According to the Good Pub Guide, music is the top complaint by pub goers. The guide's editor stated: "Piped music, canned music, muzak, lift music, airport music, call it what you will, it’s there and our readers loathe it in any shape or form. It enlists bitter complaints from our readers and has done so ever since we started the guide 35 years ago." Various surveys have confirmed this point, and Curmudgeon has agreed in his post, Pipe Down.
Reading the original article and Curmudgeon's post, there are three main reasons for disliking piped music:
- It distracts from conversations and actually disrupts them if too loud.
- It is someone else's choice of music, which is especially irritating if you don't like it.
- It can cause particular difficulties for people with hearing problems.
To these I would add:
- As piped music is usually on all the time, you can't escape it, except by not using the pub at all.
- Treating music as aural wallpaper devalues it.
It would seem that some licensees believe that music creates 'atmosphere'. While this is probably true, I'm certain that irritation is not the kind of atmosphere they have in mind. I have yet to hear anyone say: "Let's go to the Pipe and Drum; they've got excellent muzak there."
Shops can be as bad. I wrote this on Curmudgeon's blog: "What I do find more irritating is music in supermarkets in the run-up to Xmas: from next month, we can expect Roy Wood, Slade, Paul McCartney, Wham!, and all the others from late October to Xmas Eve. I now dislike all those Xmas singles, including any I used to like." I always feel particularly sorry for the shop assistants who have to suffer it throughout every working day for a couple of months.
It's not just pubs and shops: there can also be too much music on television and radio. A programme about, say, the early 1940s will almost always be accompanied by Glenn Miller. I like Glenn Miller in small doses, but at that time people did not live their lives surrounded by music, Glenn Miller or otherwise, so it is not authentic. All-pervasive background music really began in the 1960s with the advent of cheap, portable transistor radios and hi fi systems that replaced radiograms. TV dramas sometimes include pop or sad singer-songwriter songs to create atmosphere, but I often find them a distraction from the plot. The same with the excessive use of classical music in 'Morse': as it is not incidental music, it demands too much of your attention and gormlessly over-eggs the point that Morse likes classical music. Even radio documentaries sometimes insert music when the only connection is that the song has a phrase that happens to coincide with the topic under discussion, but is otherwise utterly irrelevant. It's as though they think we cannot understand something unless it's hammered home in the most obvious and clumsy way possible.
Getting back to pubs, it's a bean counter's view of music as a feature to be added, in the same way as the decor, furnishings, paintwork, carpets and so on. It is not intended to be enjoyed in its own right: it's part of a package but, as there is no music that appeals to everyone, if it's not what you would choose, it's an intrusion, whereas you can usually ignore a carpet you don't like.
One strange thing happened to me with piped music. A pub I used to go to regularly did play background music. I having a pint with my friend Geoff when a familiar song came on: it was my own recording of a song that he and I had co-written. I'd previously sold the CD to the landlady, and it seems that she'd put it in the piped music selection. Sadly, there was no rush to the bar by eager customers demanding to know more about the song.
The Good Pub Guide is not to be confused with CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.