Now that elevator music has exited stage right

“Music tastes change.” MR elevator That has to be one of the safest statements ever made. One can generally tell when music was created because most styles are popular for relatively brief periods (years, or even months). As commercial interests have almost completely taken over popular music, artists seem to be writing for the next iPod commercial: lots of musical hooks and dynamics, but no depth, heart or vision. And those who listen to music for the sheer pleasure of it (as opposed to those who listen because it’s what their friends are doing) seem to be switching off the radio and finding something else to do with their time.

At the same time, contemporary instrumental music has been changing and maturing…in ways both good and bad. In the Sixties, contemporary instrumentals consisted mostly of “elevator music”. Artists such as Tony Mottola and Enoch Light & The Brass Mengerie created “light” arrangements of pop hits and standards…which was broadcast on radio stations targeting an older demographic, and was, in fact, most often heard in department stores, elevators and doctor’s offices. As those stations lost their audience and disappeared, a company called Muzak made a boatload of money piping the same format into businesses across the country thru their closed-circuit network.

Now that elevator music has exited stage right, it has been replaced by a similarly soulless made-for-the market format called “smooth jazz”. Often performed by very gifted musicians, many of whom used to play with from the heart, this genre basically sounds like music like good music…but with the edges ground off. Yet, that’s where the money is, so that’s where many artists have drifted. Another contemporary format, with its roots in the Eighties, is called “new age music”. It’s not driven by money (the vast majority of new age albums sell less than a thousand copies), but it’s not really driven primarily by musical passion, either. New Age music is more of an outgrowth of new age spirituality, which often involves periods of relative quiet and meditation. The music tends to be highly repetitive and often seems a bit weird to those raised with mainstream tastes, which probably explains why the music hasn’t found a larger audience.