For many, it is the sign of a good bar or restaurant, or a soundtrack to an afternoon spent in the shops. 

But background music has become the centre of a new campaign to support the elderly, hard of hearing or autistic people, as well as those who just find it annoying.

The group Quiet Scotland argues that “piped” music, played by shops, cafes and restaurants can be “distressing” to people who would prefer a quieter environment.

The campaign started in 2012, and has around 200 members from around Scotland.

It began as an offshoot of the Pipedown campaign, based in England, and initially campaigned against background music in Edinburgh.

It has since expanded to cover the whole of Scotland, and publishes a list of “muzac-free” locations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, for other haters of background music to visit.

The group also encourages retailers that eschew piped music to contact the group and be placed on the list. It says that playing loud music in public places amounts to a violation of human rights. 

HeraldScotland:

Quiet Scotland has designed a set of feedback cards that allow customers to rate cafes, restaurants and bars on the loudness of their music.

The cards are available from the group on request, and it hopes that they will persuade cafe owners and retailers to turn the music off. It also suggests that the group’s followers contact the managers or owners of businesses to complain about the loudness of music.

The pub chain Wetherspoons has already banned background music in its branches, and some supermarkets have introduced “quiet hours” where their music is switched off. 

Discount retailers Aldi and Lidl do not play any music in their branches. 

The Herald tested six venues in Glasgow with a decibel meter and found that one store – JD Sports – had music in its branch as loud as 92 decibels, which is as loud as a lawnmower. Its average was 82 decibels.

By law, workers exposed to average noise levels of more than 85 decibels must be provided with ear protection.

HeraldScotland:

The Nike sports shop, which plays music in its branches, measured 76 on the decibel meter. Branches of Starbucks and Pizza Hut in the town centre, meanwhile, measured 73 and 68 decibels respectively.The Counting House Wetherspoons on George Square in Glasgow –which doesn’t play music – measured 65 decibels, the quietest venue tested. Quiet Scotland’s treasurer, Anne Wellman, 65, said while the group began as an offshoot of Pipedown in England, they changed its name because “piped” music has a different meaning in Scotland.

“We changed it to Quiet Scotland, because everybody who joined intensely dislikes background music played in public places,” she said.

“Sometimes that’s because of health conditions, but in many cases it’s merely because we dislike having music imposed upon us. 

“In most cases, the music that shops and cafes play is unlikely to be popular with customers, she said. “Think of the types of music you don’t like, and then have that blasted at you when you’re trying to eat. Because that’s mostly the case. 

“What are the odds of them playing something you actually like?

“It is very distressing for people who have a medical condition like autism or tinnitus or any hearing problems.”

She also suggested that disability legislation designed to protect those with medical conditions from discrimination could be applied to the loudness of music in public places. 

“It can actually affect your health and put you off going into shops and restaurants,” she said.

“For a lot of people, it’s simply annoying, but annoying to the point of refusing to patronise those 
shops.

“We have about 200 members and we have a Facebook and Twitter presence which is gaining followers. 

HeraldScotland:

“I would make a comparison with the anti-smoking campaign. There was a point at which that was laughed at, and then it reached a tipping point when people actually started to agree.”

“We do see it as a transgression of a human right.”

The group also claims that rather than attracting more customers, loud background music can drive sales away, with customers preferring to shop online or in quieter places.

Even pubs that choose not to play music can have televisions or gambling machines that make conversation difficult, it says.

Background music has drawn the attention of celebrities, including Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Roger Scruton, the conservative intellectual.