to an absolute minimum.

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chris says:
17 June 2016

hopefully no more shops will stop it and with amount of people i have seen not happy with m and s stopping it they will bring it back in time, shops need music to give it a atmosphere to make shopping more enjoyable and a better place for workers going in to quiet shop is like going in to a morgue why should it be turned off for people who go probably once or twice a week for not very long.

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Chris

I have never spoken to a member of staff in any large shop who liked the music; they either preferred no music or didn’t like the kind of music that the shop played.

I’ve not been in a branch of M&S that was not pretty lively. People talking, laughing, children being children, the infernal self service machines nagging everyone, staff moving boxes and filling shelves. Even the fridges these days seem more powerful and emit a constant low noise. Hardly a morgue.

It’s just the sound of people and life. Life doesn’t need a constant musical soundtrack.

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Now thats the best bit of practical philosophy I have heard in a long time Isuze.

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Mike Pateman says:
17 June 2016

I see, or rather hear, there is no good reason to pump load “music” around any shopping places. Soft or discrete music can be welcome in some environments , but not the cacophony of noise that we are all beginning to get.
I would also be happy if the background music on TV programes could be considered in the same light. People who are hard of hearing and those who use hearing aids find that the noise level is so high that it interferes with the conversation of the actors to the extent that much of the spoken word in inaudible so spoiling the programe.

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Several posters including yourself have commented on hearing aids in relation to noise and you mention TV,s . I too am hard of hearing and wear two hearing aids but I have been provided by the Social Services an electronic unit that has a miniature mike placed near a TV speaker . It has a wearable unit that detaches from the main unit and keeps it charged which you put round your neck . This unit transmits to your hearing aid so that you get clear audio through them and you dont need to strain , if you are like me on a low income your SS should provide it free . I dont mind mentioning the name as it probably wont be available directly in the UK as it is German its Swing – by humantechnik.com/ . As I said on another post do not buy the equivalent from Age UK unless you are rich as their equivalents are dearer than elsewhere.

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Duncan

When you are out and about , in shops or restaurants, do you find that piped music makes it harder to hear your companions or the staff?

The people that I know who have hearing aids say that it makes life a lot harder for them.

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Thanks for asking Isuze I havent replied to Which,s email on my opinion yet but yes you are dead right general noise dampens the clarity of the person talking to me and by that I mean the music noise as I dont find it the least bit soothing just bl**dy irritating as it impinges on my concentration when inspecting and reading ingredients of food products as well . And yes I am a music enthusiast having expensive hi-fi gear and home built stuff so I am not anti-music its just I like to sit down in a room and listen to it via my Stax electrostatic earphones .

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Yes, music, especially with lyrics, is meant to be listened to so it demands our attention. It’s hard to concentrate on anything unless you have the knack of blocking it out.

I think most people who post here like music but we want to choose what we listen to and when, and not have it forced on us. Constant piped noise just cheapens music so that it becomes what many have called “aural wallpaper”.

It’s unfair to make life harder for hearing impaired people by playing totally unnecessary music nearly everywhere. I think there is beginning to be quite a backlash against it. I have read articles that refer to background music ( and other types of noise pollution) as “second hand noise”, like second hand smoke. Something you are having a problem with but did not ask for, create or consent to.

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Tricia says:
18 June 2016

I have today just been driven out of both Cath Kidston and the local Clarks shop because of the volume of the background music. I have mentioned this issue quite frequently to the shop assistants, but usually get the response ” I don’t hear it anymore…” I am tempted to say this isn’t about you, but normally give up and go.

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Sally says:
18 June 2016

Tricia, it is worth mentioning your discomfort to the shop assistants but they very rarely pass on comments from customers. They don’t want to be seen as “difficult” employees. And even M&S admit that the only complaints they listen to are those made to their HQ, not to individual stores. Far better to send an email or letter to the Chief Executives of Cath Kidston and Clarks. Now is a good time, with M&S switching off their music and both ASDA and selected intu shopping centres offering “quiet hours” to help customers who suffer from autism. We want to keep the momentum going!

