• The Galli Sisters Get My Vote

    The Galli Sisters

    The Galli Sisters

    OK, it’s time to stir the pot.  I think we can all agree that the most popular sister act during the 1940s was the Andrew Sisters, right?   A string of huge hits like “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar”, “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” didn’t hurt their popularity one bit.  But were they the best sister act?

    After listening to scores of tracks recorded by the Galli Sisters at the Muzak studio in Manhattan in the mid through late ‘40s, I began to question who should own that top spot.  As a matter of fact, the more I listened, the more I fell in love with the Galli Sisters.  Their harmonies, personality and dynamics were unmatched in my book.  Move over Andrew Sisters.  After close examination and debate (with myself), the Galli Sisters get my vote.  How about you?

    Give a listen and judge for yourself.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Muzak Evolution in the ‘40s

    Associated Program Services Record

    Associated Program Services Transcription

    In the early ‘40s Muzak’s business model began to evolve.  One of owner Bill Benton’s visions was for the company to diversify.   With licensing changes and leverage applied by radio lobbyists, by 1940 Muzak was no longer allowed to broadcast via telephone lines directly to homes.  But many radio stations were envious of the large transcription music library Muzak had amassed.  Muzak seized on the opportunity by marketing their rich library and providing a music service to hundreds of radio stations across the country.  The product was called Associated Program Service, distributing new 16” record compilations to radio stations on a weekly basis.

    Because of the demand for this service, and the requests by radio stations for various styles of music, Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin broadened his sessions to include not only jazz, bluegrass, gospel and big band, but now opera, musicals, Latin, Hawaiian and hundreds of novelty orchestras.  He also wrote, arranged and recorded hundreds of “production aids,” which were a series of short musical promos, bumpers, station breaks, time intros and instrumental transitional segues, used by stations throughout their locally produced shows.  Radio was a Muzak money maker in the ‘40s and Mr. Selvin made sure he produced the quality, variety and aids to keep it that way.

    However, Bill Benton knew his biggest opportunity was music for business, which had grown steadily since 1934.  His research and marketing approach was starting to produce major results in the early ‘40s.  The Muzak franchise network, the first of its kind in the US, was starting to expand, with new territories popping up all over the country.  Music service via telephone lines along with the design and installation of quality sound systems into businesses was the foundation of Muzak’s business and growth model.  Then WWII took everything to another level for Muzak.

    But, let’s get back for a second to the “production aids” Muzak produced for radio.   Here’s one example of the creativity and ingenuity that Ben Selvin and his team applied to their craft over 70 years ago.  Ya gotta love this stuff!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Welcome Aboard Joe

    edit oar

    Over the past 8 months, you’ve read about my navigation through the early waters of Muzak.  The boat we’ve been riding is powered by an ocean of folks who have researched, dug into and discovered treasures from our history on a daily basis.

    The stories have not only come from the 40 pallets of archives we’ve been searching through the last 3 years, but from hoards of other sources.  Muzak franchisees, some of whom have over 7 decades of Muzak experiences, have shared stories and artifacts with our archive team.  A history professor and author from Chicago, Chris Stacy, has been a tremendous resource as have David and Emily Selvin, grandchildren of Muzak’s legendary producer, Ben Selvin.  There have been fact finding missions with ex-Muzak executives, including Chuck Walker, Rod Baum, Bruce Funkhouser and past CEOs Bill Boyd and 92-year-old Bing Muscio.  Several books have been written about Muzak and the internet has led us to many unexpected finds. Our Muzak Archive team of Roberta Keener, Jan Turner, Jagger Gestson, Bryant Hill, Lou Mondelli, Rick Nash, Tabatha Mullennix, Kira Bloomingdale and Jerri Firth, along with our archive curator, JK Dameron, has been relentless at uncovering and archiving historic gems.

    But, getting first hand information from someone who actually experienced those early Muzak days in the ‘30s and ‘40s is a rare find indeed.  Sure, Bing Muscio and Bill Boyd shared wonderful Muzak information from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but no earlier than that … not firsthand anyways.

