Medical Mysteries of Music

Another cautionary tale about Christmas music

It’s that time of year again. Christmas music is everywhere, whether you like it or not. Stores and restaurants have it in their heads that this is what customers want to hear. Maybe, but not all customers. And there are risks to playing this stuff.

Background music of this sort is known as “retail atmospherics,” a term invented by Philip Kotler at Northwestern University in 1973. This launched all sorts of research into the effect these atmospherics had on consumer behavior. This includes work by Richard Michon at Ryerson University in Toronto, who found proof that customers like music while shopping. and will even spend more if the music is right.

That includes the impact of Christmas music. Done right, people will spend more. However, studies have turned up some caveats.

According to a report in the Telegraph:

  • Half of all shoppers think that November is too early to start being bombarded with festive music.
  • If the music is too loud, shoppers will get irritated. (It should be noted that this applies to all in-store music throughout the full year.)
  • If songs are repeated too often, shoppers will get irritated. (This also has a delirious effect on staff. Repetition of Christmas songs will make them cranky and drive down productivity.)
  • Beware of playing remakes of well-known Christmas favourites. If shoppers don’t appreciate the cover, they’ll bail on you. An extreme example would be metal versions of, say, “Jingle Bells.”
  • Repeated exposure to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” can drive people to suicide. (Okay, I made that up. But c’mon. Doesn’t it drive you crazy?)

You’ve been warned.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38398 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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