Muzak Holdings

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Muzak Holdings LLC
IndustryMusic, Digital Signage, Voice Messaging, Commercial Sound Systems, Drive-Thru Systems, Commercial TV Systems
HeadquartersFort Mill, South Carolina, United States
Key peopleSteve K Richards, CEO
ProductsDistribution of music
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Muzak Holdings LLC
IndustryMusic, Digital Signage, Voice Messaging, Commercial Sound Systems, Drive-Thru Systems, Commercial TV Systems
HeadquartersFort Mill, South Carolina, United States
Key peopleSteve K Richards, CEO
ProductsDistribution of music

Muzak Holdings LLC is a company based in metro Fort Mill, South Carolina, United States, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Founded in 1934, Muzak Holdings is best known for distribution of background music to retail stores and other companies.

Muzak is a registered trademark of Muzak LLC.[1]



Early transmission technology

The original technical basis for Muzak was developed by inventor Major General George O. Squier who, in the early 1920s, was granted several US patents related to transmission of information signals, among them a system for the transmission and distribution of signals over electrical lines.[2]

Squier recognized the potential for this technology to be used to deliver music to listeners without the use of radio, which at the time was in a nascent state and required fussy and expensive equipment.

The rights to Squier’s patents were acquired by the North American Company utility conglomerate, which created a company named Wired Radio Inc. with the intent to use the technique to deliver music subscriptions to private customers of the utility company's power service.

Squier remained involved in the project and was reportedly intrigued by the made-up word Kodak being used as a trademark and so took the "mus" syllable from "music" and added the "ak" from "Kodak" to create his word Muzak.

By the time a workable Muzak system was fully developed, commercial radio had become well established, and so the company re-focused its efforts on using the technology to deliver music to hotels and restaurants. The first actual delivery of Muzak to commercial customers took place in New York City in 1936[citation needed].

Due to such a positive response, Muzak began contracting the best arrangers, conductors, music producers and engineers available, hiring the best singers and musicians, partnering with noted soloists and sidemen and recording in a then-new High Fidelity music format in order to get the best sound possible for its customers.[citation needed] To this day, many classic one-of-a-kind performances by famous artists remain the property of Muzak.[citation needed]

Other companies with nowhere near the deep pockets and political as well as industry connections of Muzak, had to settle for conventional products recorded in a conventional format by whatever out-of-work individuals needed to feed their families.[citation needed]

Early playback technology

At this time, the technology involved remained crude as the music originated from gramophone records played manually on specially-designed turntables operated at a central office location.

Each sixteen-inch non-microgroove vertically-cut electrical transcription disc was capable of carring up to 20 minutes of music per side, but in reality, the fidelity during the last five or six minutes or so of any conventionally-cut side from the edge to the center, or the first five or six minutes of any side cut center-to-edge was unuseable for transmission as the sound coming off the disc would already be muffled and narrow-range in that area, adding insult to injury on the narrow-band electric lines of the period to the point of being unintelligible by the listener.[citation needed]

At first, it was decided that disc sides would be cut alternately from the center to the edge for odd sides and from the edge to the center for even sides as radio had done for live recording for some time.

In addition, it was hoped that programming quieter and more bass-heavy material at the center (beginning of odd sides or ends of even sides) would alleviate this problem, but it did not. Coupled with the fact that some programmers preferred louder more upbeat songs at the beginning and end of their program segments, caused them to cut odd sides outside in and even sides inside out, so that the tops and bottoms of hours would end on an upbeat note - as modern radio programmers do today.

However this practice only served to aggravate a number of the phonograph operators at the transmitter sites who, in the dim light conditions of the playback studios in those days - couldn't keep track or read the label to discern the start location of the disc.

Therefore the decision was made to record all discs conventionally from outside-in, and to limit the first three programs in any one hour to 14 minutes and 30 seconds in length and the last program in the hour to twelve minutes and thirty seconds, leaving the rest of the time to silence. This happenstance decision resulting from limitations in technology returned an extremely high level of customer satisfaction compared to the constant drone of music 24-7 in the previous format.


Conventional home phonographs of the period played 10-inch or 12-inch laterally-cut shellacque discs at 78 RPM. Since neither Muzak, as a licensee nor the labels as content providers could afford for their programs to escape out into the general public, four safeguards were put in place to prevent that from happening. Similar to the ET records used in commercial radio, and for pretty much the same reasons:

1. The Muzak programs were cut vertically, otherwise known as the hill-and-dale recording method. Playing a vertically-cut record on a lateral-only player results in silence and destroys the disc being played on the very first try.

