01 February 2012

The Challenge of Music

"Music is the soundtrack of your life." ~ Dick Clark

Imagine what your favorite movie would be like without the soundtrack.

The soundtrack can make or break a movie. It propels the story and sets the tone. Music can build suspense and help us form reactions to the characters. The right music can elevate a movie to mythic standards. What would Star Wars be like without the iconic music composed by John Williams? or The Lion King without Elton John's lyrics? or how about the times-defining music choices in Forrest Gump? Other songs may have worked, but they wouldn't have been as powerful. They might still be great movies, but the music adds so much dimension to our enjoyment of the films.

The same is true for theme songs. Do you remember the show Cheers? If you do, I will bet that you can hum the theme song, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name." Or how about Friends? "I'll Be There For You" is not only snappy, but it perfectly defined that show. 

Now think about your life. Chances are there has been a thread of music running through it constantly. From the time you were little to just today, every person has a soundtrack to their life. Some of the music is something that you might have grown up hearing because your parents or siblings listened to it, perhaps it is the choices that you made for yourself as a teenager and were able to select music that suited your developing style, or maybe it is the music that you gravitate to in your daily life, for working out, waking up, celebrating or falling asleep. Our music choices say a lot about us.

With the advent of the technology available to us today, every person walking down the street has their own personal playlist, some walking right along with them. When I was growing up, you were defined by whatever radio station you chose to listen to, or what 45s you purchased. I eventually graduated to a Walkman that played one CD at a time but was not shared with others. Today we have iPods and MP3 players and we can share our music choices with each other fairly easily. There are satellite music stations that beam only the genre you want to hear into your car and websites that allow you to create your own channel based on your thumbs up or thumbs down on a song. In fact, it has become a sort of a game to share playlists with others, or to see if you can identify the person whose playlist is labeled anonymous. Remember when you could tell a lot about someone by their medicine cabinet? Now you can learn a lot about them from the playlist on their iPod (for the record, I don't have an iPod, but I am an avid listener of Pandora channels and have dozens of them to set the mood for whatever I am doing at the moment. And I understand that I can even create and swap Pandora channels with other people. I should try that sometime.)

What does music say about the listener?

Music is a common topic of conversation with people who are just starting a relationship. Assumptions are made about what type of person someone is based on their musical preferences. Not only is musical preference an outward expression of our inner personalities but our choices of music can be influenced by external situations as well.Musical preferences can be influenced by our personalities (extroverts may tend toward choral music; more religious people may tend toward music with messages in tune with their beliefs), our mood (someone who just had a breakup may be more inclined to somber melodies) or our upbringing (children with a parent who plays in a symphony may find themselves drawn to more classical music).

In 2008 there was a great deal of interest in the first presidential playlist ever released: the iPod playlist of George W Bush. He had country music with a smattering of 70s rock and folk thrown in. His playlist was the subject of much psychoanalysis at the time. What did his song choices say about his state of mind when the Iraq war was raging? Did the song "My Sharona" by the Knack indicate that he had had a wild affair? And during the last presidential election the release of Obama's iPod list revealed his love of jazz but also hip-hop and included African-American greats as well as Bob Dylan. Very diverse tastes that could say something about his personality... or not.  Of course, these are just observations that others have made based on what was revealed and we will never know exactly what that means other than they like one song over another.

Cambridge University psychologist Jason Rentfrow did a study of the preferences that individuals have of music and what that says about their personality. If you like, you can watch this short YouTube clip showing the highlights of his study.

Rentfrow noted that everyone has stereotypes when it comes to what music genres say about other people, but that they don't believe their own music preferences say anything about themselves. I find that incredibly interesting.