    Then, last week a gentlemen who said he was in his “geezer-hood,” sent a message to our blog that warmed my heart and compelled me to contact him directly. Two calls and a dozen emails later, I realized that we had struck gold.  His name is Joe Adams.  He is 85-years-old and became a huge fan of Muzak in the ‘30s and ‘40s while in his teens.  The radio station he listened to played Muzak recordings.  As with most teens today, music became a huge part of Joe’s life.  He knew every song, every singer, every story … everything.  He boasted that the music, artists and quality was better on his favorite station, KE2XCC, than any other station in his Alpine, NJ area.  His station played Muzak’s Associated transcription recordings exclusively.  He knew all the artists, what their pseudonyms were, where they performed live, and what they ate for breakfast (almost).  For most of us, the passions of our childhood days fade.  But not for Joe.  He followed his passion for music throughout his life:  into military service, fatherhood, his journalism career, and into his “geezer-hood.”

    As Joe and I chatted at length about Muzak’s master library, he told me stories about almost every artist.  He became my own personal wiki.   We were both like kids in a candy store.

    So, as I continue to write about our journey through the waters of Muzak history, Joe will, from time to time, grab one of the oars.  Welcome aboard Joe!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • … And Now from the Employees

    Music At Work EmployeesIn our last archive blog we quoted managers from the 1940s who subscribed to Muzak.  Now let’s hear from their employees.  Remember, this was the first time laborers ever had music to work by.  These are quotes found in Muzak marketing materials from the mid ‘40s.

    Employee Union President (1943): “Muzak is an outstanding fatigue-killer, especially when they hit the slow time around 3:30.  It’s the best morale builder they’ve ever had in our plants.  You can notice the people on the night shift.  They used to drag when they came on for their ten-hour shift.  Now they practically dance up to their machines.”

    Airplane employee laborer (1944): “We take a real pleasure in sending you a note of appreciation to the ‘music while working’.  It is considered as a definite mark of good will from the company toward its employees.”

    … and another employee (1944): “We have been telling the people in the shop that the management is interested in them and looking for any improvements possible in their working conditions and their welfare.  They just had proof of this by getting the music…”

    You gotta love Muzak’s advertising approach in the ‘40s.  As a marketing pioneer, then owner Bill Benton championed consumer research and used it all through his sales and marketing materials.

    Wait ‘til you see what else we found… ‘til next time!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Please Don’t Laugh

    Muzak At Work Brochure

    Muzak At Work Brochure

    As I mentioned in my last archive blog, Bill Benton, owner of Muzak from 1939 through ’57, was the marketing genius who introduced consumer research to the advertising industry… and to Muzak.  Combing through several sales brochures produced in the ‘40s, it’s easy to see the influence Benton’s consumer approach had on the way we presented Muzak to businesses.

    Now, please don’t laugh!  At least not out loud.  Just remember that this was the ‘40s and music was still a novelty in the workplace.  Here are just a few quotes found in our sales brochures entitled, “Managers Report About Music at Work”.  This was during WWII when women dominated the work force… over 70 years ago…

    “We have found that the effect on our employees has been to make them mentally alert.  Workers leave at the end of the day much fresher and brighter.”

    “In the short time Muzak has been in our building, we note that employees, especially women, are quieter at their tasks, there is much less talking and more concentration on the work at hand.”

    “We have found that music has stimulated production in some departments, especially among younger girls who are learners.”

    “Right now, we are in a drive to “top the top” on our production.  One of the items of our campaign is ‘Muzak-While-You-Work’.  Employees appreciate it.  The music helps uplift morale.  Muzak helps make work a pleasure in our plant.”

    “We believe that music of this type is a factor of great potential importance in maintaining wartime output and that it will probably make a permanent place for itself even after the war.”

    My oh my.  How times have changed!  Our sales and ad campaigns are run a little differently these days… but Benton seemed to know what he was doing back in the ‘40s.  By 1950, Muzak was a household name.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • The Father of Consumer Research

    Clip Board

    Bill Benton, Muzak owner from 1939 to 1957, began his reign by applying some of his marketing genius and experience to help build his new business.  Dr. George Gallup called Benton a “father” of advertising consumer research for his development in 1928 of the first study of its kind, measuring consumer preference. The success of Bill’s NY advertising agency Benton & Bowles was closely related to the rise in popularity of radio.  Benton & Bowles invented the radio soap opera to promote their clients’ products, and by 1936 were responsible for three of the four most popular radio programs on the air.

