Not The Muzak You Thought

Galli SistersI’ve spent the last few posts getting you up to speed on the Muzak recording sessions held in our Manhattan during the late 1930’s. But why did Muzak need to record so much music… and in so many genres? Wasn’t Muzak primarily into instrumental versions of traditional songs?  You know, “elevator music” versions of classic melodies?

Well, in the early years of Muzak, our business model was much different than you might think.  Starting in 1934, Muzak’s business model was created not only to offer high quality music to businesses, but also to homes. Muzak’s means of distributing music was via telephone lines (the broadband cable of its day) offering customers clearer and more consistent reception than by the less reliable radio. And, since radio stations could not broadcast records sold to the public (due to licensing restrictions) most of the music was performed live, which had its own quality issues.

So just imagine: Muzak’s transcription recordings were high quality soundtracks by exquisite musicians and arrangers, broadcasted via state-of-the-art telephonic technology. And Muzak’s library was building by leaps and bounds on a weekly basis. With such high quality content delivered by a high quality signal, businesses and residences were lining up to get their subscription.

After only a few short years, it became extremely apparent that there was an additional revenue opportunity for Muzak.  In 1935 Muzak corporate introduced Associated Program Service (AMP).  This new business arm offered Muzak’s transcription library to radio stations, giving broadcasters a viable option for more cost effective and quality music programming.  Radio stations across the country immediately began to sign up for the service.  AMP provided a healthy revenue stream for Muzak for nearly two decades.

All of this meant that executive producer Ben Selvin’s task was clear – record lots and lots of music for Muzak’s library:  a variety of artists, playing all kinds of musical styles for a multitude of business models and a broad listening audience.  And that he did – nearly 8,000 recordings in his 13 years at Muzak (1934-1947). No person and no company has produced more quality recordings by top artists than Ben Selvin and Muzak in the 1930s and 40s.

Elevator music?  Not even close.  Muzak captured the soundtrack of American Pop Culture and we’ve got thousands of master recordings in our archives to prove it!

I’ll be back in just a few days.  See ya then.

Contributed by Bruce McKagan

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