Dorothy Lewis: Loud music in shops is a bum note for many

One of the Quiet Scotland cards asking businesses to turn off background music
One of the Quiet Scotland cards asking businesses to turn off background music
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Have you ever walked out of a shop because of loud background music? Or been unable to enjoy a meal in a restaurant or a drink in a bar because the piped background music drowns out your conversation? If so, you are not alone. Impartial research shows that approximately one third of the population dislikes it, a third is indifferent or “switches off”, and only a third actually likes it.

Most business owners seem to believe that music is good for sales. The music industry has run a very successful marketing campaign and has even persuaded banks, medical practices and hospitals that background music provides a pleasant “ambience” and is relaxing. Of course music can be relaxing but this is only if you like the music being played and want to listen to it at that particular time.

Many successful businesses that don’t play background music are thriving. These include Primark, Aldi, Lidl, and Wetherspoons. Unfortunately, it is in the interests of the music industry to persuade businesses to play music so as to be able to collect millions of pounds in licence fees. Large numbers of shoppers are now driven to shop online, instead of on the high street, and many no longer eat out at restaurants or go to pubs because the background music prevents them from hearing what their companions are saying. Piped music is loathed by many in Britain and people with a huge range of health problems – from autism to tinnitus, ME to hyperacusis, reduced hearing to dementia – find that non-stop music in public places makes their lives a misery.

Quiet Scotland is affiliated to Pipedown, the campaign for freedom from piped music in public places. Our aim is to identify businesses in various parts of Scotland where it is possible to shop, relax or dine without music in the background. We are also trying to encourage businesses to provide a quiet area, or quiet times, when their music is switched off completely so that people with sensory problems are able to shop or eat in comfort.

Businesses seem to have little understanding of the problem. This is partly because customers are reluctant to complain. They don’t want to be confrontational and often find it easier just to leave a shop, or never return to the offending restaurant. When they do complain, the most usual responses are: “You are the only person who has ever complained, everyone else loves it”; “It’s a management decision, we can’t do anything about it”; or “Don’t you like music?!”

If this has happened to you or, if you would like to make your feelings known but have never liked to complain, Quiet Scotland has recently produced two cards. The first explains politely that background music can be stressful, and the second says thank you to a shop or cafe which is not playing music.

Dorothy Lewis is a member of Quiet Scotland. To receive ten cards of each design, contact Quiet Scotland at