Music or Noise
Either way, it's in the listeners' ears and they'll decide whether they want to stay
In the lavish new Andronico's supermarket in Albany, CA, a powerful sound system was installed to play opera in the deli. Soon after, shoppers were complaining. When the fat lady sang, it seemed, the "highs" were enough to burst eardrums.
Then there was the mall kiosk which, whenever someone walked near it, would play a cheery jingle and launch into a monologue about its products. Workers in nearby stores grew to hate it so much that when no one was looking, they pulled its plug.
The lesson, of course, is music that store owners and designers consider mood-setting or just pleasant is often considered noise by others. Part of the problem is recorded sound is everywhere. It's in elevators, rest rooms and your coworkers' cubicles. In an increasingly noisy world, even a neighbor's wind chimes set many people's teeth on edge.
What to Play
There are a variety of answers to the question of what to pipe into your store.
One option is to go soft and inoffensive. When readers of Display & Design Ideas magazine were asked to name stores whose background music worked, most chose those that are gentle on the ears (or easily ignored).
The Nature Company: "I like the music with sounds of a live fountain."
Eddie Bauer: "It's non-intrusive and subtle."
Barney's: "It's contemporary."
Restoration Hardware: "Soft classical and opera."
Neiman Marcus: "The piano player is live and the selection is classic."
Of course, even "obnoxious" music that drives people away can be useful if they're not your customers and if the music also attracts those who will buy your products. This creates the demand for customized sound offered by a variety of vendors.
Los Angeles-based DMX and PlayNetwork of Redmond, WA, for example, offer recorded music and consulting services to help retailers select music that appeals to specific demographics. Music is delivered via the Internet and is controlled automatically. So even if employees don't care for management's selections, they can't interfere with what's heard in the store.
PlayNetwork boasts its Powerplayer 4.0 offers song-to-song volume balance and control. Soft songs don't fade to nothingness after louder tunes shatter the windows.
Another tool used in environmental music technology is the sound dome that focuses sound in a specific area and keeps it from traveling where it's not wanted. Brown Innovations, Chicago, makes a 32-in. acrylic dome designed for music stores, arcades, public kiosks and trade shows.
"While a listener enjoys music or other audio under the dome, another individual just an arm's length away hears virtually nothing," says Cynthia Bollman, a Brown representative. "Step away from the 'sweet spot' and the sound level drops by over 80%."
Sometimes, a little trial and error is all it takes to find the best solution. At Andronico's, President Bill Andronico reports that deli customers now hear "contemporary Italian." Whatever that is.
Mark E. Dixon