The Heterogeneity of Musical Taste

Empirical research on musical taste has a tradition behind it that is over a century old. With the radio’s invention, there was a great deal of interest in learning which music listeners especially liked and whether this changed over the course of the day. One difficulty of relevant studies already lies in an accurate survey of musical taste: Should taste be assessed by asking subjects to listen to real music (audio questionnaires) or by letting subjects evaluate their attitudes regarding a verbally composed survey of musical styles? With the former method, the area of study is clearly defined, as it is simply the selected piece of music; but it is hard to say whether generalizing the judgment to cover an entire musical style is possible. But if we directly inquire into a person’s opinions regarding a musical style, the object of study is burdened with a certain vagueness, since the significance of most concepts of style undergoes continuous change. New names are constantly added, old ones experience altered meaning or are not passed on to the next listeners’ generation. This represents a challenge for those doing research on musical taste.

Such research on musical taste, its development, functions, and determinants, is an important branch of study at the Institute for Empirical Aesthetics. In cooperation with experts involved in radio, musical practice, and sales,  in this project we will be compiling  currently recognized musical styles, representative performers, and prototypical musical pieces. In a large-scale survey, we will examine how well and in what ways listeners’ musical taste can be delimited. Are there a great many listeners who exclusively like rock or heavy metal or techno? Or is musical taste generally much more diverse? In view of streaming services, is it conceivable that musical taste is becoming increasingly broader. These services, after all, make it possible to access a huge range of music at any time; and they actively offer listeners suggestions regarding previously unknown musical material. Have “musical omnivores” begun to represent a general trend? What picture of heterogeneity emerges when we compare audio questionnaires with simple inquiries regarding musical style? In addition we will examine the ways speaking about aesthetic experience changes when listening to various sorts of music.