Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Music in Everyday Life

Music surrounds us wherever we go. In the past two centuries the times, places, and ways in which people listen to music has incredibly changed. Before mass media and the technology of today, people heard music only in concert halls, social gatherings, and occasionally at home, and when they heard music it was usually because they were purposely setting out to hear it. Today, music sets up the background of our lives. So arguably, it is less prized than before. Before music was a treat, a treasure, a profound method of communication. Now music is packed up and shipped just like any other household item. Music is so widely available today in so many different formats and of so many different styles. People of today now use music much more often than before and in everyday situations. They can control it in their homes, and their cars while doing everyday tasks. Music is now a resource not just a commodity.
Because of these changes, the role of music in everyday life has also changed. There have been several different approaches to way this role has been studied. One way is the how music affects an individual's identity. Studies have also been done on how music was used in various contexts including shopping malls, and karaoke bars. In this study music was regarded more as a process and not just an object, helping the various activities along. Another study focused upon self-proclaimed music lovers and how they developed individual personality traits based upon this. Studies have also been done on the music industry's effect on personal musical tastes. Although these studies are all interesting they lack defining the reasons for everyday musical listening.
Research has been done on these reasons however. Social psychologists have adopted the approach known as "uses and gratifications." Participates are placed in a laboratory setting and asked to choose from a preset list the functions music serves for them. Most of these style studies have produced extremely inconsistent results. The most important thing these studies proved was that music fulfills completely different functions for each individual person and each individual situation. Similar studies have shown that the choice of the function of music is determined by social and interpersonal context.
The problem with the aforementioned studies is that they lack a focus upon the participants. The experiments have often chosen the music, the situations and the possible responses.
A participant centered approach conducted in 2001 involved giving each of the participants' electronic pagers and paging them once every two hours. When they received a page they were asked to document the last time they had heard music and the way in which they experienced it. They were also asked to describe who they were with, what emotions they felt, and the type of music. This type of experiment has potential for error in the participants' reports. Also this study was only done with 8 participants so it limits the amount of different responses.
The study that we will be focusing upon today asks five main questions; Who are people with when they listen to music? What do they listen to? When do they listen? Where do they listen? and Why do they listen?
The predictions of the study believe that people previously listened to music primarily on their own but due to technological changes that people are more likely to listen with others. Also that when listening alone people are more involved in actively listening while with others music serves as a background. Also that music listened to alone is probably more liked since the listener has stronger control of the musical choice.
In the regards of what music is heard the study predicted that because of technology the responses will be more widespread. The study predicted that the choice of type of music will also depend upon their motives for listening.
The when question was predicted as having fairly predictable patterns, such as that during the day music serves as background for other work while at night and on weekends it fulfills other functions. At different times of the day and on different days of the week, music fulfills different functions as well.
The predictions in regard to where people hear music is that responses will be largely widespread, including the home, cars, and commercial situations.
All of the above questions will effect why people listen to music.
The study had 346 volunteer participants who were recruited from universities and business throughout Britain. The participants were of ages between 13 and 78 and of various cultural backgrounds. Everyday for 14 days the participants were sent text messages on their mobile phones. When they received this message they were asked to fill out a short questionnaire about the music they could hear when they received the text message. The questionnaire consisted of five sections. The first section asked demographic information of the participants, the time they received their message and whether or not they could hear any music at the time. If they couldn't hear any music they were asked to fill out the questionnaire based upon the last time they had heard music. The second section consisted of questions concerning who they were with when they heard music. The third section asked the type of music they heard by choosing from a list of styles, whether they had any choice in listening to the music, the volume of the music and their liking of it. The fourth section asked where the music was heard. The fifth section consisted of two separate parts. The first part was for participants who had chosen to hear the music. It asked the function of the music. The second part was for people who had not chosen to hear the music. It asked the effect the music had on them.
The results of the study produced many interesting findings. That data collected regarding the "who" shows that most of the listening episodes occurred when the participant was with other people. These findings go along with the notion that technology has made it easier to access music thus making it easier to hear music with others. The data also proves that people had the most liking for music they could hear when they were on their own, while the lowest amount of liking was experienced with strangers. The function of music changed with who the person was listening with. Contrary to the predictions music did not serve as a background while with others and move to the foreground while alone. The greatest amount of attention was paid to the music when participants were with a boy pr girlfriend. Music was liked more when it was heard alone, but it was not necessarily more important at the moment.
Data collected regarding the "what" shows that pop music was the type of music most heard and that classical was the least. When people chose to hear music they used different types for different reasons. When people did not choose to hear music it still had some effect upon them, but they were less likely to enjoy the music.
Music was most often heard in the evening, which is consistent with the hypothesis. The lack of daytime music listening can be accounted for through work and non-leisure opportunities. However there is no link between being able to choose to listen to music and the time of day. Increased leisure time only increased the chances that a person would hear music and not their ability to choose to listen to music. The same applies to the link between the ability to choose and the day of the week. Data collected about the "when" shows that listening during leisure time is for pleasure and that listening during the workday is to help some other function.
Just as predicted, music was heard in many different places, the most popular being the home with half of reported incidents, others include restaurants, shops, gyms, nightclubs, and places of religious worship. Music was usually not the central focus and participants listened to music in different places for different reasons.
The reasons people listened to music has been mentioned in most of the aforementioned questions. Music generally served as a background both when people chose to listen to it and when then didn't choose to listen to it. The number one answer as to why people listened to music was that it was for enjoyment and that it helped pass the time. Other responses as to why people were listening to music is that it was habit, it help create the right atmosphere, it helped concentration and that it helped create an emotion. When people did not choose to listen to music, they had a generally unengaged attitude towards it.
In conclusion, the findings of this study actively prove that people use music as a resource in everyday life. This has happened recently due to the increase in access to music because of technology. People tend to view music passively and it seems that because it is so accessible that they take it for granted. People use music in different places, for different reasons, and experience it in different ways. But people use music. Music is in peoples lives now more than ever and much more research is to be done concerning the way in which it affects us all.

North, Adrian C., David J. Hargreaves, and Jon J. Hargreaves "Uses of Music in Everyday Life" Music Perception Volume 22, Number 1, Fall 2004