Background Music

Rebecca Ryder | Thursday, 20 August 2009

Background Music

We've all heard the old adage that 'music makes the world go round'. But have you ever taken a minute to think about just how true that is?

Imagine a world without music. That may sound very Lennon-like, but in all seriousness, it is difficult to imagine, isn't it? Many individuals will have accidentally come close to encountering that world on a few occasions, on those dreadful mornings when forgetting the trusty iPod in the rush to get out of the front door and into work. And as every one of these people will doubtless know, those dreadful mornings never lead to much better afternoons.

Many people are fortunate enough to work for companies that allow personal music players (providing they keep an ear out for any telephone calls). Clearly, these companies understand the advantages of permitting staff to have their favourite songs play in the background of their working day. Music can inspire, motivate and create a positive outlook, leading to higher productivity (sorry to come over all Alan Sugar on you, but these are hard facts).

Of course, it can also do the opposite. The infamous Bridget Jones scene, where said character wallows in her single depression by wailing to Celine Dion's 'All By Myself', echoes the experience of many a heartbroken soul. Sometimes it is ok for music to just help grief to flourish (otherwise how would Dion pay the bills?). Funeral music is another good example of this. Many a time has the quite morbid yet strangely commonplace question been raised of "What song would you want to be played at your funeral?". People place much importance on what their mourners will hear as they pay their last respects, because it will have a great effect on the mood of the whole ceremony.

What is true for all music, though, is that it has a funny way of influencing people without them really noticing. A recommended revision tip is to play classical music in the background, due to its calming effect and ability to stimulate concentration without being too obtrusive. It is doubtful that several hours of cramming over dusty old textbooks in silence is quite as effective; the brain doesn't have enough to latch onto and automatically seeks distraction after a while. Studies have also shown that when fast tempo music is played in shops, it encourages people to pass through the store more quickly. Likewise, slower-paced music keeps customers browsing for longer as they themselves move around more slowly.

There are infinite examples of how background music is employed every day, in endless different situations, all over the world. Your local supermarket playing one of those awful covers albums full of Mum's favourite songs; the clich├ęd, jovial elevator music as you make your way to the fifth floor of, well, anywhere; Topshop plugging the latest young artist on the scene to make you want to buy into a fashionable identity; the ambient music of the film you go to watch at the cinema. The power of background music, first notably acknowledged during Baroque-era aristocratic dinner parties, has not been lost on the modern world. Nevertheless, we still often take it for granted.

So next time you see Mum humming to Michael Buble's finest as she scans the fresh meat section, just smile and think 'It's ok, it'll probably inspire her to buy my next week's shopping'.