Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is Music Pollution?

In our busy lives, music pollution is everywhere.

In this video, Robert explains the concept of "music pollution" and how it is part of our everyday lives. Is music pollution affecting your life as well?

Released on January 25, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin with and, with a very important show today. What is music pollution? Music pollution, you probably never heard of that. Well, it's a term I've coined for something that is pervasive in society, and I believe it is a real problem that we are gonna address today. And I really want to hear from a lot of you to get perspective, particularly viewers around the world, because I am not sure if every country has this problem the way we do here in the United States.

So what do I mean by music pollution? Well, the way it is here, pretty much everywhere you go, there's music playing. You might think, "I am a musician, that must be great." Well, nothing can be further from the truth for a number of reasons. Obviously, one consideration is that you have no control over the music that's being played in department stores, in office buildings, in parking lots even, they pipe in music. But more importantly, the fact that music is playing constantly everywhere everyone goes makes people learn how to tune out music.

Now I don't have this gift. So for me, whatever is playing in the background, I am focused in laser light. I am analyzing it, every note playing in my head, thinking and reconstructing the score. Now, if it happens to be a great piece of music, that can be a rewarding experience. But even if it were a great piece of music, if I am in a restaurant having a conversation with someone, do I really want to engage in the thought process of the music playing while I am trying to focus on my food and focus on people I am with? Absolutely not. I'd much rather be able to put 100% of my attention.

Listening is an active experience, and we have a whole generation of people growing up learning how to tune out music. And I think it's one of the reasons that at a lot of concerts, people are used to talking during concerts because they don't understand that music is meant to be listened to. Now, certainly there's a place for background music. Maybe you go to a nice candlelit dinner and there's an acoustic guitar playing softly in the background which sets the mood. But this has been taken to an extreme level where, for example, in Christmas shopping, you go almost anywhere, you have the same songs playing pervasively. From the moment you get out of your car in the parking lot, walking every square foot of a mall or a shopping center, music being piped in.

I want to hear from you, is this annoying to you or is it just me? Because I find, as a musician, I can't help but to focus, and I want to choose when and what music I focus on. And I believe this is an example of music pollution that is degrading the whole listening experience for countless generation of people. Thanks so much for joining me. I'd love to hear from you on this topic. Again, Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Joe Piccolo on July 5, 2022 @11:17 am PST
You are correct. However I am mostly bothered by music I do not like especially rap or Katy Perry screaming.
Robert - host, on July 6, 2022 @7:53 am PST
It's interesting how each new generation manages to outdo the previous in annoying the older generation! This has been true from dixieland to rap.
Franc Uberti * VSM MEMBER * on July 1, 2022 @11:32 am PST
At first glance, I thought you might be addressing punk or rap-where people posing as musicians (who don't even sing) make millions. I believe there is a place for background music in any setting where relaxation is sought after. Music (without lyrics) can enhance a dining experience or a fine wine. Beethoven's Pathetique would be more appropriate than the 9th Symphony.
Philip Whitney on July 1, 2022 @1:23 am PST
You are right, I am continually accosted by music just loud enough to make communication very difficult for me!
Robert - host, on July 1, 2022 @3:25 pm PST
You're not alone!
Philip Whitney on July 2, 2022 @9:55 pm PST
My father once asked the waiter at a very loud diner to lower the(music).
Linda Stine on June 29, 2022 @2:47 pm PST
Hi Robert,
I agree that we are very often being force-fed music that can be highly annoying. Unlike you, I do not have the capability to minutely analyze the music that is playing. Nevertheless, I often find the music to be an affront. In the past I have asked waitresses to ask the management to kindly turn down the music (We could barely hear the conversation the table of friends was trying to have). Surprisingly, they complied.
I also think this constant background noise makes it more difficult for people with autism or sensory defensiveness to tolerate public spaces ( no wonder these kids then act out). It is also inconsiderate of those who have lost some of their hearing or who may be wearing hearing aids that amplify everything; they must now work even harder to focus on what is being discussed.
I myself totally avoid malls ( And they wonder why people choose to shop on-line ??)
If we are annoyed by the selection/volume/constancy of the mind numbing music, I believe that it is incumbent upon us to let the management know that we will not be patronizing their establishment if they can't at least make some adjustments.
(By the way, ditto for those inane TV shows of "talking heads" that are played in small waiting rooms where it can not be escaped as you await your appointment).
Thanks for addressing the topic.
Linda S
Robert - host, on June 30, 2022 @6:17 am PST
My mother used to ask the wait people to turn down the music. If they didn't comply, she would ask around to the other patrons, "Do you like this music so loud?" and turning to other people, "Do you want this music on?" Naturally, no one said yes, and she would try to get the wait person to acquiesce her wishes!
Len Griehs * VSM MEMBER * on June 29, 2022 @8:58 am PST
Wow, you struck a harmonic chord on this one, Robert. The music in most of these venues is annoying rather than beneficial. As a musician (piano, guitar, harmonica), I love all kinds of music, but of my own choice. This is especially true in fitness centers, where the music tends to be from a local rock station. When we workout at home, I put on my own CD with my choice of music, like "Mozart for Your Morning Workout." I love Christmas music, but how much of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" can you take? I'm with you, let's do away with parking lot and mall music.
BillDeef * VSM MEMBER * on June 29, 2022 @8:13 am PST
Music forced upon us is symptomatic of a way of thinking that insists that all music is good. The subtext is “Who would not like this music?”
Nobody would ever dare to say that the kind of music being played is awful. The same way nobody nowadays would dream of booing music they didn’t like or was played badly.
Margaret * VSM MEMBER * on June 29, 2022 @6:37 am PST
I don't know if it is true but don't advertisers use music to send some subliminal suggestions to influence customers' behavior, like eat faster (so customers don't linger and tie up tables), spend more, etc.
Suzanne Barbara * VSM MEMBER * on June 29, 2022 @6:37 am PST
I felt so validated to read your transcript! I have felt this way all my life, and "pollution" is the right word. By the end of a meal and conversation with friends in a restaurant, I feel my head is spinning and I am on overload because of the (often) loud music that had been playing during the experience. I reflexively try to block it out, but that takes a lot of energy! Thank you for expressing this so well!
Robert - host, on June 29, 2022 @2:43 pm PST
Whenever music is playing, I can't help but listen to it. So it's a huge imposition when the music is of little interest to me. It's like in a public place when someone wears too much perfume or cologne that you don't like the smell of, you are stuck with it!
Robert - host, on March 11, 2019 @11:07 am PST
Glad you mentioned on-hold music. Not only do you have no choice but to listen to it, but often times it comes on at drastically different volume from the caller that the change can be disruptive (or even potentially damaging to your ears!) I wonder if there is anyone who actually enjoys listening to music on their phone earpiece.
Gail Owens * VSM MEMBER * on March 10, 2019 @5:31 pm PST
I'm a retired RN with decades of music appreciation and performance experience. Almost always I feel resentment from piped-in music because I already have my own chosen music playing in my head and resent some commercial psych adviser cloosing whatever they imagine will make me a better customer - especially "waiting music" for phone calls that is still too often corrupted Mozart - and never successful at soothing irritation.
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