August 12, 2014
Last summer it was “Blurred Lines.” This summer it’s “Fancy.” Every year, there’s a new song that we all hate until we don’t any more (see: playcounts). And it turns out that’s because we were brainwashed to like them.
Research suggests that repeated exposure is a much more surefire way of getting the general public to like a song than writing one that suits their taste. Based on an fMRI study in 2011, we now know that the emotional centers of the brain — including the reward centers — are more active when people hear songs they’ve been played before. In fact, those brain areas are more active even than when people hear unfamiliar songs that are far better fits with their musical taste.
This happens more often than you might think. After a couple dozen unintentional listens, many of us may find ourselves changing our initial opinions about a song — eventually admitting that, really, Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” isn’t as awful as it sounds. PBS’ Idea Channel‘s Mike Rugnetta explains, it’s akin to a musical “Stockholm syndrome,” a term used originally by criminologist Nils Bejerot to describe a phenomenon in which victims of kidnapping may begin to sympathize with their captors over time.
Most people assume that they hear a song everywhere because it’s popular. That’s not the case — a song is popular because it’s played everywhere. It is technically illegal for major labels to pay radio stations directly to play certain songs, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. The phenomenon is called “payola” (an amalgam of the words pay and Victrola), and it was rampant in the 1960s up through the ’80s, during which period the music industry was literally run by the mob. It still happens today, even though it isn’t as blatant. Labels pay independent promoters to “incentivize” radio stations to play their music, or create program caps to make sure a song gets enough plays to have its effect. There’s real neuroscience behind the strategy: If you hear something enough, you’ll start to like it.
This article was posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 4:05 am