So even if a home user could find a vertically-compliant cartridge for his phonograph, there was still the issue of disc size. Muzak programs were pressed onto 16-inch discs, to ensure that they would be unable to fit on a standard home player.

In addition, the programs were pressed into soft acetate, and later vinylite, so that if someone tried to play them on a conventional phonograph built for the rugged shellacque discs, the weight of the playback arm would destroy the Muzak discs even if they were being played by a vertically-compliant cartridge.

And even if those three hurdles were to be overcome, no home phonograph of that period was able to play the 33-1/3 RPM speed at which the discs were recorded so that nobody with a conventional turntable could play them, preserving the copyright integrity.

Of course by then, the Library of Congress had already perfected the 33-1/3 speed as well, to be used in the recording of Talking Books for the Blind and Handicapped, whose players solved three of the four issues above. Their tonearms were lightweight, their platters spun at 33-1/3 and their tonearms could handle 16-inch records. All one needed to do was find a vertically-compliant transcription phono cartridge from a radio station and they were all set.

The more businesses subscribed to the service, the lower the overall cost became (economy of scale). The company aggressively pursued expanding the use of the music service to workplaces, citing research that indicated that background music improved productivity among workers.[citation needed]

Pre-war Evolution

In 1937, the Muzak division was purchased from the North American Company by Warner Brothers, which expanded it into other cities. Shortly thereafter it was bought by entrepreneur William Benton. World War II saw a further increase in the popularity of Muzak, as factories pushed for ever-greater production supporting the war effort.[citation needed]

The company 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").[3] It began recommending music at different tempos, and discovered alternating blocks of music with periods of silence increased the effectiveness of the product.[4]

While Muzak had initially produced tens of thousands of original artist recordings by the top performers of the 1930s and 1940s, their new strategy required a different sound.

Beginning after World War II, the style of music used was deliberately bland so as not to intrude on foreground tasks, and adhered to precise limitations in tempo and dynamics.[5] This style of music blended into the background as intended in most situations, but was sometimes noticeable (particularly in quiet spaces such as elevators). Thus the word “Muzak” began to be used as a synonym for this type of “elevator music” .

A growing awareness among the public that Muzak was targeted to manipulate behavior resulted in a backlash, including accusations of being a brainwashing technique and court challenges in the 1950s.[citation needed] However, the popularity of Muzak remained high. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first to pump Muzak into the West Wing. NASA used Muzak in many of its space missions to soothe astronauts and occupy periods of inactivity.[citation needed]

Modern Technological and Transmission Developments

Over the next two decades the basic programming approach remained unchanged while the technology used moved forward. Transmission systems changed from power lines first to telephone lines, then to FM commercial radio station subcarriers, and finally to satellite.

During the same time, reel-to-reel tape recordings replaced records, eventually reaching a reel size of 19-inches across on four-track half-inch tape, twice the size of a modern 14-inch reel of digital multi-track tape, running at 3-3/4 IPS. A 7-inch reel of home-recording tape normally contains 1200 feet of standard- 1.5 mil thickness tape, 10-1/2 inch studio reels contain 2,500 feet, and digital multitrack reels carry 5,000 feet, but a 19-inch Muzak reel would carry upwards of 10,000 feet on a single reel. At a speed of 3-3/4 IPS, each track could then play almost nine hours without stopping. Multiplied by four monaural tracks and an auto-reversing system and one tape could play continuously for over three days straight without repeating. This was important because at such an odd tape length, no sequence of songs would ever be repeated in any one work shift at any one time of the day for weeks on end.

Subsequently, extremely large versions of the endless-loop tape later introduced to the market as 8-track tape were used to deliver the programs. Originally recorded at the same speed as an 8-track, these large versions of broadcast tape cartridges carried 4 hours of programming at 3-3/4 IPS.

Tape and player quality developments such as chrome tape and noise reduction allowed the cartridges and tape speeds to shrink, first to the size of an 8-track with eight monaural programs on a tape running at 1-7/8 IPS, to the size of a modern laptop hard drive and a speed of 15/16 IPS used by the Library of Congress for Talking Books. As a result, before they were replaced with cassettes, the last of the tape cartridges were capable of carrying the same 8-1/2 hours per tape as the original 19-inch reels could carry per track.

Shortly thereafter, special-format chromium cassettes were available, recorded at 1-13/16, exactly halfway between the common speeds of 15/16 and normal cassette speed of 1-7/8, to prevent use on unlicensed hardware.