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Chris says:
19 June 2016

Stopping it fully would be very harsh and worng for workers and people who like it but having some days a week of silence for the people who hate it is fair and will pleases everyone, to please only the people that want silence and have it off for good is worng and very unfair and will have more customers starting to shop on line destroying the High street.the future should be days with and with out music.

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Sally says:
19 June 2016

Many of us have been driven to shop online simply because the non-stop music drives us out of the High Street, Chris. As soon as my local branch of Waterstones switched off the music, I was able to browse again and make purchases. Would far rather do this than buy books online, even if it means paying slightly more.

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Chris, how can the High St be destroyed by not piping music into shops when Primark is doing brilliantly well, expanding all the time it seems and is always busy despite having no music?

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Maybe its time to ask why some people need music constantly in the background of their lives . Is it because people dont want to accept the reality of how life is in 2016 and how the vast majority of the public worry, are anxious , feel under stress because of lack of money , lack of food, lack of homes , basic issues that now affect a large percentage of the population so it is perceived as a “calming drug ” that mentally helps to take away the cares of life .This “drug ” is like most legal drugs good in small amounts but when it takes over your life you become like a habitual “druggy ” with the constant need for this “habit” . It blots out the reality of life for a while when you are in the “dream world ” of non-reality . I am not decrying it music is a major need in life but I am saying due to social conditions more and more of the public need it. In a Utopian society which has its priority in the Welfare of the public first and foremost music is not needed so much as the people are much happier but in this harsh reality of life it is needed to drown out the cries for help in peoples brains that has caused a massive increase in suicide in young people in this country which the government is reluctant to publish but certain UK charity groups do . Just look at the American population where it is now reckoned a third of the population are on brain altering drugs legal or otherwise. Why ? think about it.

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Sally says:
1 July 2016

Duncan, I am never sure which way round this is. It is generally accepted that unwanted music is noise. “What is music in the ears of one person is just noise to other people”. Do people want music/noise in the background all the time because it relieves stress, or is it the continuous music/noise that causes the stress in the first place? I just came across this quote from Hear the World Foundation:
“It is not only our hearing that suffers from noise. Even low noise levels can trigger the release of stress hormones, leading to increased blood pressure. This in turn can lead to aggressive behavior and tensions in interactions with other people, as well as an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and tinnitus. Unwanted sources of noise also prevent relaxation, recovery and sleep and impair concentration and performance, particularly in children”.

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Sally, if you read my post you will see I agree with you , that some people cant accept the realities of life is not my fault but others unwillingness to accept the truth which is before their eyes . As this boils down to Social Science and Political History people develop a political point of view in relation to a social problem and view it from there instead of holding an independent view which a non political -Social Scientist would who would analyse it from a neutral position .

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Regarding Chris’s thoughts on having music some days and not others. I suggested a few years ago to the local shopping centre that they have no music in the mornings but turn it on later in the day, and have music Saturdays but quiet Sundays. They didn’t go for the idea.

A few people have said that it’s unfair to turn music off without asking staff or customers for their opinion. Marks has said that the decision was based on extensive research. I would also like to point out that inescapable pop music in all public places is a relatively recent phenomenon, and no one asked us what we thought when they first forced it on us.

Why is it unfair to not ask when they turn it off when no one ever asked if they could turn it on?

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chris says:
19 June 2016

i think the future to please every one and be fair they should have quiet mornings 5 days a week off Sundays and on Saturday when the younger people tend to shop and have it on afternoons during the week,people will have 1 full day and 5 half days of silence to shop and for the people who dont mind it can shop when ever with same with people who like it it will also be good way company’s to see when they make more money.this what i would like to see all company trailing and not just switching it off for good.

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I have seen no evidence to suggest that the “younger people” are enthralled by the loudspeaker output in shops and public places. They don’t seem to hang around in B&Q or the Co-op either.

