Playlist Psychology

Admit it. Like me, you’ve probably organised your music into playlists. Maybe by artist or genre, perhaps by decade or even for nostalgia. And i’ll bet you too have also got repeats in those playlists, haven’t you? That one track that gets listed a couple of times because, when you’re in the mood for a particular style of music, there’s that one ‘classic’ piece for which one-play is never enough. According to Apple, most of our iTunes playlists are littered with this tendency – but why?

A new paper by Frederick Conrad and his colleagues shed at least a little more light on the behaviour itself.  In an innovative study, Conrad et al found that 60% of us engage in “re-listening” behaviour of this type on a weekly basis and, in a number of cases, we actually have the track in question placed in the playlist consecutively; in other words, it plays twice in row.  Some music consumers – termed “extreme re-listeners” – actually have the favoured track anything up to eight times in a row!

There were a number of reasons for this behaviour cited by consumers, but most were mood related. Over half of the people studied had playlists to “pick them up”, loaded with high-energy tracks of which there would be that “one song” that was the archetype of the category. Almost as many playlists were for relaxation purposes, crafted to help us “wind down”, “de-stress” or generally chill.

None of these findings are particularly surprising, I guess, but one oddity did stand out in the statistical analysis. Regardless of the playlist type or aim, twice as many “bittersweet” songs featured than any other type of music. Tracks that are happy and sad almost simultaneously. Quite why this should be the case isn’t entirely clear.  What we do know, though, is that songs of this type tend to create stronger mental models and result in a deeper level of processing in the brain. So, it could well be that we are associating them with a particular person, an event, a time in our lives that we love to recapture.

Mmmmnnn… perhaps I should call that the True Blue theory then and patent it!

Categories: Emotion, Motivation