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Is Easy Access to Music Making Us Tune Out?

17 January 2006

Internet downloading and MP3 players are creating a generation of people who do not seriously appreciate songs or musical performances, British researchers said.

That quote is from an AFP article published last week.

The quotes below, also from the article, are attributed to music psychologist ADRIAN NORTH, who led the team of researchers from the University of Leicester.

The accessibility of music has meant that it is taken for granted and does not require a deep emotional commitment once associated with music appreciation.

Because so much music of different styles and genres is now so widely available via portable MP3 players and the Internet, it is arguable that people now actively use music in everyday listening contexts to a much greater extent than ever before.

The degree of accessibility and choice has arguably led to a rather passive attitude towards music heard in everyday life.

In short, our relationship to music in everyday life may well be complex and sophisticated, but it is not necessarily characterised by deep emotional investment.

I have listened to some of my all-time favorite songs, like “Old Man” and “The Red Telephone” by LOVE, on my home stereo, on my iPod, and by my barbecue, and I always feel that same magic. Increased access to these songs has not reduced my appreciation of them, which is why I think there may be a bit more to this study.

Every purchase inherently contains economic sacrifice. This is one reason why I think people who pay for CDs will, on balance, be more inclined than those who do not pay for them to give what seems to be a subpar disc several spins before giving up on it. With free music you have invested nothing, so you don’t feel the same self-imposed pressure to ‘justify’ acquiring it.

To buy a new CD you have to pay $13.99 or so. By getting to the point where you are ready to fork over your hard-earned money, chances are pretty good that you’ll enjoy your purchase.

However, if you can get a disc for free, you’ll be more inclined to take a chance on an artist. And why not? What is the downside? Maybe you’ll find one great band for every 20 that don’t move you.

And that may partially explain the increased apathy phenomenon. At the same time that we are enlarging our music collections and hearing more new artists we may paradoxically be diluting the overall quality of what we hear.


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