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I am keen that we should see evidence to support proposals for change – it makes it so much easier to convince people than just expressing a personal view. Action on Hearing Loss have been conducting research into the effects of noise in cafes, restaurants and pubs on hearing impaired people. I emailed them to see just where this research had got to and they replied as follows. So we should see a report in early July that could provide facts on which to approach noise in public premises.

They also point to research published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America which as far as I can see looked at tailoring the characteristics of hearing aids to improve speech intelligibility “Effect of spectral change enhancement for the hearing impaired using parameter values selected with a genetic algorithm.” I can only see an abstract – link below.

AHL replied
“With regards to the hearing aid project:

The report concludes – The intelligibility and quality of speech in noise and in babble were measured using ten listeners with mild to moderate hearing loss. The results showed the spectral change enhancement processing (a method of enhancing spectral changes over time) led to small but significant improvements in the intelligibility of speech both types of background noise.

The spectrum of sound is a representation of the amount of energy that sound as a function of frequency. Information in speech sounds is carried in the way that the spectrum changes over time. Such changes may be less audible to a person with hearing loss than to a person with normal hearing, because hearing loss usually results in a reduction in the ability to determine the spectrum of sound. The researchers developed a method for enhancing spectral changes over time called the “spectral change enhancement”. The aim was to improve the intelligibility of speech in background sounds for people with hearing loss. The publication is here. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23654396

Action on Hearing Loss will be launching the ‘Speak Easy’ campaign on 7 July with the publication of a flagship report targeting restaurants, cafés and pubs. The report will present clear evidence that high levels of background noise – caused primarily by interior design which harms the acoustic environment, and the playing of background music – are preventing many people with hearing loss from dining and socialising in these venues. Alongside this report, Action on Hearing Loss will be publishing clear guidance for the industry demonstrating the different adaptations which can be made, both to the physical environment and to the venue’s practices, to reduce noise levels.

This will be the first wave of campaign activity, in what will be a long-term campaign aiming to raise awareness within restaurants, cafés and pubs of the access issues faced by people with hearing loss and convince as many venues as possible to work with Action on Hearing Loss to become more accessible. ”

@patrick Their reply includes links to receive updates on their campaigns, to support Speak Easy and to join online forums. I can forward the full reply to Patrick if it would be useful.

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Dorothy says:
7 July 2016

Malcolm, Action on Hearing Loss’s “Speak Easy” campaign was launched today. Full details on their website. And a big thank you to Which? for highlighting this problem, which affects so many people.

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As somebody with extreme hearing loss in both ears and using the biggest most powerful NHS hearing aids and agree with malcolm,s post on the reduction in frequency response due to deafness as I have spent a good bit of my life building and repairing top end hi-fi and have a whole range of professional audio test gear which i can use to test my own frequency response can somebody tell me , as I am at a “LOSS” to determine why malcolm got 2 disagrees . I didnt try to change it because I want it publicized to highlight my puzzlement at this . IS anybody going to “enlighten me ” ??

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Thanks Dorothy.

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Hi Duncan – I can hazard a guess. Whenever someone posts a persuasive comment in support of the control of background music in shops and restaurants there are always some negative responses sometimes by way of a comment, otherwise by a ‘thumbs down’. There are a lot of people who are very displeased at the growing campaign to limit extraneous music and some of them express themselves in this way. From their earliest beginnings the ‘background music’ Conversations have attracted shop staff who feel the music made their day bearable and resent the switch-off in certain stores. Many people also like the loud music in pubs and restaurants and are upset that there are moves to tone it down. I can only assume that they have not given a moment’s thought to the difficulties and pain suffered by people with hearing impairment. Malcolm’s post was basically factual – not something you can agree or disagree with – but the thumbs down is a proxy for resentment I suppose.

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Adding to John’s assessment I’d say that it’s also possible someone read Malcolm’s first sentence only and thought he was ‘having a go’. However, everyone should be aware that the administrators will be able to see exactly who voted which way. Perhaps that facility ought to be introduced for everyone.

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Thanks for that elucidate reply John.

