cognition | media
Steven knows that he needs to listen to an album a few times before he begins to like it. Despite knowing this, he found that he often chose not to listen to a new album because he knew it would be somewhat unpleasant. In this talk, he shows a system he created that schedules when he should listen to a particular album in the hopes that it would lead him to liking new music.
anki | google forms
by Steven Jonas
This project is called Spaced Listening, and it has to do with this issue that I have, and I want to explore. And this issue is I have a hard time getting to like new music. Most of the music I like it came out before 2006, which is when I graduated from college. So not a lot of personal growth there.
And so trying to figure out why this is, I mean part of this is I have an older brother, who I just got all my music from him you know and never really had to explore it myself. And also, part of this is that I noticed I had this rejection for novelty, so I would hear an album I didn’t recognize, and part of my brain would just reject it. If I didn’t know the music, I didn’t like it.
And this was the case even by bands, who’s album, if I listened to a new album by a band that I really liked I said, why, I haven’t heard these songs. I don’t know why my brain responds to new music as a sense of threat to myself, but apparently it does.
But I think we’ve all experienced something where you listen to an album, you’re not that into it but you give it two or three listens and it sort of grows on you over time. And so like, what is that, and is there a way to automate that, that sort of process like a way to get me over that hump for a lot of music. So, I set up a system that would do so. The way was like this would be a way to painlessly get me to listen to new music and broaden my horizons.
And at the base of this was this theory like okay, the more times I would repeat exposure to an album, the more my fan would grow for it. And I won’t get into it, but I also part of that theory is that I’ll space it out. It won’t be like I’ll listen to an album five times, but it’s like I’ll listen to it one day and then wait like a week and wait two weeks after that.
So, how did I construct this system, how did I track the data? What was the setup?
I used a tool to actually schedule my albums. So I put the album in and it would tell me like, right on Tuesday you’re going to listen to Weezer. You know, I listened to it and it’s like all right, you know, on Thursday two weeks from now, you’re going to listen to the album again.
Onkey is not used for this purpose. It’s actually used for flashcards. So if you’re learning a different language it would actually schedule when you should review like a word in German or something, but I just kind of repurposed it.
And so, this is what Onkey looks like. Very simple and you know, it just tells me what album I listen to, and when I listen to it I press good and I also – But the one thing it doesn’t do, it doesn’t – I wanted to keep track of actually how much I like the album, like give it scores.to see like, subjectively will I like the album over time better.
Unfortunately, Anki doesn’t have a way to do that, so I just created a Google form that looks like this. And whenever I listened to an album like in this case it’s David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, looks like I gave it an eight.
I also to see how well the system was working in terms of like scheduling I gave it a rating like, okay, did I feel like this was a good time to listen to this? Did I feel like it made me listen to the album too soon?
So, you’re probably wondering, okay, how often are you listening to this?
And so, the Anki had an algorithm that is tuned to help you memorize German words, and I just kind of used the same algorithm for listening to albums. Not that, that really made sense but it was just sort of convenient.
And so generally this is about what the delay would be. So listening to the album the first time, 10 days later I’d listen to it a second time, 20 days later I’d listen to it a third time and so forth and so forth. You’ll notice that the time in between increases every time.
So, what albums did I put into the system, what was I trying to expose myself to?
And early on I still had the same problem where if I just added a bunch of stuff, I didn’t know the system would kind of grind to a halt. So, I’d throw in a couple of albums that I really liked. In my iTunes library, there are all these albums that I know I had looked to see what the play count was, add those in. There was a book, 101 albums to listen to before you die, I used that as a reference to sort of broaden my horizon. And there’s like this website that puts together mixed tapes by African DJ’s.
How long have I been doing this?
So at the point I analyzed this dataset, it had been 598 days. Of those days, 41 I only listened to albums 41% of those days, so it wasn’t something I was doing every day. But, when I did listen to albums, I would listen to 3.2 albums on a day and so yeah, that’s how much I got it integrated into my life.
And this chart, and these are directly from Anki, it’s sort of like a built-in analytics screen. And so, this screen shows like how long albums are waiting for me to listen to them, so you see the longest interval means that there is one album that I’m supposed to listen to like 2.3 years from now.
So, some more analysis, is my theory right that the more I listen to an album I tend to like it more?
It’s not very clear. It kind of seems by the dip by the fourth listen, but you see it kind of spikes up at the fifth is like a sort of magic interval to wait until I listen to an album again, but then it sort of tails off and it’s like okay, what does that mean.
And digging through the data I noticed that one issue was that you know, the further you go the smaller the sample size is. So the seventh listen I only have one album that’s gotten that far. So even although that’s a six I’m like, okay that doesn’t really tell me anything.
So, I feel that the general idea still the general theories still holds. But that’s like on the macro level, but how is it for individual albums? So, for Pulps’ Different Class that’s sort of a model case you know, it’s the scores over time get better so you know, that supports the theory.
This is an album that didn’t get better over time, and part of it is that it’s a video game soundtrack that’s a horror video game and so I think the fourth listen I was in a coffee shop and I was just feeling tense the entire time and I gave a horrible score.
This is an example of an album that I really love, and I don’t know why there is a dip but that’s what happened.
Here’s an album that I really liked when I was a high schooler and played it, and the school was got progressively worse because, and the reason why is it has all of these lyrics that had this sort of right-wing undertone that like just started bugging me. And it was just like a negative experience. I just didn’t, I wasn’t that political like in high school. I just didn’t listen to the lyrics, so okay.
So what did I learn?
First was that it actually worked. I was able to get into all sorts of music that I wasn’t into before, genres that I didn’t really allow myself to get into. And part of the reason was that it felt easier to take a chance because I didn’t have to decide on the first listen whether or not I liked it. I could just put it on and get through it, and on the second, third, fourth then I can start to decide whether or not I liked it.
And since it was sort of built-in, I didn’t have to make the choice to listen to it again. It somehow made it easier. But it could still be hard just because my systems set up so that every time I finished an album I have to like mark it in one place and mark it in another place you know, so there’s too much friction there.
And there’s also that other problem where it’s like usually you listen to an album because you feel like listening to it, you don’t have something external telling you to listen to something. So, I did notice like some friction there.
But, I could tell the system was working, usually I think it’s actually that fifth where it’s been about nine months since I’ve heard an album. It would come up and I would get really excited and that happened over and over.
So, I’m a little bit over time so I’m going to wrap up. I’ll say one last thing is that just to reiterate at this point. By forcing myself to listen to music I don’t really listen to and allowed me to sort of get out of this idea that I had to relate to the lyrics or the musicians. And you know, because of being a single white male that’s very limiting, and send me it helped me to kind of break out of that and it was just really fulfilling.
So, that was my experiment. Thank you very much. That’s me on Twitter and I still haven’t listened to Taylor Swift.