The grocery store is the epicenter of all cheesy pop songs. It is the place where the soft rock hits of the 80's, 90's and today go to die. As soon as you set foot in any Ralphs or Albertsons, you enter a world where it is socially acceptable to listen to Michael Bolton and Gloria Estefan without facing public scrutiny.
I remember the first time I ever shopped at an Urban Outfitters. The store had just opened at my neighborhood mall, so I had no idea what kinds of styles I could expect to find. Before I even had a chance to look at the clothes, I heard "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service emitting from the speakers and I knew that this was my kind of store.
This is how companies use music to create sonic spaces that align their brand to a particular identity. Because I had been a fan of The Postal Service, I knew that I should be shopping in a place that plays their music. This is the place where I can find clothing that obviously fits my own personal idea of who I am, and where I can find other likeminded people who also share my tastes.
Marketing is all about creating within us a sense that a particular product fits within our chosen lifestyles. How can Pillsbury convince us to purchase their bread and bake cinnamon rolls? All they have to do is show us a picture of a family gathered around a table enjoying a relaxing Saturday morning over a batch of warm, gooey treats. If I believe I am someone who values traditional family ideals, this image may convince me that this product also fits this lifestyle.
We have become a culture obsessed with constructing our identity, with being the unique product of all the things we love, or at least what advertisers tell us we love. Because music is so instrumental in terms of establishing identity, it is commonly used in branding. Although music has the ability to tap into our psyches, evoking within us certain personal emotions, these emotions are culturally induced. If I have chosen to align myself with the indie crowd consisting of people who frequent coffee shops, enjoy discovering new artists, and wear mainstream branded clothing in a purely ironic fashion, I know that when I hear "Such Great Heights" playing in a store, this store holds products that fit in with my indie lifestyle. On the other hand, I know that the harsh, angry sounds of Avenged Sevenfold is indicative of the Hot Topic crowd, a group of people with whom I obviously have nothing in common due to our lack of overlap in musical preferences.
This musical segregation in the mall can be both liberating and stifling. On the one hand, the auditory cues allow consumers to navigate the mall efficiently. However, we may feel limited in the spaces we are allowed to enter. In the same way that music helps define spaces and determine how these spaces fit particular lifestyles, it also serves as an indicator of places we are not allowed to visit. As a poor college student who lives her life in jeans, I know not to suggest going out to eat at a restaurant where you're expected to use all ten varieties of forks to eat the tiny portions of food I cannot pronounce. The sedate music eminating from the eatery, often in the form of a live violinist, is an indicator of luxury, wealth and decadence, things I, sadly, know little about. Even if I won a large sum of money and could suddenly afford such opulence, the restaurant does not fit the mold I have created for myself, so I could not dine there. I would feel too out of place.
Music makes a vital contribution to establishing the ethos of a particular space. By shaping the brand itself as well as the specific goods, it defines who the intended clientele is and who it is not. This is why grocery stores play the bland, neutral music of the so that nobody feels excluded from their neighbor