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:

Christopher Leach * VSM MEMBER * on May 10, 2017 @8:57 am PST
Thank you Robert....enjoyed and totally agree with your take on 'music pollution'. I sometimes call it music numbing....great piece. I'm an accordion player and find your video clips most edifying.
HojoCat * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @3:00 pm PST
Absolutely! I couldn't agree more. I am a musician but I work at a retail store. The music is the most horrible pop music they could dig up out of the trash. Like you I do not have the ability to tune out the music.
Now this wouldn't be so bad if it were music that I liked. The ideal would be silence though. When there is silence I can work on music in my mind. I work on songs and lyrics and fiddle riffs and they are all ready to write down or record when I get home assuming I remember them.
Robert Estrin - host, on February 23, 2017 @3:54 pm PST
Sometimes I find myself playing music in my head even when there is audible music around me! It's like composing an email with people talking around you. It takes extra concentration. But sometimes it's worth it!
Chuck Weber * VSM MEMBER * on February 22, 2017 @7:19 am PST
Robert -

Amen, amen, amen!

We are so sick of being deafened by music and "music" amplification that we just refuse to go places where it's a problem. I recall going with friends to a bar/restaurant where a really good band was playing .... much too loud. I solved the problem by returning to the car in the parking lot, where the sound level was just right. In a way, it was a self-punishing mistake on the bar's part, since I didn't have to spend a penny on food or drink in order to enjoy the music.

More recently we went to a brass-band concert in the auditorium of a church! where we got blasted out mercilessly. We and some others left at intermission.

An even worse problem since the source is about 200 yards from our house is the community swimming pool. Especially on weekends between April and September, we get blasted by "music" so loud that we can't shut it out, even by closing all our windows and doors. Most pool patrons just sit around the tables staring at each other -- conversation is out of the question!

And concerning the quality of the music, listen to NPR's commendable morning and evening newscasts. Over and over, we get tedious, repetitive "music" inartistically crafted to play for as short or long a time as needed to round out the station breaks.

I don't know what the answer is. Our city's noise ordinance is too weak to have any significant effect. The best thing about the problem is that it encourages us to make our own music.
Robert Estrin - host, on February 23, 2017 @3:52 pm PST
It is truly a massive problem with no obvious solutions. I like your idea of making our own music!
Cindy on January 28, 2017 @5:26 pm PST
I totally agree with everyone so far! I like Robert's pointing out there are RARE exceptions such as very soft guitar to set a background mood in upscale dining. Also well-composed film soundtracks are important as a certain motif will cue a character e.g. Darth Vader or set a mood-- but it's still background for most. I can't describe how annoyed I get when anyone interrupts any music in my environment. If music is playing and I'm in the room-- I'm listening to it! Whether it's something brand new I'm just getting familiar with, or what's even worse-- something I know very well and treasure-- I'm listening for all the nuances and things I haven't heard in the previous 50 listenings. I just hate when people talk to me like it's nothing going on. This is true however light pop, rock or serious classical, symphony the music is! I am also very sensitive to having too much sound-- even "good quality sound" around can cause sensory overload, and I require long periods of quiet to reset and refresh my hearing mechanisms. I could theoretically listen to 4 symphonies in a row, but guarantee that I wouldn't get much out of the last 2. I need processing time!
Robert Estrin - host, on January 30, 2017 @11:08 am PST
You bring up a good point about incidental music in film and television. A good music soundtrack can have a profound effect upon the emotional experience in cinema. However, these are often finely crafted compositions or sound design that work as an integral part of the work. It's hard to get that kind of connection in real life with random music playing!
Lynn Tilton * VSM MEMBER * on January 26, 2017 @4:47 pm PST
Hello Robert,

Another problem with music pollution is high volume sound, which seems to mask the performer's poor performance. How accurate are those full-volume entertainers that bring on tinnitus not only to members of the audience but to themselves? Seems that type of music sounds muddy; there's little clarity. Also seems high volume music brings on a higher level of mental confusion than does most background music.

At least with background music, we can decide to lodge a complaint to the manager or owner. We also can choose to shop or eat elsewhere. High volume music reaches people living a quarter-mile from the outdoor "concert". There the choice is endure the events, or find a quieter place to live.

Lynn Tilton, Texas
Flavio * VSM MEMBER * on January 26, 2017 @7:59 am PST
Dear Robert,
You are perfectly right! Nothing is more annoying than have a bad music what, for instance, usually happens playing and you don’t have control to put it off.
It happens with me the same discomfort: first, I started to recognize the instrument or the ensemble that is playing. Second: the kind of music, letter, etc., and finally I focus at the melody. That’s the hardest part, you start to build it in your mind, thru a mental score, than nothing fits, that horrible and monotonous and repetitive back ground musical line, without creativity, and sometimes those drums that usually sound like a stakes… You really have to make a big effort to keep your attention on the shopping, food meeting, and whatever took you to that place.
You forgot to say, but I am sure you know about now days they put music even during video conferences, you tube interviews, scientific videos, and so on. That’s a pity!
I am an amateur musician since very youth, and I still persist being in my almost seventies, and I ought to say that this problems is very real in Brazil, where I live, and is getting worse. I already left a restaurant for this reason.
Thanks for bringing this subject to discussion, because sometimes I felt bad thinking this way, and now I see I am not alone.
Flavio Aprigliano Filho
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2017 @5:22 pm PST
Robert, you are absolutely correct. I was having Christmas music forced on me in October last year, That is in the UK at a small local supermarket. I am sure there are worse examples. around.
Jim * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2017 @4:31 pm PST
Perhaps just as bad is people walking around constantly piping their own music into their heads via headphones.
Lyn on January 25, 2017 @4:05 pm PST
Since playing in ensemble, my ears latch on to music in TV shows and movies, especially when I'm not watching but my husband is. One show has really annoying music in that it is the same tune over and over, but I'm sure it is not as noticeable if watching. I think people do tune out as you say.
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2017 @1:57 pm PST
In my country Belgium, there is a lot of music pollution too, especially in clothing shops that want to set a mood. In restaurants I feel less annoyed, beacuse the music will be most times well chosen and very in the background. Worst of all is Xmas, where jingle bells seems to have to played everywhere, even outside in busy streets. I too will hear all notes and spell them out in my head as do-ré-mi etc.

There are however places where music has an important function , like in subway stations. Well chosen music tend to calm down people, and it has measurable effect on curbing down bad behaviour and violence. The power of music is that great. So, throwing it all away is not a good idea, but we do need periods of musical silence, as much as we need protection from traffic noise.

When working at the computer, I like to have some classical music or even some other music play in the background, ik keeps me focused because it seems to add some rhythm to my work. I just keeps me going without feeling fatigue, until the music stops. And sometimes I need complete silence because the thinking needs to go real deep, and it's going well beyond typing some text. I also like to have music when I drive, once again radio or a playlist keeps me focused and attentive to what's happening. However when I take public transport, cycle or work, I'll never use a player to listen to music, the activity itself provides the rhythm.

Hope that helps you hear a more varied opinion on this interesting subject.
Robert Estrin - host, on January 27, 2017 @1:39 pm PST
There are certainly times where music can enhance your experience. The key is having control over what you hear. Naturally this subject is studied extensively by businesses trying to achieve desired effects.


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