Now I know what happened. And why. I came back home from my summer university teaching in Prague, went to my local Starbucks, held up my iPhone with its Starbucks app to the scanner and settled down happily to enjoy my coffee in what I expected would be the usual warm, comfortable atmosphere. Then I realized something had changed. Where was the mood-setting music mix of new and old, jazz and rock? Manager’s choice music which varied from store to store to fit the customer mix? Background music which – like that of a lounge pianist – created a sense of belonging, of social interaction in an otherwise sterile, masculine-colored brown and tan, oblong strip mall space. What I heard now was more like the old Muzak. Boring, genre-less, insipid elevator music. It was like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or maybe the Stepford Wives.
I asked the baristas. We hate it too, they said. I emailed the regional manager. I’ll tell my boss, she emailed back. I even filled out a customer complaint form on the Starbucks website. We’ll pass on your comments, came the stock reply.
Today I found out the truth. What really happened. In a way it was an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Spotify and Starbucks had partnered to create what they called “a next generation music ecosystem”. In all 7000 company owned US stores. I must have missed the announcement last May. Had I known I might have stayed in Prague. Where the body snatchers haven’t ventured yet. And Starbucks is still Starbucks.
There’s nothing in my local New Jersey store saying something like “Music by Spotify. Plunk down your 10 monthly bucks to subscribe.” There’s just nothing. Musical nothingness.
I wonder if it’s because most of Starbucks’ employees are just too young to remember Muzak. Or all the jokes. Or maybe out in Seattle – where corporate Starbucks lives – they never had elevator music. It’s the West Coast after all. And the living is —- different.