Stimulation or regeneration, distraction or source of concentration. Music can inspire productivity at work as well as offset disruptive background noise. Communication, openness and transparency are considered fundamental principles of modern, open-plan offices today. Anyone can be reached anytime and anywhere; this is a good thing. However, what can one do to escape this setting so as to be able to work in a concentrated and undisturbed manner for a short while – and all without leaving one’s desk?
The easiest way to achieve this type of semi-presence is with a pair of headphones and the music of one’s choosing. This allows you to enclose yourself in an acoustic bubble that stimulates your desired mindset. The headphones clearly indicate to those around you that you are not to be disturbed while you work and that except for urgent matters, you are temporarily unavailable for spontaneous conversation. The effect music has on concentration levels varies from person to person. Nevertheless, a large percentage of people prefer to handle unpleasant tasks and claim to be able to concentrate better if music is present.
Whereas today music is consumed in a primarily passive manner in the workplace, earlier on it had a more active role in the form of collective singing, which also served to define a pace for manual labour procedures.
Lumberjacks, blacksmiths, washwomen, among others come to mind. To this day, military music in particular continues to have a unique significance; marches are designed to propel soldiers forward and drown out the sound of fear. During the industrial revolution of the 19th century, music was broadcast in an attempt to boost the efficiency of assembly line workers. It was believed that using music to improve workers’ moods would increase their productivity.
In the scientific world, passively consumed background music that is intended to motivate people to do certain activities is referred to as functional music or "muzak". Since the 1930s, functional music has been composed for various purposes such as commercials, department stores, lifts, etc. It is unknowingly perceived by the listener and is designed to boost his or her mood while creating a relaxed atmosphere for shopping, working or waiting (it has even been broadcast on subway platforms).
The term "muzak" is a phonetically altered version of the English word "music" as well as the name of the company that was founded in 1934, Muzak Inc. Since then, the term "muzak" has been frequently employed in a primarily deprecatory manner to characterise simple melodies and "shallow" rhythms. The example of Brian Eno, co-founder of Roxy Music (London 1971 with Bryan Ferry and Andy Mackay), proves however that it is in fact an intriguing phenomenon: In addition to his seven hits, Eno also employed his musical genius in a successful manner to produce ambient music for his album "Music for Airports".
Nowadays, a distinction must be made not only between random "lift music" and professional background music, but also with foreground music. The objective of the latter type is to use an appropriate musical style to link the customer in an obvious manner to the company itself. Consequently, fashion chain stores, designer hotels, chic hairdressers and exclusive bars use popular music to attract desired target groups. In other instances however, "background music" is utilised to convey something specific about a company as well as to make said company more recognisable to people – this is referred to as "audio branding".
Empiric research studies on the effect of musical stimulation in different situations have yielded results of varying degrees of quality and conclusiveness. The only indisputable fact is that music has a significant influence on all of us. However, since music and its impact are as unique as listeners themselves, the effects of certain types of music can also swing from one extreme to the other depending upon the person. What one person finds motivating might be completely unbearable for someone else. Like many things, music is simply a matter of taste.
Bene is launching the Office.Playlist for all those who are continually on the lookout for new music and who enjoy listening to background music via headphones or speakers while they work.
If you invest a little time and effort, the Internet can be a great resource for finding good music that can be downloaded legally for free. Every month, Bene will invite architects, designers, journalists and other partners to put together a special playlist according to their musical tastes. The first playlist will be compiled by DJ Thomas Bene himself…and many others will follow.
We look forward to your feedback!