Downtown's Muzak: The Plot Thickens

officials explode expectations by considering tunes with lyrics, local musicians

Trevor Kupfer |

    Piping out of light poles throughout Barstow Street, year round, are the bouncy melodies of elevator music. Also commonly referred to as “muzak,” these tunes come from under the Opera House building on Barstow and Main, where the Downtown Business Improvement District streams a Charter Media channel labeled “Easy Listening” (unless it’s the holidays, when they play “Sounds of the Season”). Muzak has historically been used worldwide to create a soothing environment and to discourage loitering, but some find it campy and sickening.

Recently there has been some discussion among BID members to go with a new system that would allow for music with lyrics, thus taking away the campiness, allowing for local music, and even possibly helping promote downtown events. (For instance, playing songs by upcoming State Theatre performers or Broadway renditions of an upcoming play.)

But those with apartments downtown have allegedly come forward to voice opposition. “I can hear it in my apartment, with my windows closed, every day,” said Ben Richgruber. “But it’s passive background music, and if you add lyrics it’s more intrusive.” Added to these complications are debates about selection: which local bands do you play, and which do you snub? Does hearing music for a week make you sick of it and discourage you from attending the show? Will just as many people still hate it?