The same old song: The power of familiarity in music choice

Hello there!

I recently heard about a study published this past May. Its title is the same as the title of this post. The study states that consumers prefer familiar music over unfamiliar music, although consumers will say that they prefer to hear new music (I believe that it should be noted that throughout the study, the authors refer to unfamiliar music as “novelty music”). If you want to read it before my analysis, which is a good idea, please follow this link:

Done yet? Excellent. Reading below, you’ll find it no secret that I strongly disagree with the results.

First off, something I find very interesting is that the authors totally ignore variety, going instead for what is familiar. They, in fact, admit this in a footnote:

In this research, we concentrate on familiarity, and do not address variety or variety-seeking. Variety
refers to the number of different items in an assortment (Broniarczyk et al. 1998; McAlister and Pessemier
1982; Ratner et al. 1999), and variety-seeking refers to the desire to consume a diverse set of items. A very
diverse assortment could include all familiar or all unfamiliar goods, and a very homogenous assortment
could likewise vary a great deal in familiarity. In other words, high variety does not imply low familiarity
and vice versa.

There is a vast difference between the desire for new music and a desire for a variety in music. Turn on DC101 (for us in the WMA) for a couple hours, and you’ll hear at least two of the most popular songs played at least two times each. Beside that, you’ll hear the same songs within that two hour period repeated multiple times throughout the day. What this shows shows is a strong lack of variety. When consumers say they want to hear new music, it is quite possible that they mean is that they want to hear a larger variety. There are many independent artists that play familiar-sounding music, but the bands themselves would be considered new to anyone who hasn’t heard them. The study did not address this.

Another problem with the study is that the participants did not actually listen to the songs that they chose! They were presented with a list of 48 songs and band names that the authors believed the participants would be familiar with. This list was broken down into 24 songs that are played more on the radio, and 24 that are played less. These were then paired, so that participants would see a familiar song paired with a less familiar (although not necessarily new; something the study neglects to mention) song. The participants were asked to choose which one they prefer, after they had stated whether they like new music or familiar music. Based on this information, the authors determined that participants prefer familiar music.

The authors did not take into account factors such as social acceptance, whether participants were just going along with what was popular, or the “cool factor.” I find the lack of information there very troubling, considering all of the participants were undergraduates, who as well all know are very susceptible to peer pressure. It would be very interesting to see this same study done on a wider age group.

That’s just a couple things wrong with this study. I must be off to work my novel.

In closing, it is very important, not just for personal entertainment but for enrichment of our culture as well, to listen to wide variety of music, both familiar and unfamiliar.


Thanks for reading! Please share with me your own thoughts on this study, should you have them :)

Do you believe in ghosts?

I never really know if I do. I guess I want to, but haven’t really seen anything to make me believe them.

I thought of a short story once where ghosts were aliens, and humans were animals in a zoo. I should go back to that…

Anyway, a cool ghost story: I was changing my son’s diaper. Our first son, he was probably a little older than one year around the time this happened. He and I were in my room, where my wife and I slept. I heard the radio come on. The song was a love song.

The task completed, I carried my son back out to the living room and set him down in his playpen. My wife was cooking in the kitchen. We didn’t have a radio. We only played music on the computer, I remembered. So where was that song coming from?

I walked into the kitchen and found my wife cooking some lentils, or some other delicious dish. “Do you hear that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Where is that coming from? I thought it was you, playing a joke on me.”

“Nope,” I said. Both of us perplexed, we walked to where we thought the source of the noise was, in our pantry.

Now to backtrack a little. We kept the trash in the pantry, which had a door, so that our son would not open the can and explore the trash, as fun for him as that was. An old boombox had sat next to the trashcan for some time, a few months or longer, and I’m not really sure why we never actually took it out along with the rest of the trash. The boombox was broken and would not turn on for the longest time.

My wife and I opened the pantry door and walked in. The boombox played music. The song was a love song. If it had been any song other than a love song (and man do I wish I remembered exactly what song it was) then we probably would have high-tailed it outta there. Instead we listened to the song and marveled at what was happening.

We eventually turned the boombox off. I tried to turn it back on to test it out, and of course it did not turn on. We trashed it soon after.

Weird stuff. Anyone out there have ghost stories to tell?