Muzak is a trademark name made-up in 1922 by General George Squier when he patented a system for the transmission and distribution of background music from phonograph records over electrical lines to workplaces. Squiers was intrigued by the made-up word Kodak being used as a trademark and so took the "mus" sound from music and added the "ak" from Kodak to create his word Muzak.
Squier developed his system because he had observed that workers were more productive when music was played in the background at workplaces. He used this observation to market his idea. At the time, phonograph records only lasted for one song or tune. As the equipment required to amplify the music was also relatively expensive, Squier's distribution system allowed costs to be shared amongst many subscribers. In the 1920s, radio broadcasting was just being established and for cost, as well as various other reasons, was not a suitable alternative.
The system was readily adopted by many building owners and installed in many shops and offices to mask unintelligible sounds and provide a calming or soothing sound. When installed in elevators the music being played became quite noticeable. The service was later extended to telephone systems.
While the term Muzak is the trademarked name of the transmission system, it soon became associated with the music being played. Research had determined
the appropriate music to play over the system, as it had been observed that certain music would increase worker productivity and influence the shopping habits of shoppers. This research influenced the musical selections, much of which was instrumental arrangements of popular songs. Arrangements for violins, brass, piano, and orchestra were dominant.
To further blur the distinction the Muzak Corporation first pressed its own muzak branded phonograph records, later moving to magnetic tape compilations and most recently CDs. Over time, the Muzak style has become more sophisticated, with selections depending on where the music was being played and the purpose the music is trying to achieve. What was once simply background music is now being called audio architecture.
While some people find the muzak style of music pleasant or soothing, others find it annoying to the point of vexation. Indeed, the term muzak has become an epithet for excessively bland music.
Muzak became immensely popular during the 1930s when studies were released showing that playing it in offices and factories would improve productivity. A backlash began in the 1950s when Muzak was accused of brainwashing and it was even challenged in court. It still remained popular in many areas. President Eisenhower was the first to pump Muzak into the West Wing. NASA also used Muzak in many of its space missions to soothe astronauts and occupy any periods of inactivity.
During the 1980sTed Nugent attempted to buy the Muzak corporation to destroy it, but he was rebuffed and the corporation added soothing versions of his songs to their playlist.
Today the Muzak corporation operates in 15 countries and is still heard in shopping malls, elevators, and while on hold.