Industry’s First Recorded Music Program

Catchings Letter

The year was 1934, Muzak’s first year in business.  Located in Cleveland, Muzak offered an exciting new distribution technology, telephonic multiplexing, backed by a growing music library that was becoming the envy of the music industry.  We had our eye on two business opportunities.  The first targeted home owners in the Cleveland area.  Even though Muzak’s advanced technology offered higher sound quality than radio, it was very expensive for a middle class family.  These were The Great Depression years, so only well-to-do residents could afford to subscribe.  Over the first 3 years, many elite customers were signed, but not enough to satisfy investors.

Muzak’s second target, which was much more successful, was the hospitality business.  Back in the early ‘30s, if a restaurant and hotel wanted music, they needed to hire musicians to play live, which was extremely costly and not always applicable.  Pre-recorded music had never been an option.  Muzak VP Ben Selvin began to produce music programs that created the audio experience most clients were looking for.  This soon became a smart option for hotels and restaurants.  After moving to NYC in 1935, Muzak quickly became the talk of the town.

In 1936, Muzak President Waddill Catchings wrote a memo to Ben Selvin that outlined their programming recommendations for restaurants.  See above.  This is the carbon from what is believed to be the first official document that outlines a recommended sequence of musical content for business.  This is where it all started for this 77-year-old business that still thrives on putting the right music in the right place for a perfect audio experience.

Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

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Tagged as: 30s music, Ben Selvin, Bruce McKagan, Music Industry, Muzak Archives, Old Music, Waddill Catchings

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