Studying listening / recorded popular music #iaspm2017

Marta García Quiñones: Independent researcher

Studying listening to recorded popular music: a methodological overview and some suggestions for future research

ABSTRACT: It is normally taken for granted that popular music fans listen to recorded music, and that their preferences are mainly shaped by that activity. However, studying what happens while they are listening appears as a challenging task. While current neurobiological research seems to provide access to how our brains react to music (Levitin 2006), it has attained so far very limited results, and ultimately perpetuates a solipsistic conception of listening. In the last two decades popular musicologists, anthropologists and sociologists have proposed different qualitive research strategies, which are generally more sensitive to the varieties of human relationship to music and the diversity of listening contexts, and even occasionally deal with situations where music listening happens alongside other actions (Lilliestam 2013, Kassabian 2013). Yet, these methods may raise questions of representativity, and do not always allow a better understanding of the intersubjectivity of listening practices—that is, the fact that listening and appreciating recorded popular music is something that is often done with others, in dialogue with their opinions, and in a network of affective exchanges. This paper wants to contribute to the design of useful research procedures focusing on this particular aspect of the experience of popular music fans.

[JB note – this was presented in a room with some noise pollution from next door, and being sat at the back I didn’t catch all of it. At one point we were dealing simultaneously with an un-miced presenter, audio playback from the next room, and a local bell-ringing group practising in the church across the road! I’ve posted what I have below, but I suggest interested scholars should follow Marta’s work directly because this post really doesn’t do justice to the depth of the presentation].

Marta’s focus is on music listening in everyday life; she is interested in the effect of listening context on the listener’s perception. Her goal is to design situation-based models by which musicologists can interrogate how people hear music.

In a section about technologies, Marta reflects that new and old technologies often coexist simultaneously, and she makes the point that despite FM radio being a relatively old technology it is still responsible for a large number of listener experiences. She refers to AM/FM radio as the ‘centrepiece of audio’ among the 25-54 age demographic.

She makes an argument that the passive/solipsistic act of ‘listening’ to music is replaced in some scholarship with the more active act of ‘responding’ to music. She breaks down the literature on listener research into three categories:

  • Social Psychology, Consumer psychology and psychology of music (e.g. John Sloboda, Adrian North/David Hargreaves, Greasley & Lamont)
  • Sociology and communication studies (e.g. Tia Denora, Antoince Hennion, Raphael Nowak)
  • Popular music studies (e.g. Susan Crafts, Melissa Avdeef)

Marta notes that these authors make a significant contribution to listener research, but notes (as others have done, including me) that academics have a tendency to survey their own students, which may risk limiting the value of the evidence base.

Greasley and Lamont talk about the ‘Experience Sampling Method‘; Marta also discusses the Day Reconstruction Method and Tia DeNora’s work on participant-observation.

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