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:

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.
Janie on February 5, 2019 @7:38 am PST
Another form of music pollution is in nature films and documentaries. Why do lions, tropical fish, or dolphins have to be accompanied by music? In real life there are just the sounds of wind, birds, waves etc.
Janie on February 5, 2019 @7:36 am PST
Music pollution is SO annoying, in Britain too. A musician I knew always carried a pair of scissors to restaurants. If they refused to turn the 'music' off he would simply cut the wire! He noticed that it was often not mended, even a year later. I find that if I say 'Please can you turn the music off, it is annoying me' I am ignored. But if I say, 'I am so sorry, but I am slightly deaf. Please can you turn the music off so I can hear my friend speaking,' then they do so!
Robert - host, on February 7, 2019 @4:20 pm PST
That's an interesting technique! I have never had the nerve to ask for the music to be turned off, only down. Here in the states it seems like a requirement to have music everywhere!
Franz * VSM MEMBER * on January 24, 2019 @10:50 pm PST
Thank you for talking about a problem that annoys me constantly.
Dance music and Popular concerts are so loud that it hurts my spinal area and I have to leave. I watch a film on TV and most dialogues are accompanied by sounds played so loud that I have to turn the volume up to understand the words. A lot of so-called modern music is deliberately so distorted that it hurts my hearing. Even modern orchestral composition use far too many distorted sounds to simulate a real-life experience. If I spend all week in a noisy factory environment, why would I want to pay a lot of money to listen to a concert presenting the same noise as I hear all week? Since when are beautiful pure sounds "old fashion". In the end, we all pay for the result of widespread hearing loss. Is Australia different from other countries?
Robert - host, on January 26, 2019 @3:38 pm PST
Here is wisdom of a supremely talented child which states things better than I can:
Donna Dondes Krug * VSM MEMBER * on January 23, 2019 @5:01 pm PST
I find loud, noisy so-called music everywhere annoying and often leave restaurants and stores and will not do business because of it. There's too much crappy loud drums, hollowing, and general non-music mixed in. I do appreciate real music (classical, folk, country, inspiration, holiday, jazz, popular done in tasteful ways without noisy volume and with talented groups that do not drown out everything. In restaurants though we often want to talk without yelling. This is impossible. I never minded things like live background pianists with talent though. You do not have this as much as you once did. I guess a lot of businesses have lost me as a customer from noisy so-called music. I also do not like the noisy advertising televisions in many doctor's offices.
Robert - host, on January 26, 2019 @5:00 pm PST
It really is pervasive. Maybe some establishments will forgo the loud music like the few restaurants and bars that don't have TV's!
Robert W. * VSM MEMBER * on January 23, 2019 @4:34 pm PST
Mr. Estrin,
I totally agree with your position on music pollution. I have decided not to buy gifts at department stores during the Holiday Season because I cannot take this holiday music for 2+ months. Also, the music presented at the end of the evening late night talk shows is "garbage". Recording these shows allows us to eliminate this part of the program. My car is always set to a classical music station. And I listen to recordings of classical music whenever I can. In this stressful political and greedy material world, I am more relaxed and at peace with myself using these simple alternative methods to listen to quality classical music.
Michael Prozonic * VSM MEMBER * on January 23, 2019 @2:10 pm PST
The term for this is Muzak, also called elevator music because you were trapped inside with it.

If you are alone you can always put on some wireless headphones and listen to your own music
Robert - host, on January 23, 2019 @4:18 pm PST
I guess your only defense is to mask the Muzak is with additional music as you suggest.
Rebecca on January 23, 2019 @5:39 am PST
Boy, you’ve hit on a hot-button issue! I agree as well. I often feel overstimulated in certain environments. I feel for those who have mild hearing loss (especially as our population ages), for whom background noise of any sort interferes with understanding the conversation going on. Not to mention the pervasive use of earbuds, providing listeners with constant noise of some type, so we can walk around with our own personal sound track. One’s taste is another issue. It may be a style you don’t like, or has offensive lyrics. I suspect that, to avoid this, businesses settle for repetitive music that sort of “dumbs down” the music palate, as it were. From a deeper perspective, I get tired of constant music in church, which robs me of the spiritual experience of Silence. Thanks for the request for international response, I have wondered that as well.
Robert - host, on January 23, 2019 @1:51 pm PST
You bring up a good point. Public music caters to the lowest common denominator, that which offends least. So often, this ends up being innocuous soundtracks that nobody really is that into! Yet there is a general feeling among most business owners that silence for any period of time is unacceptable. Perhaps this an outgrowth of avoiding "dead air" on radio and television.
Leib ben Yitshak on January 23, 2019 @4:32 am PST
I agree with you regarding music pollution. As an economist, I define pollution asa cost which I must bear without getting something for it.


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