    Having purchased his own private broadcast network (Muzak) in 1939, Benton immediately employed his consumer research advertising approach.  Muzak was experiencing some success with their music service in NYC restaurants and hotels.  Benton saw an additional opportunity in the workplace.  These were the Depression years and Benton knew that business owners demanded proof that whatever money they spent must go toward building their business.  He also knew he had a product that could deliver the goods: great music and a state-of-the-art delivery technology.

    Bill Benton hired renowned research specialists H. Burris-Meyer and R.L. Cardinell.  They quickly produced research data showing that music in the workplace increased employee productivity, decreased absenteeism and increased morale.  With this information, Benton went to market with campaigns that promoted Muzak’s music in the workplace.  It worked.  Businesses in several east coast cities started subscribing to his music service.  These early successes lead to Muzak’s introduction into 1,400 factories nationwide, helping to drive American manufacturing efforts during WWII.

    In only a few short years Bill Benton had built Muzak into a nationally recognized company.  But he wasn’t finished.  Not by a long shot!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Music to My Ears

    Alfredo Antonini

    I love my weekend mornings.  A freshly brewed cup of coffee, dogs at my feet, the Sunday paper and a new collection of digitized tracks from our archives to listen to.  Recordings that haven’t been heard for decades… we figure about 60 years.

    So far we’ve digitized about 600 tracks from our 20,000 song master library, going back to Muzak’s earliest days (the ‘30s and ‘40s).  Thanks to chief digitizer and producer Joe Carter, we receive around 100 newly digitized tracks each month.  I then listen to about 25 of these recordings each weekend. Tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

    This morning I decided to venture into a collection of orchestral masters.  Recordings by Xavier Cugat and Alfredo Antonini caught my ear.  These were two highly respected concert orchestra conductors in the ‘30s and ‘40s, with whom Muzak scheduled several sessions during that time period.  They both specialized in classical, musical and opera arrangements, with full accompaniment of strings, brass and rhythm section.

    What continues to amaze me about these recordings is the quality of musicianship and production.  As I’ve mentioned before, these bands and orchestras would show up at the Muzak AMP studio and three hours later would have 15 finished tracks, all at the highest level of fidelity for the time.  Unheard of today!

    So, are you ready to hear one of these recordings?  I chose a whimsical track recorded on October 18, 1940 by Alfredo Antonini and his Concert Orchestra.  It’s called “The Arkansas Traveler”.  You’ll recognize the melody.  Enjoy.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Ben Selvin’s Recordings

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    You probably already know that Ben Selvin was the early day Muzak VP of Programming.  You also know that Ben was the most respected and prolific producer in the music industry from the teens through the 1950s.  As Ben would schedule sessions with various artists at Muzak’s AMP studios in Manhattan, he’d occasionally book his own bands to lay down some tunes for the Muzak library.  On second thought, I’m not sure that the recording of over 400 tracks can be considered “occasional.”

    Ben became the darling of the music industry following his 1919 recording of “Dardanella” with his Novelty Band, which was the first record to ever sell over 5 million albums (it would have gone multi-platinum if the RIAA had been awarding certifications back then).  Ben was commissioned by several of the top record labels to produce just about every musical genre known at the time.  Because of Ben’s extensive background with string arrangements, it’s only natural that when he came to Muzak in 1934 the majority of his recordings where orchestral.  However, because of his appreciation for and experience with all types of musical genres, and the fact that Muzak’s early library depended on a wide variety of music, we’ve found loads of cuts by Ben Selvin that touch on big band, gospel, swing, novelty, hillbilly and even barbershop.

    I’d like to share two Muzak recordings by Selvin.  These, along with our entire archive library, have never been released to the public, and haven’t been heard in over 60 years… so consider this a special treat.

    The first recording, a Selvin arrangement of Disney’s “Someday My Prince Will Come”, showcases Ben’s orchestral upbringings, with harps, piano, light horns and an ocean of violins.  The second features vocals by the Norsemen with piano accompaniment by Charles Harold.  It’s called “The Handicap”.  When listening to these two 1940s recordings, it’s hard to believe that both songs were orchestrated, arranged and produced by the same guy: Muzak’s own Ben Selvin.  Enjoy!

    Submitted by Bruce McKagan

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