Rentfrow and US researcher Sam Gosling created a questionnaire they administered to undergraduates at their respective universities to determine musical preferences and personality traits for their study. They came up with four dimensions of musical preference made up of various genres and then correlated those music dimensions with personality traits (information adapted from ScienceBlogs.com report "What Does Your Music Say About You?" and the study paper "The Do Re Mi's of Life"):
  • Reflective and Complex - blues, jazz, classical, and folk
    Researchers found that those who listened to Reflective and Complex music tended to be inventive with active imaginations, consider themselves to be intelligent and reject conservative ideals. They generally found them to be open to new experiences and emotionally stable.
  • Intense and Rebellious - rock, alternative, and heavy metal
    This type of music is more often than not associated with negative images, anti-social behavior and a combative attitude. Interestingly, this study concluded that those who like this type of music are curious about different things, enjoy taking risks, consider themselves intelligent and are physically active.
  • Upbeat and Conventional - country, sound tracks, religious, and pop
    People who prefer this type of music are cheerful, socially outgoing, reliable and enjoy helping people. They tend to be conventional and rate themselves as physically attractive.
  • Energetic and Rhythmic - rap and hip/hop, soul and funk, electronica and dance
    Those who are attracted to Energetic and Rhythmic music styles are energetic themselves, are talkative and forgiving and adopt more liberal ideals.
So what does that mean? Our music choices certainly are influenced by so many things, and it is an outward indication of our personality, but it is not the only thing that determines who we are. It is just one dimension in a whole spectrum of attributes. But music is a way that we connect with those who have similar styles and tastes and how we show our personality to the world, much in the same way that we show our personality through our accessories and adornments.

If you could pick one song to be your Power Anthem, what would it be? 

For my own life, I can claim a wide variety of musical tastes from classical and jazz to Broadway musicals and country. I have a love of singer-songwriters and based on my preferences in the channel that I have built that I call "Nighttime in the Studio," Pandora has determined that I like "basic rock song structures, a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation and major key tonality."  What does that say about my personality? It might say that I am intelligent and cheerful with an active imagination. Or it could just be a fact that I need to have more melodic music when I am working that won't distract me or make my pulse race too high which I have found to negatively impact what I am trying to create.

I have certain performers that I keep coming back to, like Maroon 5 and Sting, Journey and Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and Jack Johnson, Billie Holiday and Sara Bareilles, Mozart and the soundtrack to Wicked. I will admit that I do have an affinity for Glee as well as a love of the American Idol process. And I also sing as a cantor, or leader of music at my church. In fact I will be leading the congregation this coming Sunday.

I like popular music that my kids have on their iPods as well as music that I grew up listening to with my parents, like the Beatles, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett. I go through phases. I will latch onto a song and play it over and over again in my car until I get the words just right (Adele's 21 is on a loop in my car now. I almost have song #7 down). And there are songs that I will forever hold in my memory as evoking a certain time and place, like the song that my husband chose for our first married dance (Garth Brooks "If Tomorrow Never Comes") and one of the best concerts that I ever attended (Genesis "In the Air Tonight").

Are you getting inspired yet? Ready to take the Challenge?

What song do you connect to so personally that every time it comes on the radio the beat moves you, the lyrics speak to your soul, and the harmonies make your heart sing? If you love music, this is the challenge for you! For the Challenge of Music, we will choose a song that speaks to each of us personally and translate that song into an accessory. Here is how it will work:

1::Go to the tab above that says 'take the challenge' and sign up. Participation is limited to the first 100 who sign up between February 1st-February 4th.

2::Start thinking about a song. (Don't worry, you don't have to know right away what song, just start thinking!) Go to your playlist or CD collection or Pandora or Slacker music apps and just listen. Select a song that you love. It can be one that speaks to your soul, moves your feet, brings back a memory or never fails to put a smile on your face. It can be in any genre, from any time period. Consider songs from your past: the song you danced to at your wedding, the music that defined that special summer, the song that brings back memories of your first crush, etc. You get the idea. And no, it doesn't have to be music with words. If you love classical or instrumental music, that is fine, too.

OR challenge yourself to try a new music genre (it is called a challenge after all...)If you like country, try classical... if you prefer hip-hop try jazz... if heavy metal is your thing, try blues. Not sure what songs are out there? Go to Pandora.com and select one of their general music stations in a genre and spend some time listening to it before settling on a song you connect with. You might be surprised to find something new that you really like!

