Friday, March 31, 2023

Tuning in: Learning about students’ music tastes 

Arts and CultureTuning in: Learning about students’ music tastes 

Staff Reporter

Newark is noisy. Engines rev, bells chime, voices echo. Even in university students’ own dorm rooms, AC units click and hiss and chairs screech overhead. 

All of this noise makes up the soundtrack that the university’s students do not get to choose. So, when they have the choice, what goes on their playlist?  

A survey consisting of various questions about listening preferences was created for the purpose of this article and shared over social media and GroupMe. The survey, which received responses from 24 students, including rising sophomores up to Class of 2022 alumni, revealed that these playlists are strikingly diverse.  

Across the 24 survey responses, 24 music genres were selected as ones that respondents enjoy and the average respondent identified eight genres they enjoy. Respondents were also asked to list their top three favorite music artists and top three favorite music groups on the survey. Even with some respondents opting to only list one or two top groups, 62 artists and 63 groups were listed, in total. 

While there is quite a bit of variety across students’ listening preferences, there are some clear trends. Pop and indie were the most highly ranked as genres respondents enjoy (79.2%), closely followed by rock (75%), classical (70.8%) and R&B (66.7%).  

Also, 13 respondents listed lyrics as one of their top five elements that they listen for in music. Among those who ranked lyrics as not very important in a later survey question or for the 16.7% who prefer instrumental music, students listed closely-related elements such as “emotion,” “expression” and “message” and qualities such as “meaningful,” “moving” and “heartfelt” in their top five.  

Aaron Junkin, rising senior accounting and management information systems double major, spoke about what makes a song meaningful beyond lyrics to him. 

“I do like vocals and such, but I just – I feel like I have such a hard time with words sometimes in that I like music that, I don’t know, just kind of taps into a certain part of my mind that I don’t normally get to use,” Junkin said.  

When listening to instrumental music, Junkin finds emotional impact in the volume, key or instrumentation changes that shape a song’s climax or in field recordings that some artists embed in their songs.  

The value of music feeling “real” was another common thread through survey responses. Respondents wrote that they listen for music that is complex, underproduced, passionate, purposeful and relatable. Looking to the list of solo artists that they listed, these reported values are reflected in respondents’ choice of artists who are known for their honest and innovative artistry, ranging from Billy Joel to Dodie, Duke Ellington to Jacob Collier and Maxim Vengerov to Jhené Aiko.  

Juanita Philips, rising junior communications major, explained why she personally values music feeling “real” and authentic.  

“Especially now with music, I feel like with the music industry they’re trying to like make songs go viral or big so they’re following this sort of like formula, so the music sort of sounds the same,” Philips said.  

Philips said that when artists do something different, it lends the song “longevity,” which she described as being the quality of being able to listen to a song over and over again without getting tired of it. 

Respondents were also asked to rank specific musical features’ importance in determining how much they enjoy a song on a scale of 1 to 5. The average importance of lyrics was 3.6, whereas the average importance of rhythm and tempo was 3.9 and that of melody was 4.1. 

In reflecting on music influences, neither Junkin nor Philips felt that the music they were raised with particularly impacted their current musical tastes. Rather, they credit friends, online platforms and various social media platforms for broadening their musical palates.  

Spotify outlined what it considers the five defining core components of Gen Z music listening in an article the platform released:  

1) All the Feels  

2) Band of Others  

3) Subliminal Attraction  

4) PolyFly  

5) Surround Sound  

More simply put, Gen Z listeners value emotional engagement, communal music-sharing, uniqueness and authenticity, purpose and meaning and a musical escape. These were all elements that came up repeatedly in students’ survey responses and interviews. 

While students’ playlists may look very different on the surface, consisting of different languages, genres, musical eras and instrumentation, there seems to be an unspoken shared mission to find truth and release when they reach for their headphones. 




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