The Archive That Almost Wasn’t

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All 76 years of Muzak’s archives almost ceased to exist because of a misguided but fortunately overruled decision by an unlikely character: ME!

Like so many people, I thought that the only content in Muzak’s musical past would be associated with the elevator.  Why would anyone be interested in cheesy instrumental versions of pop songs, especially if they worked for a company seeking to rid themselves of this stereotype? In 1995, when I first joined Muzak, those were my thoughts.  Muzak had been working diligently since the mid 80’s to shed themselves of the elevator music image. They had long since changed their programming model to contemporary music by original artists, moving away from those instrumental versions.

The physical archive followed Muzak from New York to Seattle in 1987, as the corporate office moved. Muzak was intent on repositioning themselves into the 21st century, so this move to a thriving music city like Seattle was critical.  At the time a former VP of programming for Muzak, Rod Baum, organized over 50 years of archives for shipment to Seattle, knowing that they might some day have value to Muzak, if not to American pop culture.  Soon after being received in Seattle, the archives found themselves in the depths of Iron Mountain storage for 13 years.  Almost no one in Seattle was the least bit interested in digging thru over 2000 boxes of records and tapes of outdated, seemingly undesirable music masters.  So there they sat.

In 2000 Muzak once again had their eyes on moving the corporate offices, this time to the Charlotte area. Our CEO at the time, Bill Boyd, asked me to move to Charlotte and help build our new location… and then move the entire company cross country.  I’ve moved many, many times in my career (I can hear my wife Beth shudder), so this task was in my wheel-house.  The rule of thumb for any move is to get rid of all things you haven’t touched in 5 years…. right?  I was disposing of mountains of items as we prepared for the move of 5 corporate offices (three in Seattle, one in Raleigh and another in Chicago) into one Charlotte facility.  You know where I’m going.  The archives hadn’t been touched for over 13 years… and who cared about that old elevator music anyways.

Well, there was this one guy who did care.  In 2000 he’d been an employee at Muzak for over a decade and around during the time of our move from New York to Seattle in the late 80s.  He believed, as did former VP Rod Baum, that our archive would one day take their place in American pop culture.  I was intent on trashing our unwanted archives, but he was on a mission to save them. His name is Chuck Walker and somehow, against my will, he won the debate.  I thank Chuck to this day for convincing Muzak that we had something very special.

It turns out that nine years later, in 2009, I was assigned to coordinate another milestone event at Muzak:  our 75th anniversary celebration.  I was reminded about our archives and that we might want to take a look at them, now located in an Iron Mountain climate controlled site in Charlotte.  What we found was, and continues to be, breathtaking.  If not for Rod Baum and my dear friend Chuck Walker, the real history of Muzak could not be told.  Chuck is no longer with Muzak, but his spirit and belief are with us every day…   and I’m honored to be the one to tell the story.
For more Muzak archive information go to http://75.muzak.com

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