What is elevator music and how it’s used today

Elevator music



Learn about the origin and history of elevator music and how it was initially used versus today.
Elevator music is typically characterized as easy listening but incorporates several different genres of music.
Gain inspiration and learn about the advantages of using Artlist’s songs in your projects

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What is elevator music?

You’ve probably heard elevator music at one time or another—perhaps while riding in an actual elevator, while in a waiting room, or while placed on hold during a telephone call.

But what is the origin of elevator music and what styles of music fall into this category?

Elevator music is also known as Muzak, an American brand name developed in the 1920s—representing a type of background music played in public places. Elevator music has also been called “piped music” or “lift music”, all terms that describe easy listening, piano, jazz, or light classical music.

The history of elevator music

Muzak was originally used to boost productivity for factory workers. Muzak’s inventor, Major General George Owen Squier, created this relaxing style of music to help improve people’s moods.

Squier’s technique was called “Stimulus Progression”, and was used to help speed up factory workers by playing 15-minute segments of music. He incorporated upbeat instruments and consistently increased the tempo of the music to encourage the workers to match the pace.

The first elevator music was created in the 1930s by American musician and bandleader, George Wright. He was hired by a real estate company in New York to provide the music in their building’s elevators. Alongside his band, The Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra, he recorded a series of discs that were played on a phonogram in the elevators.

The music was played to help soothe the nerves of travelers, as passenger elevators were new and unknown machines at the time. This proved to be a success, and elevator music was soon heard playing in doctor’s and dentist’s offices.

Stock footage elevator music inspiration. Woman in traditional clothes on elevator, part of Beautiful Asian Woman in a Hotel story by Michael Jun GU

Characteristics of elevator music

Elevator music is typically associated with soft and light instrumental sounds, such as piano and jazz. It is designed to provide a calming and soothing effect—creating a relaxing environment for passengers. That’s why you’ll usually hear music with a slow tempo playing at a low volume.

This style of music is also known as “easy listening”, and often uses soft-sounding instruments and rhythms, keyboards, orchestras, and synthesizers to create a peaceful mood.

Elevator music can be compared to smooth jazz or new-age music. In fact, Muzak incorporates several genres of music including classical, jazz, bossa nova, and pop.

How elevator music is used today

There are many different ways in which elevator music is used today. Musak tones are meant to hold a simple melody and can be looped easily—making the music perfect for a variety of areas. In addition to elevators and waiting rooms, you may also hear elevator music in the following places:

  • Shopping malls and retail stores: Studies have shown that ambient music can influence consumer behavior, which is why it is not uncommon to hear elevator music playing in shopping malls and retail stores. The music is used to slow customers down and increase the time they spend in the store—encouraging them to spend more money.
  • Airports and cruise ships: Elevator music is often played in airports and on cruise ships to help create a more relaxing environment for passengers and to ease their nerves (for those who are anxious about travel).
  • Office buildings: Originally, elevator music played in the background of an office building was seen as a sign of a classy and refined place of business. Today, elevator music is often played in office environments along with “white noise”, because it can help mask sounds such as ticking clocks, clicking keyboards, and conversations.
  • Telephone systems: When you’re placed on hold on a call, more often than not, you’ll hear elevator music playing—to give you something to listen to while waiting. In fact, studies have shown that “hold music” can actually increase caller retention.

Examples of elevator music for inspiration

It’s relatively easy to find a wide variety of elevator-style songs online. In fact, Artlist has a large catalog of copyright-free music that you can download.

If you’re editing a video of a tropical oasis, you may want to search for Lofi and Chill beats, for example. In the instance that you’re seeking a specific type of sound for your project, be sure to check out Artlist’s background music for videos.

Looking for inspiration for your next project?

Here are a few examples of elevator-style songs available on Artlist:

The advantages of using Artlist songs in your projects

There are many advantages to using Artlist songs in your projects—the most important being that users can create professional videos with top-quality sound without worrying about copyright issues. This is a huge benefit for independent creators and large corporate filmmakers.

With an Artlist subscription, you have access to unlimited downloads of royalty-free music—allowing you to use the music for any type of project. Whether you’re creating a video, live stream, podcast, or commercial, there are many genres of music to choose from with our one-size-fits-all license.

Get everything you need to create the perfect video


It goes without saying that elevator music has certainly transformed over the years. Although the way in which this music is used has changed in some ways, its original purpose of creating a specific atmosphere for traveling, shopping, working, and more, still remains.

If you’re seeking elevator-style songs for your next project, be sure to check out Artlist’s comprehensive catalog of music.

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About Kim Wacker

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