I Hate ‘Piped Music’ Too!

Chris Sheldrake

Michael Clark, Managing Director, Imagesound sent us this open letter in response to our recent article ‘Why Did Muzak Go Bust?

In response to the interesting, if puzzling, piece posted by Julian Treasure on the 11th of February what I would like to know is…. does ‘Piped Music’ really still exist?

The term ‘Piped Music’ was coined in the 40’s to reflect Muzak’s practice of ‘piping’ music into factories and office buildings via telephone lines. It has since become a derogatory generic term used to describe thin, bland, orchestral cover versions the like of which, since the demise of Rediffusion in the early 90’s, one rarely encounters on today’s high street. I am therefore not in the slightest bit surprised by the negative reaction of the general public when asked if they liked ‘piped music’ in dated statistics quoted – “I hate ‘piped music’ too!”

As to the state of the UK background music industry in 2009, undoubtedly the next couple of years will be challenging with a number of weaker retail brands disappearing from the high street. However I doubt we will return to the 70’s when people shopped mostly out of necessity and pubs were for selling warm beer. Shopping is now a well established leisure activity in its own right and the public’s expectations of a night out have moved on a long way. I expect music to continue being integral to both of these activities.

On licensing music in the UK, I agree the inconsistencies of PRS/MCPS/PPL are indeed surreal. PPL insists on trying to issue dubbing licenses to BGM companies based on technology type, e.g. hard disc, streaming, CD, CDi etc. Strong licensing is essential to a healthy BGM industry but surely what matters is the amount of time music is being played to the public not what bit rate is used to decode it or how many tracks are stored on site – but don’t get me started on that one!

I also found Julian’s analogy with the mobile phone companies confusing. Since day one Imagesound, and I assume most of our competitors, has focused on building strong recurring revenues from the supply of music and related media services to major retail brands. We do sell, rent and, at the request of the client, will lease our playback devices at a reasonable margin but moving boxes is very much a second string to the music and media revenues we generate. It is true to say competition and digital technology have driven rates downward in recent years however (please take note Mr Music Man – why oh why don’t people use their real names?) Imagesound’s average revenue per music service is well in excess of £30 and we intend to keep it that way!

Successful retailers do strive to use ‘all the tools available to them’ to create the right retail environment for their brand. Poundland are every bit as sophisticated in their use of in-store merchandising to enhance their core offer in the eyes and ears of their customers as are Next, Pizza Express, Tiffany, The Sanderson Hotel and many, many more. For these retailers carefully considered and applied music is an integral part of the marketing mix. It is a big retail world out there and there are plenty of silent retail and leisure outlets if you prefer. They are easy to spot from outside as many of their customers will be wearing iPods!

So if Muzak does roll over and die, poor financial management will definitely have been a major contributor, plus not keeping up with the supply chain advantages digital technology has provided to our industry over the last 20 years and from perhaps simply losing touch with the real commercial needs of their customers.

Michael Clark

One Response to “I Hate ‘Piped Music’ Too!”

  1. Paul Stead Says:

    While I am a competitor of Michael’s, I wholeheartedly agree with the above.

    Well said Michael!

    Paul Stead
    Managing Director

    (You will note I’ve used my real name)

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