Just for fun, want to find the Playlist of Your Life? Try this exercise from WikiHow.

3::Mark your calendar: Blog Hop on Wednesday, February 29th. Yes, you must have a blog to participate in a blog hop. You are encouraged to blog about your song selection (be sure to tell us the complete song title, artist), your inspiration, your creative process. Be sure to tell us of your connection to this song, why you chose it. Please find a way to share the music on your blog: add a clip from YouTube, link to the artist's website, share what you learned about the artist's inspiration, supply part of the lyrics, etc. It doesn't have to be all of these, but some way that we can enjoy the song will be helpful in making the connection with your accessory.

Hopefully we will have as many different songs as we have participants. And if we have our overseas friends join us, we might even have a real world beat! You won't reveal your song until the blog hop, so don't worry about claiming a song. I don't care if you all pick the same song (that is highly unlikely). But even if we all did the same exact song we would still have so many different interpretations. This is an exercise in how to take an intangible inspiration and interpret it in your own way. I hope that this Challenge of Music hop will be a great way to expand your horizons to new music, find a way to make the intangible tangible, and show off your unique and lovely personality!

I will compile all the entries into the database and email all of the participants by Tuesday, February 7th with more information to help you enjoy the hop. The most important thing is to HAVE FUN!

Your turn... and completely for fun if you want to answer it...What is the most surprising song or artist on your playlist or CD in your collection? In other words, what song or artist is the one that people would be surprised to know that you listen to?

Okay, I'll start... I will admit that I love Weird Al Yankovich. Does anyone remember a radio syndication called Dr. Demento? Apparently, the Dr. is still going strong. Back in the 80s I used to listen to this show on Sunday nights. Songs like "Fish Heads" and "Pencil Neck Geek" and "They're Coming To Take Me Away" were all the rage. And that is where I was first introduced to Weird Al. When my son started coming home and telling me he found these really funny songs like "Eat It," "My Bologna" and "Like A Surgeon," I was delighted. I had no idea that Weird Al was still recording and still funny after all these years ("White and Nerdy" - new classic!). Of course, my son thought that he had discovered Weird Al, but this allowed me to introduce him to some of the best songs of my 80s generation so that he could fully appreciate the parodies. Because you can't understand the Weird Al tune "Fat" without seeing the King of Pop gyrating, popping and locking in an abandoned subway station to fully appreciate the genius that is Weird Al.

P.S. I know that some people were excited and thought that this would be another Challenge of Color. I intend to do the Challenge of Color in November each year for as long as anyone wants to play along. But each quarter I have committed to a different challenge to keep things interesting.  

Hope to care to join me in the Challenge of Music!


Anonymous said...

Exciting! What a cool idea! I have music on all the time, but have never considered letting it inspire my creations. But now I have ideas.....tons of them. Amazing!

adlinah said...

Such a great challenge idea! I'd love to play - but I'm already playing in Lori's BSBP and I know I'll be too overwhelmed with that and life to come up with something by the 29th. I'll be looking forward to seeing what the 100 pp come up with though. Best of luck!

Therese's Treasures said...

This is a very interesting challenge and a difficult one. I like you have a very diverse love of music, so this will be a real challenge to me, consider me in this challenge.

Courtney Breul said...

What a great challenge! I don't want to over extend myself right now.....I can't wait to see what folks create and what music is loved.

I may just play along quietly! :)

Christine Altmiller said...

I always have music on when I make jewelry. And when I do anything else, for that matter :-) It is hard for me to zero in on what is a favorite, but I have long said that Gram Parsons and red beads are my muse.
As for surprise/guilty pleasure...any one from my past knows about my John Denver fixation, but they would be surprised to know I secretly love AC/DC and show tunes. When I was 10, for Christmas I asked for the soundtrack to "West Side Story" and AC/DC "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". I got both. I do not think my parents were aware of the songs on the "Dirty Deeds" album!
Thanks for this opportunity!

