Understanding music tastes

Insight on why you like what you do

I’ve found myself wondering where my music tastes comes from. You would be surprised how many factors go into music taste. I strongly feel as though my music tastes stems mainly from the music I heard as a kid. If it’s the music my parents listened to or music I absorbed from the games I played. I feel like there is a direct connection between what I heard then and what I listen to now.

It seems this is the same opinion of Cade Cupper, junior.

“My dad and my uncles would play a lot of ’80s and metal, and I have listened to that my whole life.”

What I was intrigued to discover is that, according to research done by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz for The New York Times, males are most influenced by music around the age of 13. This is based on data grabbed from the music-streaming app Spotify. At 13 I was sitting in my room listening to dubstep, which was just coming into the internet’s attention around then. The music I was listening to at 13 seems like nothing more than a fad looking back; I don’t really enjoy the sound of dubstep too much. The roots of dubstep to begin with go all the way back to some of those genres I heard at a younger age, like early electronic music and techno.

This is where the flaw with this study is: it doesn’t take in more context. Cupper and I are both of the opinion that music taste is something that grows on you quickly, and while it is subject to change, the roots of that taste tend to stick with you. Without extra context, that number is misleading. It’s not as simple as, when you’re 13, music influences you more. The data was grabbed by seeing how frequently people listened to songs, and looking at their age. So this data in reality represents obvious truths everybody knows. For example, most people at 13, tend to have pretty linear music tastes they don’t often stray away from. Right now, for teens especially, you can expect lots of hip-hop and pop. It’s a stereotype at this point, but as with most, there is truth to it. Regardless of what music you listen to though, it’s the linearity that matters. Most people will stick to what they like at that age. Because of that, you’ll clearly see that 13 year olds will tend to listen to the same songs frequently or stick within a genre.

A study published in the University of Cambridge by Dr. Jason Rentfrow asserts that, although we do have preferences for music, it isn’t linear. As we get older, we tend to desire more complexity and sophistication in music. Moreover, the study says that music is a constantly evolving process for us, and is generally tied to what he calls “life challenges.” To summarize, at a young age, we desire contemporary, intense music most of all. As we age, intense fades to mellow, and after that, contemporary switches for sophisticated and unpretentious music.

This study is quite possibly the first to really dive into the deep, complex psychology of music and our tastes in it. While there is certainly more elements that go into music taste, this study is a strong basis for future research. In fact, Cupper currently seems to be following that trend.

“The music I have listened to has not changed much at all,” Cupper said.

His music tastes also fall into place here; metal music is certainly intense. ‘80s music, while not exactly contemporary, is still listened to like the former. This taste in ‘80s music might also symbolize a desire for more sophistication.

The psychology of music is very fascinating. Digging into it can shed some light on events occurring in your life. Going through this process of self-discovery and attempting to understand your own tastes furthers your understanding of the world as a whole. You gain a sense of self-awareness which makes you feel like you have more control over the music you listen to.