Why People Listen to Music

It is easy to take music for granted these days. There is so much of it, such a great variety, that it can be overwhelming. Never has it been this readily available to us, and we don’t even need to leave the house to access it. I know that when I am listening to music, I never really think of why I am doing it. This is just something that seems natural, very “human“.

Thinking back to the music classes I took in college, this feeling is reaffirmed. Here is what we were taught:

Music has been found in every known culture. Historically, this means that all people on earth, even the most distant and remote groups of settlers, have a form of music they call their own. If music has been there from the beginning of modern humanity, we could conclude that it has become a fundamental aspect of human life. Over the course of time and from region to region musical expression, instrumentation, and the situations in which music is performed have all changed. The music we choose to listen to identifies us as a part of a culture. We relate to the common ideas and themes, as well as social and economical classifications that go with it.

So according to this, listening to music is in fact a very “human” thing to do, considering we have been doing it for a long time. However, I believe modern humans do not listen for the same reasons ancient humans did. I think in todays environment, people choose their music based on a strong emotional and personal reaction. In my own experience, I am initially much more drawn to the primal elements of music: beat, rhythm, and harmony. The message any song is trying to communicate often takes a back seat.

The reason people listen to music is very personal. It has the power to express any type of emotion. It calms, it relaxes, it enrages, it excites, and it is natural (note: this is by no means a complete list of human emotions). Music’s long lasting relationship with the human race has clearly withstood the test of time.

How does this relate to music production? Perhaps not directly. I feel that if you understand why humans listen to music, you can understand why we record it. Or at least part of the reason why we record it. If someone is extremely passionate about the tracks they are laying down, then this emotion will be shared with the listener (maybe this passion is why an audience will choose to listen to this particular recording). Of course, there are many other reasons to record music. The process can be fun, there is a strong sense of accomplishment, and for many people there is the desire to make money or get famous. But aren’t these all just emotional reactions as well?