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Consuming sounds: how we get and use music

Consuming sounds: how we get and use music

This week's Spotlight on Research profiles Dr Gary Sinclair, Lecturer in Marketing at DCU Business School.

Your research looks at how we get, listen to and respond to music. Why is this an interesting area of study?

“There have been lots of changes in how we consume music over the last few decades.

Some people might have grown up listening to vinyl records, which are making a huge comeback now, and maybe you even ‘taped’ songs off the radio, but today we can stream and download music onto devices such as smartphones.

I’m interested in how people consume music, their attitudes towards piracy and illegal downloads and also how people use music in everyday life.”

How do you carry out that research?

“We typically do interviews with people about their attitudes and behaviours around their music.

I’m lucky that people are generally happy to talk about music, that is a big advantage to working in this area!”

What have you found out about how we consume music on an everyday basis?

“I worked with a colleague at the University of Stirling and we looked at how people listen to music in everyday settings, like doing the housework, or in social spaces like commuting or going to the gym.

We found that people often build playlists to suit particular tasks or settings.

We also found that when people listen to a lot of music they find it harder to get the emotional hit from it, and also there can be too much music to choose from, so younger people often segment their music by mood.”

What about the feeling of ‘owning’ digital music as opposed to having, say, a CD with that music on it?

“What’s interesting here is that previously if you bought a cassette or a CD there was that feeling of physical ownership.

There is a common perception with digital music that the sense of ownership has been lost. Actually, with digital music we are finding that people are transferring that pride in ownership to their smart device, or speakers or headphones.

They may also get a sense of ownership by curating playlists and sharing those with others.”

Of course, not all music is owned legally. You have been exploring attitudes to music piracy, what have you found?

“We talked to a range of music consumers in Scotland and Ireland aged between 18 and 35, including people who illegally downloaded and those who didn’t.

In many cases the people who pirated music, or they used to, had no sympathy for the music industry because of the high prices they charge and they felt angry that the music industry came down so hard on piracy, comparing it to stealing cars etc.

Then there were others, not many, who didn’t believe it was wrong to pirate music, they had the philosophy that art should be free.

In general, there has been a decline in piracy in line with increase of platforms like Spotify, and that would support what we have been finding over the years - that many people wanted a relatively cheap digital alternative and they would pay for it, and that is what happened.”

One of your earliest pieces of research was in the subculture of heavy metal. How did you get interested in that?

“I wasn’t into heavy metal at all, but I was looking at theories about social groups and subcultures and how people control emotions when I was studying for my PhD in Dublin Institute of Technology.

So I fell into studying heavy metal, and I found myself standing at a gig with my notepad in the middle of a moshpit, as you do!

When I told the metalheads about the research I was doing they thought I had the best job in the world, and they talked to me about how they used the music as a way to express anger and frustration.

It really challenges the unfair stereotypes about how the music would make people violent etc., instead it was a way for people to be part of a group with similar interests in music, and it gave them a creative outlet.”

What is your typical day like in DCU?

“I am a lecturer so about half of what I do is administration and teaching, then the other half is about reading up on the latest research, preparing to go into the field and gather data for my own research and then writing it up.

At the moment, I am also editing a special issue journal for The European Journal of Marketing, which will be out next year.”

And what do you like to do when you are not working?

“I’m a big fan of sport and I really enjoy watching football, but I like all sports. I do a bit of running and I enjoy going to gigs and the cinema.”

What do you plan to work on next?

“I want to take a long-term look at how elderly people and adolescents use music in everyday life.

Those two groups are often not researched much, but I think it will be really interesting to look at the social and mental health implications of increased music use with these new technologies, and whether they use music to help them through transitions such as the physical changes of the teen years or the move into retirement in older years.”

29th September, 2017