One development of Muzak delivery technology came in the form of pulse-code-modulation programs encoded onto 8mm analog video camcorder cassettes. Since there was no video needed on the extra-wide-bandwidth tape, it was possible to encode two hours worth of music on six separate stereophonic tracks, or 12 monaural tracks in the space. Although not widely adapted for stationary systems, the PCM format was widely used on planes, trains and buses throughout the late 80's and early 90's.

These gave way to special-format CD's of the 90's and early 2000's and were the last and best development in physical media program delivery for Muzak before satellite delivery eliminated the need. In addition, it was the first format to deliver true stereophonic sound to a wide audience, as the 8mm format was mostly used for high-quality mono reproduction except for the occasional classical or jazz program in high-end installations.

Released in the late 80's, each disc was recorded at 38KHz with a sampling rate of 12-bit instead of a normal CD with 44.1 KHz and 16 bit to prevent unlicensed use. As most malls and other public buildings already had a primary as well as a backup music system, when stereo audio was adopted, owners simply wired the primary set for the left channel and the backup set for the right channel, which required no further conversions once satellite became available

New business model

During this time Muzak became a franchise operation, with local offices each purchasing individual rights to the music, delivery technology, and brand name for their geographic areas. The company changed hands several times, becoming a division of the Field Corporation in the mid-1980s.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Muzak moved away from the “elevator music” approach, and instead began to offer multiple specialized channels of popular music. Muzak pioneered "audio architecture", a process of designing custom music playlists for specific clients.

Even with the changes in format, rocker Ted Nugent used Muzak as an icon of everything "uncool" about music. In 1989, he publicly made a $10 million bid to purchase the company with the stated intent of shutting it down. His bid was refused, but served as a name-branding publicity stunt for both parties.[6]

By the late 1990s the Muzak corporation rebranded itself; as of 2010, Muzak distributes nearly 3 million commercially available original artist songs.[7] Today, Muzak offers almost 100 channels of music via satellite or IP delivery, in addition to completely custom music programs tailored to their clients' needs.

According to EchoStar, Muzak's distribution provider, Muzak's business music service is broadcast on rented bandwidth from Echostar VII, in geostationary orbit at 119 degrees west longitude.

On 12 April 2007, Muzak Holdings, LLC announced to its employees that it might merge with DMX Music.[8] This merger was approved by the Department of Justice one year later.[9] However, as of April 2009, the deal appeared to have faltered.[10]

On 23 January 2009, a spokesperson said Muzak was attempting to restructure its debt and filing for bankruptcy was one of several options. The company had plenty of cash but large amounts of debt coming due in the midst of a difficult economic climate.[11]


On 10 February 2009, Muzak Holdings LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[12]

Kirkland & Ellis was hired as the company’s bankruptcy law firm. Moelis & Company served as the financial adviser.[citation needed]

On September 10, 2009, Muzak said it had filed a reorganization plan which would cut the company's debt by more than fifty percent. The plan would pay all banks everything they were owed in some form, and would give high-ranking unsecured creditors ownership in the reorganized company. Other creditors would receive warrants to buy stock.[13] The company said an "overwhelming majority" of unsecured creditors supported the plan.[14]


On January 12, 2010, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the plan to reduce Muzak's debt by more than half, allowing Muzak to officially emerge from bankruptcy.[15]

After emerging from bankruptcy, Muzak moved to restructure more than just their balance sheets. The company announced a new initiative to realign their corporate structure into three specialized business units: Muzak Media, Touch, a Muzak Co., and Muzak Systems. Respectively, these units will focus on content acquisition, Sensory Branding and new delivery platform technology.[citation needed]

Mood Media has agreed to purchase Muzak Holdings for $345 million, including $305 million in cash.[16]