Maneki said...

Sounds like a fun challenge! I shouldn't sign up for another challenge right now, but I did it anyway. *lol* Partially because it's different from the other challenges I'm doing/will be doing.

Tricky part will be to choose a song to work with... There's so much music and so many favourites.

Like many I have a more or less diverse taste, though in the end I tend to mostly listen to contemporary and 80's pop and rock nowadays because that's what they play on the commercial radio station that is one of the very few I seem to be able to tune in. I'm a lazy listener... (don't have an mp3 player or smartphone so no listening to music and downloading tunes like most do. Nor do I buy expensive CDs.)

steufel said...

Ohh, that is a tight schedule, but I will try:-)

Beth Hikes said...

Erin, this is such a cool challenge! Thanks for putting it out there. I have so many songs running through my head now, I'm wondering how to narrow it down. Thank you for the inspiration!

Cynthia said...

Well, you've really done it this time. I literally was squirming, filling in the challenge form, trying to link myself to one music genre and artist. Really!
The entire time I was reading your post, my mind was darting from song to song. I know the song choice is going to be the most difficult part of this challenge!
I guess I can be like you and pick a song from every genre!! Please tell me you are not going to do that this time!!
Wow! My mind is all over the place. I'm excited and a little scared! This will be an exciting challenge!

Sarah Sequins said...


I'm as excited about this music challenge as I was about the color challenge! I already have a band in mind... now it's a matter of choosing a song because they're all my favorite. ;)

meena said...

i love music! by the way, i'm a new follower, and hope someday, you'll be mine too!


Rebecca said...

Erin, come on, be honest - did you make up this challenge just for me?!! I am definitely signing up! It will be a massive challenge for me, just picking something im the first place will be difficult. But I will do my best to rise to the challenge!

Alice said...


I love so many different kinds of music, but never thought about using it as inspiration for jewelry. What a fantastic idea!

I signed up, but my computer screen didn't show the full page and I didn't see what was down below my name when I hit the enter key. I may not have filled out the form properly....sheesh, there's always one dope that need their hand held.

I'm looking forward to this challenge and seeing what others create.

Michelle Mach said...

What a great challenge idea! (I'm just finishing up a piece inspired by American Idol which I'll share on my blog soon. Feels a little like you were reading my mind.)

I'm a little too overextended in the challenge department to play, but I'll definitely want to stop by and see what everyone came up with.

P.S. I like Weird Al, too. :)

Paige said...

What an awesome challenge idea! I'm so glad I saw this and signed up! :D It'll be hard to narrow it down to one song for the challenge, since I love *so* many different genres, artists, and songs.

I think that the most surprising artists on my IPod right now would probably be Eminem. Or maybe Motion City Soundtrack or Green Day.

Cindy said...

Erin, you're the master at great ideas. I enjoyed reading the background to selecting this challenge topic. I bet you've got a fantastic voice, btw! Hmm....just read Paige's comment about Eminem and what a coincidence...he went through my mind as probably the most surprising artist I listen to.

Holly said...

I'm just so excited by this challenge! Music, in all of it's forms and variations, is so prevalent in my life that sometimes even silence seems musical. And isn't that an oxymoron? ;)

Anyway, I listen to about anything and my iPod playlist is quite eclectic. I've got Doo Wop and 60's Folk icons on there, a large selection of '80s classics, some indie artists, and alot of kids music for the little ones. Glee (tons of Glee), Michael Jackson, a monstrous variety of Country.... Well, you get the idea ;) But the most surprising would probably be the professional opera singing of a friend of mine, and the hip hop work of another friend who might be the next big hip hop star.

Tanya said...

I'm late in commenting, but I have been thinking of musing and beading ideas for the past several days. Monday, I spent most of the day looking at my iTunes playlists and pulling different beads from my stash. To answer your question, I think most people would be surprised that I love Metallica. I am usually a Tom Waits, Tori Amos kind of girl with some Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash thrown in. Oh .. and I love 80s music. :)

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