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Sounding It Out – The Culture of Personal Sound-Tracking.

VICE news recently published an article with the ground-breaking revelation that the music you listen to can actually have an impact on your mood.

Despite the obvious nature of the pseudo-scientific article – the notion fits quite nicely alongside an observation made by theorist Frederic Jameson: that the modern pop song has the ability to function as your very own private audition. To extend his statement and explore why we pick the songs we choose to soundtrack our daily lives with – founds the basis of what could make a fascinating sociological study.

You may mindlessly select a song from an iTunes playlist of safe bets, but rarely will you entrust your personal in-ear playlist to be orchestrated by utterly randomised shuffle – unless you’re having the kind of zero fucks day where anything goes. Who cares if you jump from Destiny’s Child to DJ Khaled, you’re just letting life run its arbitrary musical course. The usual dissected process of associative mood>genre>song is relatively failsafe – and however little you may like to admit that’s the reason you inexplicably subject yourself to nostalgic Red Hot Chilli Peppers– it is more often than not the way you select your personal soundtrack and end up humming Scar Tissue all day. Memories that have become intertwined with certain songs can also help us select them when looking to boost or further wallow in waves of emotion. We’ve all got our foolproof pity tracks and their binary counterparts, or infallible artists like Bieber who traverse this and arguably provide soundtracking for all emotional seasons.

Of course functional mood/event playlists are nothing new, sleep playlists that were saturated with Laura Marling in 2009 and Ben Howard in 2011 may well be commonplace, but it’s a nice consideration to stop and address why and for what reason we are picking a certain song at a particular moment. Sites such as Spotify contain ready-made mood playlists from the diverse emotional spectrum of ‘Walking Like A Badass’ to ‘the PMS playlist’. The infiltration of the manufactured mood playlist into personal sound-tracking is something that should be broached with caution, are you really too busy scrolling Instagram on the train to select a song or make your own audio decisions? The incredibly subjective nature of moods make these playlists somewhat laughable – if you want to unleash your inner conspiracy theorist, have a glance at what corporate music giants suggest you should be listening to when you’re dealing with being dumped/alone/pondering the meaning of life. You’ll quickly realise it’s the equivalent of an unhelpful NHS leaflet and all a little bit jarring.

spotify mood

All ends of the emotional spectrum covered.

If you too are into public transport people-watching, you’ll have perceptively noted the sheer number of people who, ear-buds in, are making their way to their various destinations whilst presumably listening to music. Yes, it could be a podcast, but it’s far more interesting to imagine what tracks people have selected for their daily commute and why. Discovering peoples’ music tastes often provides insight that is otherwise difficult to extract, so why not seize the opportunity to try and understand others, and yourself a little better. This is not a suggestion to demand a personal discography of the stranger drowning in melancholy opposite you, but considering it, or stealing a subtle glance, can help pass the time if you’re severely delayed.

So thanks to VICE’s illuminating breakthrough that sad songs make you sadder, perhaps we should all pay a little more attention to what we play and why, as it might just be the easiest way to boost your mood – or failing that, a good opportunity for a bit of musical self-discovery.

Spotify mood playlist

Trapped in a glass case of emotion? Same tbh.


By Holly Hunt



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