High-Fiving My Subconscious DJ: A Music Experiment

So, here’s the thing. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I am constructing a musical autobiography using a public YouTube playlist in which I add songs that make up my story. Songs that might make me say, “That reminds me of Fall 2011,” etc., whether they’re songs that speak to me or just songs that I’ve been listening to a lot. I think many of us do that in our minds — associate music with different parts of our lives — but I wanted to take it a step further. That’s still in progress.

It’s been a long-standing joke among my friends that the song in my head changes quite frequently, and sometimes I truly can’t figure out why certain songs are stuck there when I haven’t heard them recently.

On Tuesday, I decided to live-tweet each song change.

The Rules:

  • I didn’t really listen to music that day so I couldn’t be influenced by what I heard.
  • I didn’t count anything that didn’t stay in my head for more than 30 seconds.
  • I didn’t skip anything, even if it was embarrassing.

The Method:

  • I kept track of the songs from 12:00 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 1 through 12:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
  • I used Twitter to log each song. This seemed easy enough to do as I could use my phone even if I wasn’t at my computer. This also provided me with a time stamp (although it should be noted that the time stamp is just an approximation).

The List:
(all links will open in a new window)

  1. Eddie Money – “I Think I’m in Love” (12:48 a.m.)
  2. Imogen Heap – “Have You Got it in You?” (12:51 a.m.)
  3. Mayer Hawthorne – “The Walk” (1:30 a.m.)
  4. The Argument – “Sick of Here” (2:48 a.m.)
  5. Butch Walker – “Take Tomorrow (One Day at a Time)” (3:26 a.m.)
    [6 Hours of Sleep]
  6. Fiona Apple – “Sleep to Dream” (10 a.m.)
  7. Maya & Miguel Theme Song (11:36 a.m.)
  8. Tears for Fears – “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (12:03 p.m.)
  9. Ace of Base – “Don’t Turn Around” (12:18 p.m.)
  10. Pink – “Sober” (12:36 p.m.)
  11. The Beatles – “Don’t Let Me Down” (1:36 p.m.)
  12. The Head and The Heart – “Lost in my Mind” (2:16 p.m.)
  13. Finch – “What it is to Burn” (6:22 p.m.)
  14. Our Lady Peace – “Superman’s Dead” (8:42 p.m.)
  15. “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too” (8:58 p.m.)
  16. The Meat Puppets – “Backwater” (10:01 p.m.)
  17. Butch Walker – “Bodegas and Blood” (11:56)

Analysis:

Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, I was feeling kind of annoyed, angry, and jaded. That was also my general mood for much of Tuesday. I chalk this up mostly to stress and a lot of stuff going on around me. I also chalk it up to people who were making me mad. (Duh?)

What’s interesting is that, with a mood like that, I would have expected to find that most of my internal DJ jams were pretty aggressive, but they weren’t (notice how no Nine Inch Nails is present. That’s typically always a sign that I’m approaching a level of anger that causes me to shut completely down). Roughly 50% of the songs included on this list could be considered mild-to-moderately “angry.” I use that term lightly. (I mean, really, how many people are going to say, “Ace of Base, man. They were SO PISSED OFF”?)

As for the rest of the songs, some of them could be considered mildly introspective, and thus fitting to my mood. Some of them were just weird. The Maya and Miguel theme song was almost certainly because I had been watching that with my 2 year old cousin whom I was babysitting (incidentally, it is the only song on this list that I actually heard that day).

But I really couldn’t tell you where Tippecanoe & Tyler Too came from.

I thought about how these songs might be getting in my head if it wasn’t as a result of hearing them, and I think it’s a combination of the following:

  • Mood: what’s my frame of mind?
  • Dialogue (internal or external)

The dialogue interested me more than the mood. I expected that my moodiness would have made me more inclined to listen to Fiona Apple, but I started retracing my thoughts and figured out something pretty cool.

There’s almost always a song playing in my head. Because music is such a big part of who I am and my tastes are so broad, I know a lot of music. I’ve got a sizable lyric library and my brain has created some kind of connective database for it. When I hear dialogue or think to myself, the words I use can trigger a song.

But further, take a look at the timestamps. My brain was very active until about 2:30 pm, and then it slowed drastically until 6:30. During that span of time, my parents came home from work, we had dinner, and there was a lot more happening that required my attention.

So I’m far more likely to get a song stuck in my head when I’m alone with my thoughts. This makes perfect sense to me. For example, I was grumbling to myself in my head on Tuesday morning about someone. “You don’t care,” my mind said, of that other person. If you recall the first line of “Sleep to Dream” by Fiona Apple, it’s “I tell you what I feel, but you don’t care.”

Bam.

This also works out with several of the other songs on the list, but I clearly don’t have time to write about each of them.

Hypothesis:

What I believe is that my inner DJ takes that little bit of internal monologue (influenced by my mood) and runs it through my subconscious database, bringing up the appropriate lyrics. Then the song is stuck in my head.

Testing:

I plan to test this by doing this experiment two or three more times.

Conclusion:

Depending on how you look at it, this little experiment I’ve done studies either the Science of Art or the Art of Science. For me it, it also raises the question of the relationship between mood and music.

I leave you with these brilliant opening lines of High Fidelity (emphasis is my own):

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

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