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The Neuroscience Of 'Nice' Music

The Neuroscience Of 'Nice' Music

Written by

James Picken


March 27, 2023



What's going on in our brains when we hear our favourite tunes?

At Startle, we know the impact music can have on our behaviour and mood. But its power is much larger than just that; it can change the way we move, how we behave, our perception of time, our reading of a brand or influence our purchasing decision. 

That’s why, when we create playlists, we don’t just pick ‘nice’ music. There’s no medals for nice music and wishful thinking, just a fair bit of risk. That’s why we focus on the science behind good vibrations and curate atmospheres with real intentions. 

Let’s take a look at some of the science behind the processing of music, and why it’s important. 

The areas of the brain 

The brainstem is the oldest part of the brain. Its response to sound is reflexive, related to the most primal motor functions like flinching in response to a perceived danger. When you hear a loud bang, this part of the brain is alerting you to act fast.

Moving up the evolutionary ladder, the basal ganglia is the next most advanced brain area that has a musical function. This part of the brain can determine whether a sound is pleasant or unpleasant. 

The amygdala is thought to be part of the limbic system within the brain, responsible for our emotional responses, survival instincts, and memory. Interestingly, emotions are connected to goals as part of a survival framework to encourage biological fitness. 

Your neocortex allows you to process patterns and complexities, in music and beyond. Making up almost half the volume of the human brain, it’s also thought to be responsible for attention, thought and episodic memory.

Enough science - why does this matter?

Like we said, anyone can put together a ‘nice’ collection of songs. But backing up your music decisions with science is important. 

The brainstem shows us the importance of volume in your venue. If there’s a sudden jump in how loud a song on your playlist is, it can provoke a negative reaction. That’s why our Atmosphere product includes automatic volume adjustment, so you can be sure that the level of noise is appropriate. 

The music choices our team make are particularly important when looking at the basal ganglia and amygdala. When pulling together carefully curated playlists and suggested sounds for brands, we want to trigger the right emotions for their customers. 

That’s what we mean when we say you don’t have to ‘like’ it. We choose music that has the right elements like pitch, tempo, and genre, that will evoke a positive emotional reaction from those listening to it. 

Take a look at one of our lovely customers, schuh. Schuh were keen to keep music at a moderate tempo of 90-120 BPM, full of major keys, bright sparkly synths and upbeat vocals, imbued with the key themes of celebration, positivity and classic dance-floor hits. 

We proposed 4 blended playlists; Mellow, Discover, Certified and Throwback, that showcased emerging artists as well as more commercial beats. After all, schuh are known for being all-embracing and forward-thinking, and these playlists have the right characteristics to evoke the desired customer emotions. 

To find out more about how we use science, particularly behavioural science, head here.

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe? Or get in touch here.

The Neuroscience Of 'Nice' Music

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

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