How Your Music Taste Shapes Your Listening Habits

Fans of rock and alternative attend more concerts, and Finns are more passionate about live music than Americans! Read on for more..

Fans of rock and alternative attend more concerts, and Finns are more passionate about live music than Americans! Read on for more..


How do our music preferences influence how we engage with music? This was the question I explored recently in a study of relationships between musical taste and listening habits around the world. 

The aim was to offer insights into a range of facets of music consumption and listening behaviour, with a focus on effects of musical taste and cultural background.

I'll be speaking about various aspects of this work in Ghent (ESCOM2017), London (Music 4.5: What Is The Value Of Music?) and Vienna (8th Vienna Music Business Research Days) over the summer, but here are a few advanced highlights to whet your appetite.

Music preferences

Music preferences — at least at the genre level — are known to correlate with a range of characteristics such as age, gender, personality, and other measures of what makes us the individuals we are. Such preferences are also affected by our geographic location, i.e., where in the world we live, as well as various sociocultural and economic factors.

Studies suggest that many of these factors will likely affect specific aspects of how we engage with music, such how frequently and for how long we listen to music, and how often we go to concerts.

However, one problem with previous work is that studies tend to be country-specific, revealing only how individuals from one particular nation engage with music. In order to explore these phenomena on a global scale, I looked at relationships and differences between music preferences and selected music engagement behaviours of individuals from five key music markets around the world.

A global view

I sent out a series of six surveys to thousands of people (52% female) aged 18-60 in USA, UK, Australia, India, and Finland. These markets were selected because they range from large and/or established (e.g., USA) to small and/or emerging (e.g., India). 

The surveys were designed to examine relationships between each individual's music preferences, their live music attendance, their modes of listening, their level of musical training, and selected demographic attributes.

Specifically, I was interested in issues such as the importance of music in their everyday life, their weekly listening time, the frequency and type of concerts they attended, and their use of headphones.

Musical taste was measured using the Short Test of Music Preferences (STOMP), a robust and widely-used measure of genre-level music preferences. 

Demographic information included gender, age, education, income, and nationality.

What I found

Having collected all that data, I examined relationships and differences between the various facets of musical engagement using a range of statistical methods.

These analyses revealed clear connections between listeners’ musical taste, their cultural background, and their music consumption behaviour. What's more, these connections ranged from the rather obvious to the more surprising.

Importance of music in everyday life

For example, the importance of music in everyday life was higher for musicians compared to nonmusicians. Yup, that's one of the obvious ones :) 

But there was also a negative relationship between education and importance of music, with music being rated as more important in everyday life by individuals with lower levels of education. More specifically, the highest rating was given by individuals with a high school degree-only.

Importance of live music

Correlations between the importance of attending live concerts and scores on the four STOMP classifications of music preferences were highest for fans of so-called IntenseRebellious and ReflectiveComplex music.

In the STOMP classifications, the IntenseRebellious category contains genres like alternative, heavy metal and rock. The ReflectiveComplex category, meanwhile, contains genres such as blues, classical, folk and jazz

In other words, fans of alternative, blues, classical, folk, heavy metal, jazz and rock regard live music as more important than fans of other genres.

Impact of culture

I also found some interesting cross-cultural differences. One prominent example of this was that Finnish music fans rated the experience of live music as being more important than their US counterparts.

Thus, while the US market is significantly bigger in terms of overall size, the Finnish market is more passionate!

Tantalising insights

So, what can we learn from all of this? Well, although my results to some extent support previous work in this area, they also offer some tantalising and novel insights into effects of musical taste, culture, and demographics on specific elements of the ways we engage with music everyday.

More interesting, perhaps, is how these connections relate to issues such as creating and quantifying value in music, especially in the digital streaming age. And it's exactly these kinds of issues that I'll be discussing in more detail over the summer.

If you have any comments or question about these results, or want to know more, leave a comment below or get in touch.

And if you're keen to know more about the science of sound and music in general, you might like to read The Experience Factor.

Geoff Luck1 Comment