• The Sound of Muzak in the ’40s

    John Kirby

    John Kirby

    I have a few more blogs coming that will continue to uncover Muzak’s trendsetting customer research approach of the 1940s.  But you know me by now.  We’ve gotta hear some more music from our archives first!

    As owner Bill Benton was firing up the marketing machine, Ben Selvin continued his genius in the Muzak APM studios, recording the industry’s best.  Many of us think the recordings he captured through this decade are among our finest.  The singers were amazing; Rosemary Clooney, The Deep River Boys, a young Vic Damone, the Galli Sisters, and the list goes on.  The bands, arrangements and productions just kept getting better with each session.

    So, which track should we pick to get us started in the ‘40s?  Remember, these tracks have never been released to the public and haven’t been heard in over 50 years!

    I literally closed my eyes and randomly picked a track.  One of approximately 7,500 we recorded in the 1940s.

    …and the winner is (drum roll please) “Desert Night” by jazz band leader and double-bassists, John Kirby.   Having played with the likes of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and Buster Bailey, John Kirby was an extremely popular band leader in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Listen to the musicianship and solos as John Kirby’s 6 piece group nailed this song in just one take back on August 18, 1944 at the Muzak studio in Manhattan.  Not a bad random pick if I do say so myself.

    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 Next Chapter – Muzak in the ‘40s

    William Benton

    William Benton

    After only five short years in existence, Muzak had amassed a music library of over 5,000 original recordings, larger than any other music entity or record label of the time.  By the late ‘30s the company’s unique means of content distribution, telephonic multiplexing, had also gained wide-spread recognition.  Muzak was ripe for growth and expansion.  One of the most dynamic figures of the 20th century liked what he saw and had the money to grow Muzak’s business.

    Born in 1900, William Benton was an advertising prodigy and at the young age of 29 became co-founder of the New York ad agency Benton & Bowles, one of the biggest ad agencies in the US for 56 years.  He moved to Connecticut in 1932 and served as vice president at the University of Chicago, then as state senator. For several decades he served on the board directors for Encyclopedia Britannica and was the main organizer behind “Voice of America.”  Bill Benton was one of the country’s most respected and well known marketers, politicians, businessmen and socialites in the pre- and post-WWII years.

    With an eye on communication, education, business and serving the public Bill Benton purchased Muzak in 1939.  He immediately set to work on building a business that would have made founder General George Squier, who died in 1934, very, very proud.

    Over the next several blogs (we’ll count after I’m finished), I plan to expose the impact this one man had on our business, our music and our country.  The Muzak journey continues.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • …And Now on to the ‘40s

    Muzak Planned Logo

    Over the last 6 months you’ve heard me wander in awe through Muzak’s first decade in business.  The ‘30s were full of genius, discovery, innovation, talent and music.  Initially, my plan was to write 10 blogs about each of Muzak’s first 3 decades.  But here I am 25 posts in and I haven’t left the 1930s yet.  I got hooked.  The deeper I dug, the more I found:  too many personalities, too many stories, too much music to stop.

    But for the sake of sharing our full story, I’ve simply got to force myself to end my infatuation with Muzak’s earliest days and move now to the 1940s… the decade that turned Muzak into a household name.

    I have to be honest.  My archive peers at Muzak have been anxious for me to crack the seal on the ‘40s because they feel that this was the most exciting decade in Muzak’s illustrious history.  They point to the introduction of franchises into business, our focus on research, marketing and communication, and our impact on WWII and industry as difference makers.  I can’t disagree.

    A few of the same names from the ‘30s helped shape the ‘40s, most significantly executive producer, Ben Selvin.  But it was new owner, William Benton (1939-1957), who emerged as the visionary force who drove the future of Muzak for decades and decades to come.

    So let’s say goodbye to the’30s for now (you know I won’t be able to stay away for long), and let’s venture into the 1940s, the decade that put Muzak on the map.  Do you think I’ll be able to keep it to 10 blogs?  We’ll see.  ‘Til Friday.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • 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

  • Little Brother Crosby Makes His Mark

    Bob Crosby

    Bob Crosby

    In January of 1935, The Dorsey Brothers recorded at the Muzak studios with vocalist Bob Crosby.  Bob was the younger brother of Bing, who was making his own waves in the music industry.  Bob caught the ear of Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin.  Later that same year, Bob formed his own band and Ben booked him for a session on February 26, 1936.  Rooted in Dixieland music, The Bob Crosby Orchestra was filled with legendary musicians, including Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Muggsy Spanier, Matty Matlock, Irving Fazola, Ward Silloway, Warren Smith, Eddie Miller, Bob Zurke, Jess Stacy, Nappy Lamare, Bob Haggart, Walt Yoder, Jack Sperling, and Ray Bauduc.

