Signed, sealed, delivered . . . I’m yours – what more proof do we need to know about the effects of music?

Signed, sealed, delivered . . . I’m yours – what more proof do we need to know about the effects of music?

The days of struggling to speak to the sales assistant, our voice fighting to be heard above the cacophony of muzak, might be coming to an end, as multi-national retailer Marks & Spencer switches off all in-store music in every one of their 300 stores across the United Kingdom due to public protest initiated by lobby group ‘Pipedown’.

“Piped water, piped electricity, piped gas – but never piped music!” says actor Stephen Fry on the Pipedown website.

With every cell of our body affected by an unremitting soundtrack, how long are we going to accept the imposition of music as part and parcel of everyday retail, or in fact everyday life? With no means of escape from muzak in retail stores and public places everywhere, we generally get much more than we bargain for. At times it is hard to hear yourself think – but maybe this is the ploy!?

As new research on the power of music in consumerism is unashamedly lauded, celebrated and heralded as the new way forward by retailers, any influence or harm it causes is eagerly brushed aside in the rush for ‘business success’ and the consumer dollar.

Designed to influence us to pluck the very thing that we don’t really need from the shelf . . . what else can music do?

When asked, “how do you find this music?” one retail assistant in the store of a certain clothing line replied, “I hate it – it’s so full on but we are not allowed to change it; after a while I just try to stop hearing it”. Another said it took her 3 weeks to ‘block it out’, with the music affecting her sleep – in her head, day and night.

The booms, beats and vibrations that pervade our body, worming and manipulating their way into our body and mind, we name at worst as low-level annoyance or nostalgic seduction, or at best, pass off as smart business acumen. This goes for music everywhere, not just in your regular department store.

It is common knowledge that mood inducing music is a huge part of consumer psychology today and championed as a technique to lure the innocent bystander or the browser, with their mind already set on buying something. But we seem to have our heads in the sand when it comes to the consequences of manipulation by music in general, and the tangible and lasting effect that it has.

Specific music played at loud volume gets results, but at what cost?

‘Loudness may annoy the sound-sensitive customer, but overall, it pays. Shoppers make more impulsive purchases when they're over-stimulated. Loud volume leads to sensory overload, which weakens self-control.’ Emily Anthes writes in her article ‘Outside In: It's So Loud, I Can't Hear My Budget!’ published in the New York magazine Psychology Today.

We can accept as science the fact that sound frequency and the energy of sound waves can change our psychology and physiology, but we continue to ignore the fact that the effect of music has lasting real-life consequences – behavioural changes actually occur.

A hidden message

"Overload makes people move into a less deliberate mode of decision making. People might be more likely to be lured by brand names, fooled by discounts on items that they might not really want, and susceptible to other influences." Emily Anthes also quotes award-winning professor Kathleen Vohs, who has written on the psychology of self-regulation, free will, self-esteem, and the consequence of behaviours.

If music affects self-control and encourages impulsive behaviour, that effect does not simply stop when we leave the shopping mall. Repercussions that lead to destabilising behaviour can subsequently appear in other areas of life. Yes, some may be more susceptible, more vulnerable than others, but physiologically and energetically speaking, even basic science recognises that everyone’s body is affected at some level.

We turn our eyes from what it plainly is – music used as a tool of manipulation – and we champion it as our new way forward. Paraded openly as a ‘good career move’, and ‘smart’ business acumen, using music in this way shows no care and integrity for the consumer or the retail worker – indeed, no care for people.

It matters what we play in our aural environment. All music has an effect that energetically speaking, is in no way subtle, and depending on how we produce and use it, can be far from harmless.

When we manipulate using music – the very thing that has the absolute capability of reflecting harmony and wellbeing, not only in commerce, but also in many aspects of everyday life – we miss out on the true qualities and inspiration that only music that is produced, played and performed from a place of true integrity and clarity, can bring.

Filed under

Self-awarenessCorruptionBehaviourOverwhelmPsychologyMusicEnergy in music

  • By Jenny James, Singer/Songwriter