Remember this next time you complain about all the same-sounding music these days

The Experience Factor by Geoff Luck Familiarity Breeds Desire 2000*2000.png

Fresh new music

In these days of on-demand playback of virtually any song ever recorded via services such as Spotify and Apple Music, one might reasonably assume we’d all seek out new music at every opportunity, right? 

I mean, who isn't sick of hearing the same old music on the airwaves? Don’t you wish radio stations would play a more varied selection of tunes, with less repetition of the same, limited playlist? Perhaps you've even considered abandoning radio altogether due to the lack of fresh music?

Conversations with friends suggests that these are commonly-held views. Yet it seems we just don’t have the courage of our convictions. In fact, when given the choice, we actually listen to music we’re more familiar with. Even if we’re sick of it!

Surveying listeners' attitudes

In an ingenious exploration of this phenomenon, Morgan Ward and colleagues at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas surveyed music listeners’ attitudes concerning the exact same radio airplay-related issues described above. And they found exactly what you’d expect — those they surveyed were sick and tired of hearing the same narrow playlists playing the same old music. Boring, boring, boring!

Yet, when those same people were subsequently asked to rate their preference for, familiarity with, and how “sick” they were of a series of well-known songs, then to choose which songs they’d like to listen to, which ones do you think they selected? The new tracks, right? Hmm, nope. 

Familiarity breeds desire, not contempt

The songs they selected were the those they were both most familiar with and the most sick of! Thus, even when we say we’re satiated with the songs played on the radio, sick of the lack of new music, when given a choice we still prefer to listen to the songs we know best, even if we’re fed up with them.

So next time you hear yourself complaining about the lack of musical diversity on the airwaves, just remember it might not all be down to a lack of imagination and commercial forces. 

Our fundamental desire for familiarity, it seems, can be our own worst enemy.

Geoff LuckComment