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Posted By Hastamorir Artists Society

Shopping mall

Background music in shops - disparagingly referred to as "muzak" - has been shown to have an effect on our buying habits.

Shops and restaurants can use music "to target those effects that are most likely to increase sales in a given business", says Adrian North, professor of music psychology at Australia's Curtin University in Perth.

His own research, carried out at Softley's restaurant in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, suggested diners spent an average of £2 a head more when listening to classical rather than pop music.

A similar experiment suggested that perceptions of taste altered according to output, so "mellow and soft music"- made the wine taste "mellow and soft". And "powerful and heavy" sounds, made wine more likely to have flavours that were... "powerful and heavy".

What is muzak?
Muzak started in 1920s when General George Squires patented the process of transmitting music over electrical lines. The name is a combination of "music" and "Kodak", Squires' favourite hi-tech firm. It is known as "elevator music" because of its early use in skyscrapers to calm people's nerves (when elevators were still new and unfamiliar). In the 1940s, it was used as a musical way of relaxing workers with the aim of improving productivity.

Muzak has a reputation as being generic, light music, barely noticeable to customers - setting a calm ambience in which to buy things. But the Muzak company that gave rise to the term, taken over by Canadian firm Mood Media in 2004, tailors its playlists to target specific groups of customers, as do several large rivals.

In his BBC Reith Lectures 10 years ago, conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim complained that background music was undermining "active" listening, creating a generation of people who could no longer concentrate properly on music.
Research at Rutgers University at about the same time suggested music played in shops had no discernible impact on customers' stated mood. But, while it did encourage higher levels of spending among impulse buyers, "contemplative" shoppers actually spent less.

Defenders of in-store sound say it is no more manipulative than other aspects of store design and management, such as layout, decoration and product presentation.

North says there's evidence that playing Edith Piaf's songs encourages people to buy French wine, rather than South African. "And we know that classical music can drive sales of more expensive products," he says, "whereas country [music] drives sales of utilitarian products."

A few years ago, music writer Paul Stokes attempted to log the songs he heard while shopping in London, but gave up because "it was all either faceless audio wallpaper, or the same pop hits of the day produced by Pharrell Williams".

"Experts say you should only notice the music one in three tracks," he says. "The rest of the time it was there to provide a sense of comfort and calm."

Justin Parkinson

Posted By Hastamorir Artists Society

tainted love

Flowers, jewelry, and chocolate:  collectively, these are the modern-day linchpin of Valentine’s Day.  Yet lurking in the shadows of these industries is a myriad of highly-contentious labour issues.  In order to produce larger quantities of products at a lower price, many companies knowingly or unknowingly use supply chains in which child or forced labour, poor environmental practices, and appalling working conditions exist.  Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware of the breaches of human rights that occur during the trajectory of production, before a diamond necklace or box of chocolates reaches its final destination on some store shelf.  

This February 14, the National Retail Federation anticipates that U.S. consumers will spend $17.6 billion on gifts for their significant others.  But how much of this will be spent on ethically-sourced products?   

In the U.S., an estimated $1.9 billion will be spent on flowers alone for Valentine’s Day 2012—but most of these dollars will go to products harvested by workers under exploitive working conditions.  Would we still purchase flowers if we knew that they were produced at the expense of a sexually harassed flower worker in Ecuador?  Or by a Kenyan labourer who was paid less than a dollar for a 12-hour day of work?  Or by a flower worker in Columbia exposed to 127 different pesticides on a regular basis, including ones known to be extremely toxic or carcinogenic?

Like flower sales, jewelry purchases fuel labour-related injustices where regard is not paid to how the products are sourced.  Of the $4.1 billion that shoppers are projected to spend on jewelry for Valentine’s Day 2012, a percentage of these sales will be propagating child labour.  For example, Surat, India—which cuts and polishes 92% of all diamonds in the global trade—relies heavily upon the labour of children under the age of ten.

Chocolate has been flagged as a sweet industry that’s acquiring a sour reputation for its pervasive use of forced and child labour.  Over 109,000 children work under atrocious conditions in the cocoa industry of the Ivory Coast, and an estimated 10,000 of these children are enslaved.  With Ghana and the Ivory Coast producing around 70% of the world’s cocoa beans, it is more than likely that each of us has consumed chocolate produced at the expense of a child’s freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, remember that your purchase is your advocacy.

Written by Katie Bergman

For our ethical, sustainable and fair trade gift ideas visit




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