Monday, May 14, 2007

Supermarket music

It's been a long time since they played muzak in supermarkets. Or indeed any retail operation, so far as I've seen. Maybe they still do in elevators in office buildings. But apparently someone discovered that actual music is better for sales. And specifically, the music that the primary shopping target market grew up with.

For the last ten years, the music in all the supermarkets I have visited has been mostly light, inoffensive pop music from the 1970s, and gradually it's been working its way forward. Little by little, I'm more comfortable and familiar with the music. And thus, it becomes clear that I am not only an adult now, I am solidly the center of the target market at whom the supermarkets are focusing their marketing machines.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the music I listen to in an average day is not the music I'm hearing in the supermarket (though as time has passed the amount of overlap, though small, has grown). Actually, music composed around and before my birth makes up a larger part of my music collection than the music I actually grew up with, not out of any kind of reluctance to my own generation, but just because it's better music.

But the supermarkets aren't trying to mirror anyone's music collection. They're trying to create a feeling of comfort and nostalgia which, it turns out, inspires more shopping. Maybe it's the feeling of home. For most people it's the stuff you heard while you were in high school. In my case, the stuff that, right now, this year, is the core of the supermarket mix for the first time.

It's almost depressing because, when you get right down to it, the music of my generation was not that great. If you think back to the early 80s and think of music, most of what comes first to mind is superficial fluff that didn't age that well. I do enjoy it, but it's a guilty pleasure, and it sure doesn't make me want to stand up and shout out for my generation.

There was plenty of good music being made at that time. Great music, even. But it was mostly by bands that came before and were still going, and thus are not associated with that period of time nearly as much as bands that arose (and most of the time, vanished) during it. For example, some of Rush's best work was in the early 80s, but no one thinks of them first when you think of "bands of the early 80s".

But that doesn't help when they're playing some A Flock Of Seagulls in the freezer aisle and I find myself singing along, does it?

1 comment:

MightyFrog said...

I've noticed this phenomenon a few times in the supermarket; I know I've recently heard Elvis Costello's "Alison." What hits me the hardest is songs used in advertising. Squeeze's "Tempted" appeared in a Burger King commercial; Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" and Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" have both been used to sell cars.

As far as different generations of music, I notice that I experience very different kinds of pleasure with the music I remember for high school. Some acts--Cyndi Lauper, Naked Eyes, Flock of Seagulls--I enjoy, but I know it's purely on a nostalgic level. I'm just remembering the sense of possibility from my youth. By a small margin though, my favorite music comes from that era as well--R.E.M., Kirsty MacColl, the Cure. I'm not sure how I would react to "Wendell Gee" or "Lovecats" appearing in an ad, but I'm pretty sure it'd make grocery shopping better.