List of channels

Dish NetworkFormat NameElectronic program guide identifierNotes/Format Descriptions
819Viva Mariachi
821La Música
Monophonic Programmes
920EnvironmentalENVOEEasy Listening Instrumental (the "traditional" Muzak format)
922FM1 [Foreground Music One]FMONEClassic Pop
923HitlineAUD01Current Pop
924Hot FMAUD02Pop Hits
925ExpressionsAUD03Light Pop Standards
926Love SongsAUD04Romantic Melodies
927City LightsAUD05Smooth Jazz
928MoodscapesAUD06New Age Instrumental
929The Party PlaylistAUD07Party Anthems
930Piano & GuitarAUD08Acoustic Instrumental
9317890AUD09Classic and Modern Pop Hits
932MetroMETROIndie Electronica
933'50s & '60s HitsAUD10
934'70s HitsAUD11
935'80s HitsAUD12
936The BeachAUD13Laid-back Beach Party
937Country Music OneAUD14Country Mix
938The BlvdAUD15Adult R&B
939Mo' SoulAUD16Classic Soul
940La MusicaLMUSCLatin Pop
941Viva MariachiVMARIMariachi
942TonedLFTRAHigh Energy Fitness
944Little ItalyAUD17Italian/American Standards
945Tropical BreezesAUD18Caribbean Music
946RoadhouseAUD19Americana/Classic Rock
947MuzakAUD20Special purpose audio channel; generally used for holiday programming
948DestinationsDESTGlobal Pop
Stereo Programmes (DiSH CD)
949Muzak 2MUZK2Special purpose channel used for Christmas programming and possibly others; mirrored on #982 in December
950ShineCD 1Adult Contemporary Pop
951Country GoldCD 2Country Classics
952Nashville USACD 3Current Country Hits
953Jukebox GoldCD 4Rock 'n Roll Classics
954'70s SongbookCD 5Singer/Songwriter
955UnforgettableCD 6Adult Favorites
956CashmereCD 7Adult Contemporary
957BackpagesCD 8Adult Alternative
958StrobeCD 9Electro Pop
959Rock ShowCD 10Early Classic Rock
960FeedbackCD 11Alternative Rock
961The CafeCD 12Casual Rock
962NuJazzCD 13Acid Jazz
963Concrete BeatsCD 14Hip-Hop/Rap
964Martini TimeCD 15Retro Cocktail Music
965AmbrosiaCD 16Soft Pop/Rock
966FrequencyCD 17Club/Dance
967Jazz TraditionsCD 18Classic Jazz
968ImpressionsCD 19Contemporary Jazz
969Acoustic CrossroadsCD 20Contemporary Folk
970PlazaCD 21Contemporary Instrumental
971EnsembleCD 22Classical Ambiance
972IntermezzoCD 23Light Classical
973Easy InstrumentalsCD 24Classic Instrumental
974Swing KingsCD 25Big Band Swing
975The LightCD 26Contemporary Christian
976KidTunesCD 27Children's Music
977AuraCD 28New Age
978LucilleCD 29Blues
979KingstonCD 30Reggae
981HawaiianCD 32Hawaiian Music
982Holiday MusicHLIDYMirror of #949 "Muzak 2" in December
Dish NetworkFormat NameElectronic program guide identifierNotes/Format Descriptions

As a general rule, only the streams identified with "AUDxx" or "CD xx" are available to home DiSH Network users (with the exception of HLIDY.) The others may show up in the EPG lists of some older receivers, but the programming heard is that of the next channel up.

On DiSH Network, BYU Radio shows up within the Muzak channel group at #980 and carries an EPG call of "CD 30". However, this stream is originated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and carried as part of Echostar's "DiSH CD" service; it is not actuallly a Muzak-originated stream.


Channels available on Muzak via Satellite, On-Premise or through Echostar/DishNetwork platform as of January 2011:

Body And Soul





Holiday [Only available during specific holiday]










Licensed for International Use

NOTE: Not all channels are available on all platforms

See also


  1. ^ "Our Company". Muzak Limited Liability Company ( Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  2. ^ "US Patent 1,641,608" (in English). Google Patents. Retrieved 2007. 
  3. ^ Anika Lampe (2006): „Building a better consumerism.“ Kaufentscheidungen durch Musik am Beispiel des Klangkonzeptes der Mall of America. [1] University of Lueneburg
  4. ^ ibid.
  5. ^ ibid.
  6. ^ Ted Nugent (I) - Biography
  7. ^ The Soundtrack of Your Life: Muzak in the Realm of Retail Theatre," The New Yorker, April 10, 2006.
  8. ^ John Downey, "Muzak Seeks Merger with Rival DMX," Charlotte Business Journal, April 13, 2007.
  9. ^, Retrieved on 2008/04/30.
  10. ^ Pete Iacobelli, "Muzak Is Still Upbeat," The News & Observer, April 6, 2009.
  11. ^ Adam Bell, "Muzak Facing Hard Choices," The Charlotte Observer, January 24, 2009.
  12. ^ Muzak files for bankruptcy under heavy debt, Associated Press, 2009-02-10
  13. ^ "Muzak reorganization plan cuts debt in half". MSN Money (Associated Press). 2009-09-10. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  14. ^ Rochelle, Bill (2009-09-11). "A chorus of support from Muzak creditors". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 2009-09-12. [dead link]
  15. ^ Aronoff, Jen (2010-01-13). "Muzak poised to exit bankruptcy". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved 2010-01-16. [dead link]
  16. ^ Das, Anupreeta (2011-03-24). "Mood Media to Acquire Muzak for $305 Million". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 

External links