The importance of song familiarity: 90% of the music we listen to, we've heard before

all about that bass

Everyone loves songs that they know. People love to listen to their favorite songs on repeat and sing the words out loud as if it's their song. But at some point, they had to hear it for the first time! Most people don't even know where they first heard their favorite songs, but eventually their favorite songs are listened to enough that they become familiar and part of someone's regular listening catalog. There are many people who will skip a song that they haven't heard before simply because they don't know it.

Familiarity with a song makes people more likely to enjoy it and want to listen to it. Over and over and over.

This phenomenon can make it very difficult for an unknown artist to break an unknown song. But every song needs to be broken in and heard for the first time at some point. So how can you, as a new artist, get your song into someone's head so that they want to keep listening to it over and over?

There is actaully science behind how familiarity makes people more likely to enjoy music.

90% of the music we listen to, we've heard before

Take a look at the below excerpt from an article on Music.Mic:

"Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next," professor Elizabeth Margulis, author of the recent On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, noted in an interview with Mic. "A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved."

You play songs on repeat, then, because it feels as if you're singing it. It's that sense of anticipation that happens in the listener, what Margulis calls "virtual participation." It's a similar participation to something that follows a narrative structure, like reading a book or watching a movie over again. It's similar to as if you were creating the music with your mind — as if it were a part of you.

The anticipation of what comes next in a song is actually related to the brain's reward system and releases the chemical, dopamine, into the brain! This is the same reaction associated with drug addictions as a response to pleasure related stimuli in the brain! What gives us pleasure when listening to our favorite songs is knowing and predicting what comes next.

This excerpt is from an article on CNN:

Music is strongly associated with the brain's reward system. It's the part of the brain that tells us if things are valuable, or important or relevant to survival, said Robert Zatorre, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Montreal Neurological Institute.

"As you're anticipating a moment of pleasure, you're making predictions about what you're hearing and what you're about to hear," he said. "Part of the pleasure we derive from it is being able to make predictions."

This science reinforces the strong importance of getting people familiar with your song!

So where do most people hear their favorite songs for the first time?

For most people, the answer is on the radio or on streaming radio. These are the times that people choose to listen passively to the songs that are getting radio airplay, giving up the control of what song comes on next. This is the environment that someone will listen to a new song and ultimately decide how they feel about it and if they would like to listen to it again! The more they hear the same songs, the more familiar they get, and the more they will want to keep on listening to that song on repeat 50 times at the gym.

As an artist, you scientifically should want to promote your music to people on streaming radio stations! It's all about exposure and airplay!