LOOK WHAT THEY'VE DONE TO THEIR SONGS

By EW Staff
April 21, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

John Tesh’s soothing yuppie soundscapes resemble Muzak for a reason: Increasingly, Muzak has begun to resemble John Tesh. ”That’s where the real influence is-today’s popular instrumental artists,” admits Muzak’s vice president of programming Bruce Funkhouser. ”The kind of music people are buying tells us what they’re comfortable with.” Inaugurated in 1934, the multimillion-dollar corporation responsible for visiting elevator music (euphemistically known as ”environmental music”) upon the world quickly became synonymous with drippy string-and-woodwind anthems. But when Muzak Limited Partnership moved to Seattle in 1987, Funkhouser insists, it underwent a revolution that paralleled that of its then-nascent Seattle doppelganger, Sub Pop Records. ”We got rid of all the 1,001 Strings, namby-pamby versions of music.” Instead, like its longhaired counterpart, Muzak now supposedly tries ”to capture the essence of a song.” To do that, five programmers and consultants select 20 tunes per week to incorporate into the channel’s 5,000-song playlist, approximately 60 percent of which are instrumental cover versions, the rest made-for-Muzak originals. Arrangers and musicians record the former by replacing vocals with instruments like the saxophone (the process costs between $1,000 and $2,500). At Muzak’s Raleigh, N.C., center, a computer rotates songs that have been programmed according to the company’s patented Stimulus Progression system (increasing tempo during late-morning and mid- afternoon fatigue points) and beams them by satellite to more than 100,000 American businesses. Still, although a smattering of rock acts have been interpreted (including Cream and Talking Heads), Muzak has avoided pop’s latest trends. ”We’ve never done Nirvana because you can’t replace (Kurt Cobain’s) interpretation with an instrument,” Funkhouser says. ”We don’t do rap because that’s all vocal interpretation.” Unsurprisingly, the Environmental Channel’s six most-played artists are, in order, the Beatles, Elton John, Steely Dan, James Taylor, and Billy Joel/Fleetwood Mac (tie). In fact, even John Tesh may prove too excitable for Muzak’s mellow airwaves. ”Like, Kenny G has a tendency to be really kind of dramatic, and obviously we’re not going to do that kind of interpretation,” Funkhouser emphasizes. ”We’re not going to do the kind that screams for your attention.” Better nix that Hendrix tribute, John.

Advertisement

Comments



EDIT POST