Repetitive Music Can Negatively Impact Service Industry Workers, Especially If It's the Hamilton Soundtrack


When Starbucks employees were subjected to a week of measuring out their days in Hamilton tracks, they were rightfully pissed.

In January, a Starbucks barista complained on Reddit, “If I have to hear Hamilton one more time I’m getting a ladder and ripping out all of our speakers from the ceiling.” The employee added, “I guess it’s better than ‘Young Folks’ and that anxiety-inducing whistle.” Grub Street reported last month that the playlist, titled “Hamilton Takeover,” played at 8,000 Starbucks locations on the week of January 11. Clocking in at a little over two hours, the playlist quickly drove workers far past disliking Hamilton, to the brink of mental chaos.

This week, CBC Radio One program The Current followed up on the phenomenon that is repetitive music slowly wearing away the sanity of retail and food service workers. Host Anna Maria Tremonti had guests from various fields weigh in. Chicago-based writer and podcaster Adam Johnson told her, “I do think it can have a real material harm on people’s well-being.” Johnson reckoned with the fact that he is not a scientist but that this is fine: “I’m not quite sure we need a panel of experts to deliberate over research for decades to figure out that, yes, playing the same music over and over again has a deleterious effect on one’s mental well-being.”

Jessica Grahn, a neuroscientist who has studied the effects of music on mood, says it can be “pretty debilitating” when “someone else has control of our sonic environment.” She recommends communication between bosses and workers on ways to liven up musical monotony.

For me it’s a toss-up between AirPods for every worker and changing the communally projected music more often, perhaps facilitated by longer playlists. Long term, it would be good to tear the speakers from Starbucks’ walls and continue dissembling from there. One immediate step we could take is banning Hamilton from being played in public spaces. My gym, for instance.

Correction [2/26 1:20 p.m.]: A former version of this blog referred to “CBS Radio” when what was meant was “CBC Radio.”

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