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11th November 2014

Opinion: The Tills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music

Stephen Miller asks whether the high street’s playlist choices are becoming too intrusive

If you cast your mind back to the last time you strolled around a shopping centre, whether it was to buy new clothes, or to meet a friend or two for a coffee and a gossip, it is more than likely that there would have been some form of music playing in the background. You may have been aware that it was there, but do you know why it was there?

Background music is perhaps more intricate and intentional than the casual observer might imagine. It is supposed to surround us without any attention being afforded to it, yet music has become more authoritarian and intrusive within our every day lives.

Songs used in stores, particularly fashion stores, can possess thematic identity. In other words, each store may utilise a different genre of music in order to establish a relationship between the brand and the demographic in which the store is targeting. The songs you would typically hear in Topman, for example, are primarily indie based, which is reflective of the indie-rock casual styles that Topman have in-store. Superdry, however, has a preference for more electronic-based music, which reflects their urban and Americana-influenced ranges.

Stores differentiate themselves from each other through the music that they play, so it’s almost as if music and fashion conspire together to create an ideological dictatorship of identity. If we assume that ‘ideology’ as a general concept represents sets of ideas and values, do the choices in what clothes we buy, and where we buy them from, reflect aspects of values and ideologies that we hold as individuals? Ideologies are ‘contained’ in music as an expression of emotion that carry with it systems of ideals that are both genre and culturally specific. The systematic approach for choosing the music that is played in stores could therefore correspond with ideological traits that are similar to any particular fashion brand, as well as us, the consumers.

So is music becoming too intrusive? Whilst accepting that music plays an important role in marketing, it is important to be reminded that its fundamental purpose, for use of a better word, is to be a source of limitless pleasure and inspiration. Whilst it is now virtually impossible to avoid in our day-to-day ventures, a line has to be drawn as to how music is used with regards to its function, as well as the context and surroundings in which we listen to it. The idea that a specific song within a specific genre is being used intentionally to snare me into the trap of buying a new jumper is rather worrying, as it is not what music was intended for. It sends me into a state of paranoia as I try to recall other situations in which music may have altered my subconscious thinking in order to make me do something I would not have considered otherwise. It is a form of aural trespassing, but it just goes to show that there is far more to music than meets the ear.

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