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Faculty & Research


Disrupted Routines Anticipate Musical Exploration

Journal Article
Understanding and predicting the emergence and evolution of cultural tastes manifested in consumption patterns is of central interest to social scientists, analysts of culture, and purveyors of content. Prior research suggests that taste preferences relate to personality traits, values, shifts in mood, and immigration destination. Understanding everyday patterns of listening and the function music plays in life has remained elusive, however, despite speculation that musical nostalgia may compensate for local disruption. Using more than one hundred million streams of four million songs by tens of thousands of international listeners from a global music service, the authors show that breaches in personal routine are systematically associated with personal musical exploration. As people visited new cities and countries, their preferences diversified, converging toward their travel destinations. As people experienced the very different disruptions associated with COVID-19 lockdowns, their preferences diversified further. Personal explorations did not tend to veer toward the global listening average, but away from it, toward distinctive regional musical content. Exposure to novel music explored during periods of routine disruption showed a persistent influence on listeners’ future consumption patterns. Across all of these settings, musical preference reflected rather than compensated for life’s surprises, leaving a lasting legacy on tastes. The authors explore the relationship between these findings and global patterns of behavior and cultural consumption.