Music: A Valuable Tool to Leverage in Social Media

February 7, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Social Media

I read a really interesting blog today called “The iTunes personality test”.  In it, blogger, Rob Horning, offers his thoughts on PsyBlog’s report on a recent study (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006), which paired participants in same sex and opposite sex pairs and asked them to get to know each other over six weeks.  The result of the study indicated that music is one of the most common topics of conversation when people are getting to know each other.  According to PsyBlog article,

In the first week on average 58% of the pairs discussed music compared to 37% of all the other categories of conversation combined. Other categories included books, movies, TV, football and clothes.

The study went on to compare how much musical tastes can be used as an indicator of personality:

“Participants were asked to judge people’s personality solely on their top 10 list of songs. This was compared to participants results on a standard type of personality test measuring the big five personality traits: openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. Overall the results showed that music preferences were reasonably accurate in conveying aspects of personality.”

With the above findings in mind, Horning writes:

The study led me to wonder, though, if you couldn’t develop an iTunes plug in that would interpret your personality to yourself by analyzing what you are currently playing or have played most often most recently along the lines of how Pandora analyzes music and makes recommendations…It would work like a horoscope, perhaps, making oracular pronoucements about how you are feeling and what you seem to need. When iTunes inevitably becomes a social networking tool, this horoscope could link you to other people who might be especially compatible with you. If music is proxy for personality, it seems a cinch to make networked iTunes libraries into a kind of dating service.

I think Horning’s ideas on the future of music in social media are interesting.  One of the big challenges with leveraging music in social media at the moment is the ongoing DRM debate.  However, with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both criticizing DRM in recent statements, hopefully, one day, this will change. In particular, ending the DRM debate would give social media companies, artists, and record labels the ability to use music to make money in more innovative ways through social media.  I, for one, would love to see Horning’s ideas come to fruition and “meet” people on-line whose iPod content most closely mirrors my own.

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to read the following book, which talks about the emotion of music:

The author, Daniel J. Levitin, was once a rock music producer and is now a neuroscientist at McGill University in Canada.  Based on the reviews I’ve read, it sounds like theories explored within This is Your Brain on Music may provide support for Horning’s social media ideas about music and the stickiness of popular music social media sites like Pandora.com and Lastfm.com.  Take for example, the following excerpt from Salon.com‘s review:

Levitin proposes several reasons why music might have been important to humans over the long sweep of history. Making and listening to music is a social activity, and could thus have improved cohesion among members of the species. “Music may have historically served to promote feelings of group togetherness and synchrony” in ancient societies, Levitin writes. Singing around the campfire, way back in the day, “might have been a way to stay awake, to ward off predators, and to develop social coordination and social cooperation within the group.”

Finally there is that most important thing about music: its connection to love, or, more specifically, to arousal and mating. Unlike birds and whales, humans don’t produce musical mating calls. But as social animals, humans need strategies to attract potential mates, and music might have been an important part of the process. “As a tool for activation of specific thoughts, music is not as good as language,” Levitin writes. But “as a tool for arousing feelings and emotions, music is better than language.” If you want your potential mate to remember you, you serenade her, or at least get Peter Gabriel to do it.

In a great interview on Wired.com, Levitin talks about the power of music as a mood regulator:

Music activates the same parts of the brain and causes the same neurochemical cocktail as a lot of other pleasurable activities like orgasms or eating chocolate — or if you’re a gambler winning a bet or using drugs if you’re a drug user. Serotonin and dopamine are both involved….  Most people in Western society use music to regulate moods, whether it’s playing something peppy in the morning or something soothing at the end of a hard day, or something that will motivate them to exercise. Joni Mitchell told me that someone once said before there was Prozac, there was her.

Science is just starting to uncover just how powerful a force music is in people’s lives.  I look forward to seeing if/ how social media companies and record labels ultimately use scientific research to find ways to work together and better monetize the value they create.

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