Whether or not you are aware of it, you know about pity sax. You hear it all over – sometimes in expected places and sometimes when you were sure you’d be listening to something else. It’s any pop song, from any era, turned into a mellow sax version for your enjoyment. Or not.
This is the reason Kenny G is so incredible wealthy. It’s not because anyone is going to his concerts. And the crowd that does attend his events is that one that thinks tipping a server thirty-five cents shows how appreciative they truly were. So you know he’s not raking it in from shows. He could be selling CDs, and I bet he does. Right along with Yanni, Kenny G is your go-to gift for the grandma or great-uncle that you don’t know well enough to choose something thoughtful for. Even so, there’s more at play here. Both these guys can afford palatial estates on multiple continents without resorting to Hasselhoff-like drunken declarations that ‘they love me in Germany!’
It’s not just them, there’s enough of this crap to keep a lot of fantastic-but-not-quite-Yo Yo Ma musicians in the green for a long time. It seems as soon as a song hits the top forty there’s some company out there recording it in a partially orchestrated, horn-heavy mosh.
Let’s be honest here: nothing is safe. Both Britney Spears and Lady Ga-Ga have turned up in sax. Those old Kenny Loggins songs are prime fodder – come on, I bet you already had “Danger Zone” going in the back of your head, in sax right now, just from me mentioning this. If not, then you sure are being haunted by it now. Things you would think just couldn’t be converted are. Think about that old Blue (Da boo bee, da boo dai) song or even the more obnoxious, super techno “Fireflies”. Yup, I’ve heard them both. But it doesn’t end there. Lots of musicians record songs, or even whole albums, with orchestras. But this doesn’t keep them from getting ‘orchestrated’ at all. Even Metallica turns up this way. I heard “Enter Sandman” just the other day.
Muzak – the biggest purveyor of pity sax – is ubiquitous. You know it from elevators and cheesy restaurants everywhere. (I’m sitting in one of those restaurants right now listening to “The Long and Winding Road” in sax. That song is a personal favorite, but not like this. Excuse me for a moment while I yak . . . . okay. I’m back.) But there’s a lot more to Muzak than I bet you knew.
You probably understood that Muzak is an empire unto itself. You hear it so many places, how could it not be. But did you know that it’s a science, too? Yes, my friends. Muzak is an early attempt at mind control. I kid you not.
The science behind the sax is this: humans have natural output cycles. You are more productive at the top of the hour, and low at the forty-five minute mark. If you think about it, you already understood that humans are sluggish in the afternoons. Hence, the Snickers run, or the Red Bull shot. Whole cultures have designed their day around the concept of an afternoon lull, most notably with the practice of the siesta.
Anyone who is aware of this downswing in energy – that happens to 95% of us around 2pm – won’t plan a test or big presentation at this time of day. You just aren’t at your best. Any elementary school teacher is aware of this, too. And whole school systems are banning their most “important” (input) subjects from the just-after-lunch time slot and instead putting in hands-on or active (output) classes there, like Gym and Art and Music.
Muzak not only knows all this, they are in cahoots with the scientists and even fund some of the research. Their music choice is specifically crafted to pump you up just a bit in the upswing of the hour when you are petering out, and give you a little extra boost mid-afternoon. No, the fact that you heard My Chemical Romance over your office’s speakers at 3:15 wasn’t coincidental. Aside from the fact that you stopped and asked yourself “what is that!?” and then followed that thought with “That’s not My Chemical Romance, is it?” – the music had a profound effect. It was chosen just to make you more productive.
That’s a little creepy isn’t it? Makes you wonder what they want you to do when you get assaulted with the sax version of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” in the elevator. Think about it the next time you are listening to a winding sax sound and asking yourself “Is that (insert totally inappropriate band name here)?”
I’m with you. All this is disturbing. Even more disturbing is that companies report that it works: Muzak increases productivity. It makes me feel just a little dirty. I’m through with pity sax. I think I’ll download some Kenny G CDs and have some sax just for the sake of having sax.
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