Music

How Music at the Office Affects Your Work Life


The wistful, synth-laden pop tune Wildest Moments is coming through tiny, dime-size earbuds—well, technically just one bud because the right side’s wires have frayed—as I return e-mails, set up interviews, and file my expense reports. One desk over, a co-worker is listening to Rob Zombie.

Music is a ubiquitous accessory in nearly every office and across all careers, from a documentarian friend who’s been writing scripts to the same Counting Crows album for over 15 years to a gallery curator who told me she likes to appraise artwork while listening to Gregorian chants. It wasn’t always like this.

Our professional lives stayed tuneless until the early 20th century, when soothing jazz started playing in elevators, and department stores began piping in quiet melodies to make shopping more enjoyable. In the 1940s, the wireless radio company Muzak created sets of songs for offices, which it called Stimulus Progression, that slowly increased in intensity so that employees would feel energized as they worked. “Stimulus Progression went out in the 1970s and is long gone,” says Kenny Kahn, executive vice president and global brand officer of Mood Media, which bought Muzak in 2011 and also owns its former rival DMX, “and we don’t do the instrumental easy-listening stuff anymore, either.”

These days, Mood focuses on branding; its 46 music designers tailor playlists for more than 60,000 business locations throughout the world. If you’re in an office that plays music in the lobby, break room, or warehouse, those songs could be coming to you courtesy of Mood. But even if you choose to listen to personal music at your desk, you should know that it’s affecting the way you think and work in ways you may not realize.

Illustration by Andrew Rae
Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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