Posted April 10, 2017 by Mike Mineo in Features

Personal Essay: How Music Influences Our Mood

If you’re like most people, you listen to different kind of music according to how you feel. When you’re in a good mood, you likely listen to something fast, peppy, and upbeat, but when you’re in a bad mood, you’re likely to put on something slow and sad. Music has a way of speaking to our souls, but the importance of music goes far beyond just serving as a soundtrack to our lives.

Music also influences our mood, and we can use music to change the way we feel or give us the added boost we need to get energized for an important event or situation.

First, we should mention that not everyone is affected equally by the power of music. For a small group of people, music doesn’t really mean very much. It’s just relatively pleasant sound and doesn’t convey the kind of emotional resonance that other people feel. These individuals might enjoy music artistically or aesthetically, but they don’t feel the music deep in their bones or their souls the way many others do.

However, for the majority of people, music creates emotional feelings within us, so that we experience emotions such as joy, excitement, sadness, etc. when we hear songs that correspond to that emotion. Some studies have found that as humans we enjoy songs whose beats per minute closely mimic our heart rate. This makes music seem comforting because it echoes our own internal biological rhythms. In doing so, it helps to prime us to feel the power of the music through our biological responses.

Retailers know this to be true, and they spend a great deal of money to select exactly the right music to put shoppers in the mood to buy. In 1982, a classic study found that the speed of music played in a store changed the way shoppers behaved. Playing slow music caused shoppers to slow down and spend significantly more time shopping in the story. As a result of the change from fast to slow music, the average shopper’s purchases increased 32%. This result led to an entire industry dedicated to choosing specific songs that would increase sales most. But have you ever wondered why it can difficult to hear the music played in a grocery store? A classic 1966 study found that the louder the music, the less time shoppers spent in a store. While some youth retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch pride themselves on blasting loud music to attract teens, overall, loud music drives away adult consumers. In 1988, further research suggested that age was correlated with music volume preference. Older adults were more likely to prefer soft music, while children and teens were actually attracted to loud music and spent more time in locations where loud music was playing.

A different effect was found when looking at the genre of music played. There is a good reason that so many stores use a similar rotation of bland pop hits. The genre of music works best when it matches the goods being sold. So, pop hits target the middle class, Middle American consumer and work best at attracting a wide, but relatively undifferentiated audience. By contrast, Classical music works best for luxury goods because it implies sophistication and can actually increase the average a customer is willing to spend on the purchase price of a product, so long as the customer is in the target (i.e. wealthy) demographic.

While tempo, volume, and genre all have different effects, they do not work in isolation. Thus, when a store selects songs for its rotation, it needs to consider all three elements together to create a list that will influence its shoppers most effectively.

To that end, it almost seems as though retailers have “weaponized” the emotional response we feel for music and use it to encourage us to spend. Guess what? They do it on the phone, too.

The hold music used when you’re waiting for them to answer your call is carefully selected to reduce anger and frustration. Pop hits, again, tend to perform best, while slow, generic “elevator music” can actually increase frustration and anger due to its association with uncaring and indifferent corporate environments. So, pay attention to the music around you and what it’s trying to do!

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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to mike@obscuresound.com.