Culture 15 Surprising Facts About Elevator Music That Will Change Your Perception  

Erin McCann
3.2k views 15 items

Elevator music, commonly referred to as muzak, is not only reserved for your ride to the 18th floor, but can also be heard while you're waiting for your dentist, shopping for organic cantaloupes, or on hold with your bank after splurging on those $10 melons. While the phrase "elevator music facts" may draw as much excitement as a flute-and-string version of a Lady Gaga song, the piped music industry may not actually be as boring as you think. But what is muzak, exactly, who started it, and where did muzak come from? And, more importantly, what does it have to do with Ted Nugent?

Muzak is actually a brand name which has become synonymous with the product itself, like Kleenex or Chapstick. When spelled with a capital M, the word refers to the company; the lower case referring to the genre. Muzak went bankrupt in 2008 and is now a part of Mood Media, but the genre it produced has a long (and surprising) history. In fact, many things we embrace today that seemingly have nothing to do with elevator music owe it some gratitude. Love it or hate it, muzak has definitely made a mark on our society, quite possibly in more ways than you think.

Muzak Was Created By An Army General

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Photo: United States Army images/Wikimedia Commons

Jokes about its uses in warfare aside, in 1910, Chief Signal Officer Major General George O. Squier invented a way for music to be sent via electrical wires rather than radio waves. He was a dramatic guy, once assembling a group of reporters and broadcasting a German radio program for them using a large tree as an antenna. His new company was named Muzak, a combination of "music" and Kodak, a company Squier had nothing to do with but had a name he liked. He is credited with other patents as well, but will be forever known for giving the world a company that allegedly once considered using the slogan "Boring work is made less boring by boring music."

Several US Presidents Were Muzak Groupies

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Photo:  Ollie Atkins/Wikimedia Commons

Even the White House isn't exempt from music blaring in the background. In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower had Muzak technology wired into the building. Richard Nixon was also known to be a fan. But Lyndon Johnson took the muzak love to another level. At one time he actually ran a Muzak franchise in Austin, Texas and was believed to have hung speakers in his trees for the outdoor muzak experience.

Muzak Inspired Brian Eno To Create A New Genre

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In 1978, Brian Eno released Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album of ambient music which tried to change background sounds from an engineered science to a form of art and expression. In the liner notes, he explained the album was a response to an idea he felt had yet to be explored to its potential. He writes "...[Ambient music] must be as ignorable as it is interesting." The album inspired many other musicians to explore and expand this new genre. And without Brian Eno, artists like Talking Heads and David Bowie might not have produced some of their best work, so there's that.

Ted Nugent Once Tried To Destroy Muzak

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Photo: vinylmeister/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

The Nuge might be a hardcore conservative, but muzak is not one of the ideas he supports. Apparently, he made a $10 million offer to buy the Muzak company in 1986. He was not after the catalog or upset that Cat Scratch Fever never received an all-piano treatment. Rather, he was looking to take over simply so he could shut the whole thing down. His offer was rejected.