2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Xmas shopping aided & abetted by Xmas songs!

Looking forward to another round of Jingle Bell Rock or White Christmas?

A clinical psychologist has warned of the effects of continuous Xmas music on your mental health. “because music goes right to our emotions immediately and bypasses rationality” says Linda Blair (no connection with the Blair Witch project although you might wonder if she’s related to the Grinch).

She goes on to say “it might make us feel trapped – it’ a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organise celebrations”. Or it might be that the music is so annoying we can’t wait to get out of the shop?

She thinks shop staff are most at risk and have to tune out the music otherwise “you spend all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing”.

So what are the big stores actually doing this year (apart from churning out increasingly irrelevant Xmas ads which are so PC)?

Marks and Spencer will be a music-free zone but Asda will only have one hour a day free from christmas tunes and will even let staff become DJs for the day!

Asda perceptively said “we love the arm and fuzzy feeling that the festive season brings but for many Brits the novelty starts to wear off in December“.

So why do you have to start selling Xmas stuff so early?

John Lewis is having christmas music for the first time this year. In the past they have invited small groups of musicians or choirs to play and sing to create more atmosphere. And that’s fine, 2 Shades has done that in Tesco in the past. “The music at the Christmas Shop is a new addition”.  Yippee, more piped music!

Sainsbury‘s is also expanding its musical reach. Usually only played in its cafés it will be played throughout the stores this year.

Not everyone is happy Pipedown, a pressure group for silence in public spaces, said “It was estimated some years ago that department store workers on the shop floor will have been forced to listen to Jingle Bells up to 300 times in the run-up to Christmas“.

Marks and Spencer was probably the first store to stop playing piped music and there is evidence the public don’t like it so it’s a bit disturbing to see that some stores have turned up the volume as it were just for Christmas.

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Music designed to make you work harder

head_gear_500_wht_2011The recent upsurge in the sales of vinyl hasn’t impressed everyone. Although said to be richer and more lifelike  than digitally produced music, an American technology boss claims that that’s what’s getting in the way of productivity.

Focus@Will has developed a form of streamlined music which they claim is based on neuroscientific principles and is scientifically optimised to help you focus.

They say it helps people to concentrate and think more creatively at work. They have cut out distracting frequencies and structured the songs so that they blend into each other without any jarring interludes.

The company has produced a study that claims that the music significantly sharpens listeners focus and persistence and gives mood a boost.

Researchers have argued for decades about whether or not music helps workers to be more effective.  Certainly during the last war the BBC presented Workers Playtime as part of the war effort to boost morale and productivity and it seemed to work as it was kept on until the mid-sixties.

Trying to prove that a particular genre of music or even an individual tune improves performance has been more difficult. Some results show that certain music e.g. a slowed down Mozart sonata, can improve spatial ability whilst a speeded-up version of it interfere with reading. According to the company’s science director, Julia Mossbridge, it depends on the characteristics of the music.

She recruited over 900 subscribers and tested them to see if they responded best to silence, ordinary music, or streamlined music. The listeners were examined using psychological games on their perseverance, visual attention, verbal memory, and logical and creative thinking.

The streamlined music seemed to have a strong impact on creative thinking with smaller effects on persistence, concentration, and mood.

Music helps boost mood and arousal but if the listener devotes attention to it any gain in cognition induced by increased mood and arousal is lost” according to a paper she published on arXiv.

Unfortunately everyone tested had already signed up to the streaming service so they might not have been representative of the population at large and that might have influenced the results. Also there was a massive dropout rate with only 50 people sticking it out to the end.

Having listened to samples of the music, or in some case sounds, I don’t blame them. Not very inspiring and lacking soul, You can hear them for yourselves here if you scroll down to the better of their web page.

And it’s not the first time music has been used to try and improve productivity. The Musak company (probably best know for its elevator music) began customizing the pace and style of the music provided throughout the workday in an effort to maintain productivity (a technique it called “Stimulus Progression“).

This music was programmed in 15-minute blocks, gradually getting faster in tempo and louder and brassier in instrumentation, to encourage workers to speed up their pace. Following the completion of a 15-minute segment, the music would fall silent for 15 minutes. If you can stand it listen here.

This was partly done for technical reasons, but company-funded research also showed that alternating music with silence limited listener fatigue, and made the “stimulus” effect of Stimulus Progression more effective. There was however a backlash as workers objected to being “brainwashed“.

Its popularity declined in the 1960s to be partly replaced by foreground music, much beloved by restaurants, fashion stores, retail outlets, shopping malls, dentists’ offices, airlines, and public spaces. Now there is a backlash against that with stores such as Marks & Spencer stopping playing music in their stores.

So fashions come and go but I think music will continue to play a part in our working lives and very to influence our shopping habits – as I posted here.


Is this the end of piped music?

Marks and Spencer has announced that it has stopped the playing of music in its stores with effect from 1 June.

Pipedown, the anti-piped music campaigners have claimed this as a victory.

They claim that most customers and staff dislike the incessant assault on their senses which can be distracting for people hard of hearing or with tinnitus.

On the other hand there is research which shows that music can make food taste better and encourage customers to buy certain products and help patients recover more quickly.

So is this a victory for common sense or just a good PR move at a time when M&S are keen to cut costs and improve their market standing?Slide1