    Did you know that baby brother Bob Crosby has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for television and recording?  Bing has a few of his own.

    What a band!  Give a listen to one of the 15 recordings The Bob Crosby Orchestra laid down that winter afternoon in Manhattan.  One take is all they needed.  Now, after 75 years we get to listen in.

    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

  • The Elevator Music Company?


    I’ve been digging through our historic archives over the past 4 years looking for any real reference to elevators.  Sure, we’ve all learned about music’s role in soothing the nerves of those early elevator riders in the 1920s and ‘30s.  But I have not found any internal documentation that links Muzak with providing that service in our initial days.  Not that we didn’t, I just couldn’t find any evidence.  I’ve located all kinds of information about our early efforts in building business in the fields of hospitality, restaurants, the workplace and factories, but no specific evidence tying us to the elevator business.  I’ve looked through 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s marketing material, board of director’s books, memos, you name it, but I have found nothing.  Sure, people have written about it for years, but the evidence in our archives just isn’t there.

    So why does everybody know Muzak as the company that delivers “elevator music?”

    What I do know is that by the mid-1950s Muzak began to move away from recording popular artists laying down their own music.  Instead we started recording studio musicians and orchestras playing Muzak arrangements of pop songs and standards played in an easy listening style.  Mood music was extremely popular in the ‘50s and our research clearly demonstrated that soothing instrumentals, programmed in a certain fashion, would improve productivity and decrease absenteeism in the workplace. Over the next 3 decades our music staff dedicated themselves to the production of various styles of mood music.  This soon became known to the public as “elevator music.”  Whether heard in the workplace, a restaurant, at a hotel or in the elevator, the description became universal.  Regardless if Muzak had produced it or not, by the mid-‘60s all mood music was “Muzak” and Muzak was the “elevator music” company.

    It’s been almost 30 years since we last recorded instrumental music.  Since then we’ve licensed a vast library of almost 3 million tracks from all the music industry’s top major and indie artists.  Muzak creates over 400 music programs for over 250,000 business locations, featuring every genre of music known to man.  It’s been 30 years since you’ve heard “The Girl from Ipanema” by the Muzak Orchestra playing at your local restaurant.

    But the elevator lives on … and so does Muzak.  Over the last 24 hours alone there were over 2,000 mentions of Muzak in the media, with 1,500 of those referring to “elevator music”.  Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad press.

    So, how about one of those campy 1950s treasures right now?  This baby hasn’t been heard in over 30 years.

    14th floor please!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • More Dorsey Studio Time

    Tommy Dorsey

    Tommy Dorsey

    Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra came to Muzak’s AMP studio in Manhattan on November 11, 1935 to lay down several tracks for the one year old music broadcast company. A chum of Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin, Tommy Dorsey found himself recording for Ben often because of their friendship, and it was crazy to turn down a paying gig during The Depression.

    If you’ve been following this blog you know that we’re having fun featuring several never before released tracks from our historic Muzak library. Today’s recording is of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with their arrangement of “Sing Before Breakfast,” featuring Cliff Weston on vocals.

    Notice that, as with many of the songs recorded in the ‘30s, the vocals don’t get introduced until deep into the song.  Back in those days it was more important to feature the band than the singer.  Well, at least most band leaders felt that way.  Enjoy!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Ol’ Man River

    Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra

    Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra

    In 1927, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the musical “Show Boat”, featuring the now Grammy winning tune “Ol’ Man River.”  In that same year, Glen Gray’s popular Orange Blossom Band was playing in Toronto at the Casa Loma Hotel.  It was there that they first arranged and performed “Ol’ Man River.”  It immediately became a mainstay in their set list for years to come.

    On February 25, 1935, Glen Gray and his Orchestra stepped into Muzak’s studio in Manhattan to record this and 12 other songs.  It’s easy to see why they played “Ol’ Man River” for so many years; a great song with a great arrangement, played by a great band.  Enjoy this never before released recording of “Ol’ Man River” by the Glen Gray Orchestra.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

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