Christmas music tends to be warm and familiar, conducive to carolers, concerts and the little ones picking out "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on the family piano.

It is also important for business.

It's no mistake that almost any store you enter nowadays has holiday music playing. Many, such as Crossroads Plaza and The Gateway, even have Christmas music playing on the sidewalks outside.

Holiday music, you see, translates to holiday money.

"Music, when played at an appropriate level, makes people want to stay longer," said Brent Parkin, group manager over the Cache Valley, Newgate, Cottonwood and Provo Towne Centre malls. "It creates an atmosphere."

Numerous studies show that playing appropriate music inside (and outside) stores brings in more profits. A Radford (Va.) University study, for example, found that customers who said they liked the piped-in music stayed an average of nine minutes longer and spent $15 more than other customers.

With daily traffic of hundreds or even thousands of customers during the holiday season, that adds up to a lot of money.

Other studies have concluded that stores can increase sales by playing music appropriate to the department, and even spur customers to buy more expensive brands.

Background music is big business. Several different companies carefully study what music is most appropriate (and profitable) for different types of stores and then provide it. Parkin's malls and many other local stores, for example, use Los Angeles-based DMX Music, which beams a choice of more than 100 different music channels (easy listening, hip-hop, jazz, etc.) into the stores' sound systems via satellite.

The company ups the ante at Christmas time, producing six different music channels for Christmas music alone. For big clients such as Nordstrom, it even provides customized versions.

"We work to increase their brand," said DMX vice president Rick Gillette. "Obviously for Nordstrom you're not going to play the Chipmunks or 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.' . . . Wrong music would confuse the customers."

Christmas music can make all the difference for people who normally consider shopping a chore, Gillette said. "They're fighting traffic and all the rest, but they still enjoy it. Why? It's that holiday vibe — the music takes them back to their childhood."

Comment on this story

Background music is about as close as you'll get to subliminal advertising. It has a significant influence on buying patterns, but almost never consciously registers with customers. For example, next time you find yourself humming "White Christmas" on your way to your car in the mall's parking garage, try to pinpoint what store you heard it in.

Nevertheless, people immediately notice its absence. "Sometimes we get a glitch in the system and the music isn't there," said University Mall general manager Rob Kallas. "As you walk through the hallways you feel like you're in a monastery or a morgue or something."

Bottom line: When you get home from shopping and your husband complains about all the money you spent, just shrug, smile and tell him the truth — the music made you do it.