Inventing a Business Model

444px-Waldorf-Astoria_1904-1908bBy the 1920’s, the administration of music rights had become a major business.  The American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded, serving as a member-owned organization to fight for fair compensation when recorded work was publicly performed.

While radio stations could license programming for personal performance, they could not track where music was being played and take responsibility for its licensing. Muzak’s business model, however, was ideal for this task. Because every Muzak receiver could be uniquely identified, it was easy for Muzak to track who was using their service and what the service was being used for.

In the late 1930’s Muzak moved to New York City and began to cater to the hotel and restaurant market in such famed venues as the Chambord, the Stork Club, and the Waldorf Astoria. Audio would subsequently be sent to clubs through leased telephone lines. Speakers would be hidden amongst large plants, thereby making the music seem to come out of nowhere and lending the name “potted palm” music. With the disappearance of any visible means of sound production, Muzak exceeded the gramophone’s capacity to make sound autonomous. In delivering programming to the workplace, Muzak soothed the minds of employees, enhancing their productivity while eliminating the distractions caused by commercials, scripted programs, and other verbal content.

Sending music to the workplace was in keeping with the vision that General George Squier had left for the company. As Chief Signal Officer of the US Army Signal Corps, Gen. Squier used music to increase the productivity of his secretaries. Afterward, he investigated ways that music could recapture the benefits of pre-industrial song, in order to soothe the nerves of employees while increasing their output. The idea of using music to improve an environment was not uncommon by the 1930s, when dentists employed music to augment or even replace anesthetic. Even though a compliment to the power of music, I wouldn’t try this at home!

Muzak soon proved effective in locations beyond the office or factory floor. As skyscrapers reached ever taller in North American cities, building owners employed Muzak to calm anxious elevator riders; quickly earning its programs the name “elevator music.”

Contributed by Bruce McKagan

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