Today, I’d like to dive into an intriguing topic – our engagement with music and how it evolves as we age. As artists and professionals in the industry, understanding our audience is crucial. And one key aspect of this is knowing how our listeners’ relationship with music changes over time.
The role of age and music engagement is based on a study by Arielle Bonneville-Roussy and she is interested in understanding why as we become older, the less music we consume.
The way we interact with music, and how it integrates into our lives, is influenced by our stage in life. From adolescence through to middle adulthood, the role of music in our lives undergoes a transformation.
According to the study, it was discovered that music, while less significant as we age, remains an essential part of our lives. The study showed that young people spend about 20% of their waking hours listening to music. In contrast, adults dedicated nearly 13% of their time to this leisure activity. Interestingly, while young people listen to music in various settings, adults typically enjoy their tunes in private.
The study also examined musical preferences across different age groups, using the five-dimensional music-preference model, known as the MUSIC model (Mellow, Unpretentious, Sophisticated, Intense, and Contemporary). I am skeptical of bucketing personalities or groups into broad categories, yet it is a manageable method for researchers to organize their findings.
As we grow older, our liking for Mellow, Unpretentious, and Sophisticated music tends to increase, while our preferences for Intense and Contemporary music decline. This explains the success of mood-based music today, especially post-COVID.
During adolescence, a period marked by identity formation and intense peer pressure, music plays a pivotal role. Young people use music as an identity badge, symbolizing their values and beliefs. However, as we transition into adulthood and develop more stable self-concepts, the roles we acquire (like spouse, parent, and professional) provide a more established sense of identity. Adults, therefore, do not invest as much psychologically in music as young people and instead listen to music mainly for relaxation and entertainment. Instead, adults tend to use music to replay older memories and important events in their lives.
The study provides a developmental perspective on musical preferences. For instance, Intense music, characterized by loud and distorted sounds, might appeal to adolescents as they grapple with establishing their sense of independence and autonomy. In young adulthood, Mellow and Contemporary music styles become more popular, possibly reinforcing desires for intimacy and complementing social settings where close relationships form. By middle adulthood, preferences shift towards Unpretentious and Sophisticated music, corresponding with familial responsibilities and career pursuits.
The research also underlines the association of music preferences with personality traits. People with high extraversion tend to prefer Contemporary music throughout their lives. A comparatively smaller, but robust, association was found between Agreeableness and preferences for Unpretentious music. Also, the study revealed that as people become more caring and dutiful with age, their preference for warm and reflective music also increases.
Arielle Bonneville-Roussy also found that biological maturation might also explain age differences in musical preferences. As people age, they lose the capacity to hear high-pitched and soft sounds, and show an increased risk for developing hearing impairments. Therefore, middle-aged adults might find loud and distorted music, such as the Intense and Contemporary genres, literally painful to hear and thus intolerable.
So, why does this matter? It matters because as artists and supporters of artists, we need to understand that our listeners are not static. Their musical preferences and the ways they engage with music change as they navigate different stages of life. This context can help tailor your next project to include certain demographic and evolve with an audience.
My key take aways from this study are:
A) Preferences shift as people grow older. Understanding these trends can help tailor your music to their target demographic. Given the bulk of listening happens among the 18-24 age group, it might be interesting to experiment with a project that targets listeners who are 50+ or vice versa.
B) The role of music evolves throughout life, especially around culture and current events. For young people, music often acts as an identity badge, a reflection of their values, beliefs, and lifestyle borrowed from culture. As people, their investment in music shifts towards relaxation, entertainment, and emotional regulation. Artists might consider these evolving needs when crafting their music and lyrics.
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