What was the #musicdiaryproject for?

Quite a few people have asked me what the point was of the #musicdiaryproject. Alex even went so far as to ask on the ILM thread about the project whether anyone could let him know if they were even remotely interested in what he’d been listening to, as he couldn’t see the point.

In many ways, this is because there was no point to it. No point beyond a simple desire on my part to get people thinking about how they listen to music.

Because to be honest I was never really interested in the specifics of what people listened to during the week (which is why I didn’t want the spreadsheet sending back to me; it was just a tool to encourage people to engage). But I was and am interested in the ways that people listen; where we are, who we are with, how we chose music, what equipment we listen via, what purposes we use music for. I said at the outset that I wanted people not to adjust their habits from the norm, but rather just to record them; this was only ever a diversion though, because by observing you always affect that which is observed. Taking part was always going to make people think more, take notice more; but this is what I wanted. Riz gets it; he’s been watching me try this for years by cajoling and recommending and insulting and challenging people online. This time I thought I’d just ask people to join in, albeit in a roundabout way. I couldn’t really have done this at any point in time before now; the rise of social media has encouraged participation in a way that just didn’t happen up until now.

There have been some unanticipated but very pleasant side-effects of this project, too: primarily it’s encouraged people to write, both those who started anew, those who resurrected old habits, and those who simply notched-up the frequency of their usual output; whichever it was, I think writing is good for the soul. Reflection is good for the soul. That’s what the project was about, I guess; reflection. Slow down. Listen. Think. Write. It’s also upped the hits on my blog far more than I had expected, which is always nice, and enabled me to run a kind of mini social media experiment, building an instant, temporary online community using little more than an idea and a hashtag. Hopefully, this has lead to some new connections, not just from myself to other people, but criss-crossing amongst everyone who took part. And, perhaps most importantly, an awful lot of people who took part have told me how much they enjoyed doing so.

The survey
I didn’t pay for a premium Survey Monkey account, so was limited to only ten questions and minimal analytics. I’m also not a market researcher, so perhaps didn’t plan the survey as well as I could have. Had I extended the survey I would have harvested demographic data too; though I know that when it comes to jobs we had music journalists, computer programmers, auditors, market researchers, photographers, health service administrators, cinema managers, students, and web editors all taking part part; in terms of ages people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s took part; and in terms of geography we had people from the UK, the US, Mexico, and Australia. I probably would have sought information on the actual music that people chose to listen to, too; how many artists, how many songs, what genres, how much repetition, etc. But, with 10 questions, I went after answers about our methods of listening, because that’s what interests me most.

So, over the course of one week, #musicdiaryproject had over 100 blogs, Tumblrs, Twitters, and so on taking part, and 75 have completed the survey at the time of writing this. These are a few choice results:

• Wednesday and Thursday were the only days that everyone (who completed the survey) took part; a handful joined in after the first two days had passed, and a few more people didn’t continue through the weekend.
• MP3s were by far the most popular format, with 70.7% of people listening to them “mainly”, and 9.3% listening to them “exclusively”. No other format was listened to exclusively except for one person who listed “other” for this; I can’t tell from the results which “other” was theirs, but I’ll assume it was Spotify, which was a popular format choice I’d neglected to offer (as was YouTube).
• 30.7% of people didn’t listen to CDs at all; 45.3% listened to CDs occasionally, and 24% listened to them mainly.
• 77.5% didn’t listen to vinyl at all; 18.7% occasionally, and 4% mainly.
• 2.6% of people listened to Minidisc at all (one each for mainly and occasionally).
• Unsurprisingly, MP3 players via headphones were the most listened-via device, with 56.2% listening via them mainly.
• Computers, whether via headphones, internal speakers, or external speakers, were more popular than hi-fi separates and minisystems.
• 1 person (1.5%) listened exclusively via their car stereo.
• 76% of us were “usually alone” when listening to music; 6.7% were always alone, 17.3% were sometimes alone. No one was “never alone”.
• When we did listen with other people, 42.3% of the time we listened together and had chosen the music. 23.9% of the time we were the only person listening to music as far as we knew. 4 people out of 75 skipped this question.
• 44% of people published their results via Tumblr; next highest was Twitter, with 29.3%.
• A handful of people wrote in physical notebooks (some of whom then photographed those notebooks and stuck the pictures online).
• 60% of people didn’t attend any live music or nightclubs etc during the week. 21.3% went once. Four people (5.4%) went three or more times.
• The vast, vast majority of us were doing other stuff while listening: walking/commuting/travelling was most common (71.6% said often), then writing/working/etc (66.2% said often), and then browsing the internet casually (61.3% said often).
• Only one person exclusively did nothing but listen while they had music on; 61.1% of us managed this “occasionally”, and 25% didn’t manage it at all (plus another three people who didn’t respond to this line of the question).
• 60% of people reported that they generally gave music “most of my attention” while listening. Correlating this with how often we work while listening, and line managers everywhere should perhaps take note… Only 5.3% said they generally give music “all of my attention”.
• 14.7% didn’t notice “incidental” music at all; 65.3% noticed it a little, and 20% noticed it a lot.

All of this adds up to a picture of very utilitarian listening; listening on the go, on the job, listening as distraction, as an aid to other activities, rather than listening as an activity in itself. In 2011, of course, this is hardly revelatory stuff, but it does make me, as an individual, want to try and savour music more, appreciate it more, show it more respect. I love music, dearly, and all it does for me, but I rarely pay it as much direct attention as I do television or film or even the internet. I spend £10 on an album, that an artist may have sweated blood to produce, and then I pay it scant attention while I chop onions, or edit photos, or drive to the shops, or… If I love music so much, doesn’t it deserve a little more than that? And what more could I get out of the experience if I just invested a bit more into it?

Someone asked whether #musicdiaryproject would be an annual event. It hadn’t occurred to me. Maybe we should.

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3 responses to “What was the #musicdiaryproject for?

  1. Pingback: Music diary project – 4.4.11 to 10.4.11 « My Writing Diary

  2. Pingback: Music Diary 2012 | Sick Mouthy

  3. Pingback: Review: Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Alex's New Perspectives On Media

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