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Went into Morrisons in Totnes – awful – cut short my shopping trip because of the piped pop. Surely New Age harp would have been more appropriate?

I’m definitely for turning it ALL off, and definitely affects my decision about where I shop/eat/do business.

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Chris says:
27 June 2016

All off would be wrong it should be in some places so people have choice of places with music and with out music to please all types of customers

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Dave says:
29 June 2016

Can I add Dobbies Garden Centres to the list of retailers I’d like to follow M&S’s example? They even play loud music in their outdoor areas. Cannot believe this increases their sales. I would like to spend time browsing but instead am driven out, often without purchasing anything. I’ve now given up shopping there altogether.

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I came across this story in the Daily Mail online. ( It’s not a paper I actually read, I was just attracted to the link because of the music angle).

A woman complained to a busker that his amplified music was too loud. The DM spun the story so that the busker was a victime “rescued” from a frail, elderly disabled woman.

Apart from few being able to see that loud music is forced on us in every location these days, I was perturbed at the hate in the faces of the people “defending” the busker, who was himself aggressive to her, and at how nearly all the comments showered hate on this woman because of her age.

Few seem to understand how loud noises can hurt and cause distress to people with hyperacusis. Even fewer seem to question the right of just a few to pollute the environment that we all must share with loud music.

I will put the link in a separate post in case Which? does not want to allow it.

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Janet Franklin says:
18 July 2016

I have just moved to beautiful Cockermouth and needed to find the main post office. Was told it was in the Co-op – found the Co-op and had to walk out again, the “music ” was tbe loudest and ugliest I had ever been assaulted with, but you had to go through the shop to get to the bard a d gloomy PO – bad marks all round!

And I wonder why the flagship store of wonderful Lakeland Ltd in Windermere often has dreary muzak playing? Does NOT encourage you to browse, l have had a bit of a moan at tbe till several times.

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So do I at the right time and place, but not when we are trying to speak or think about things. I also like the idea that people with hearing impairments or other sensory conditions can go about their daily lives without the unnecessary infliction of pain or discomfort. One person’s loud music is another person’s living nightmare.

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The comment to which my post above [timed at 08:19] related seems to have been removed. It was something like “I love loud music”.

My comments today are not related to Janet’s post which I agreed with.

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I saw the comment too. It seemed a bit fishy but might have been a genuinely held opinion, not trawling.

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My own feeling on this is that I have been distracted by muzak and, if I don’t like the type of music being played – i.e. I’m not a fan of rap, hip hop or drum ‘n’ bass – I have walked out of shops before now.
In private, when I have had a need to concentrate for any length of time on a piece of work, I have found classical or instrumental music, or none at all, as best. Jazz is also not a distraction.
However, where the music is loud, particularly with a pronounced drum or guitar sound – then it’s distracting!
I’d like to see the research on the effects of muzak in stores as, rather than encouraging shoppers to linger longer & spend more, I suspect that it tends to have the opposite effect. If a shop does decide to play music, I think that it should take into consideration its likely customer base, their age range (and background, where this seems appropriate) and select the music in keeping with the known musical tastes of their target customers.

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Bill says:
7 August 2016

I would be interested in seeing how sales are now for m and s since thr music has stopped the 2 big ones in my area are dead now and some one I know who works in one has said sales have gone down a bit.

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It would be difficult to disentangle the reasons for any drop in sales. The company has reported poor performance in general merchandise and there are also seasonal and competitive factors at work. The BHS clear-out will have some temporary impact. M&S are missing their clothing sales targets, both in terms of volume and in terms of product acceptance, to such an extent that they are setting up a customer panel to advise the company on what customers really want and the right price points. That used to be M&S’s strong retail advantage. As for music, I suspect that once they have got the right style and value offer in their stores customers will return and will disregard the absence of music; if they don’t get it right, music is the least of their worries and will not revive a flagging brand.

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One of the things that has put me off M&S is the introduction of logos or other on their clothing. So far I have not encountered music except at Christmas.