Changing the way we listen to music

I begin this blog post with a question to think about: How did you find this post? I encourage you to backtrack and think: was this a sponsored or targeted post on social media or perhaps it was the first thing you saw when you searched for ‘allied health near me’. What I’m getting at is, ‘did you intentionally find this blog?’… or ‘did it find you?

A lot has changed since the creation of the internet. Let’s take it back to ‘dial-up’ internet… Internet use was intentional, for example, the connection time, the way it stopped the home phone, or any data constraints you had were barriers that existed not too long ago. The internet during these times was almost temporary, now it’s ‘always-on’. In the modern world, we generally have to place barriers in front of our technology to stop us using it, rather than being limited by the lack of technology to stop us.*

The technology is here and being constantly connected is mostly a personal choice.

Pair that with the device you’re likely using to read this blog post, we are in partnership with technology more times than not. I’m a Registered Music Therapist, so I’ll touch on the music side of things:

Music listening has changed so much over the years. Think of the many ways we can access music these days. I reminisce about one Christmas when I was given a Sony Walkman. I was so excited to carry my CD’s around, connect my wired-headphones, and walk around with my music following me in such an intimate way. Transition to now, where streaming platforms are here, and you can literally open any device and find both the music you know and also something new. It’s overwhelming, yet also exciting knowing we have access to music, media, and information. For this reason, it’s often hard to criticise the technology because of how reliant we are on it.

The main criticism I’ll touch on is the use of music recommendation algorithms. To unpack this, applications like Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube, will track and collect our user data for a variety of purposes. Imagine it like we are leaving big footprints on everything we do, from who we listen to, what we skip, pause or play, or who we connect with. So what do they do with our data (digital footprints) and how does this change the music we listen to:
People are pushed towards new music rather than what they usually like to listen to.

Music is also ranked and this drives people to listen to similar music as others. Think about what is trending.

Applications recommend music to ‘ease the burden of choice’. So we are less reliant on our own ‘self-discovery’ and more towards what is being recommended to us.
The auto-complete search function will give results based on what is trending or what’s been searched in the past. Try typing a single letter into the search bar, for example.

When you have finished listening to music you’ve chosen, the applications will keep feeding us with new music that is similar to what we are listening to.

Music is not just grouped by genre, they are often grouped into ‘songs for a purpose’, like ‘sleeping’, ‘relaxing’, ‘working out’, or ‘concentrating’.

Why Is This A Problem?

This raises some interesting questions:

  • How much control do we have in what we listen to?
  • Music might start to become a thing we do ‘in the background’, rather than something we do intentionally. Researchers looked at screentime in pre-teens, they noticed that music streaming apps mostly run in the background of smartphones and are only in focus when people select music.
  • What device do we use to access music? People at risk of excessive smartphone use are: people who are sensation seeking, experience boredom, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, ADHD, or people requiring cognitive and executive function support in areas like attention, inhibition, self-control, and emotional regulation (Wacks & Weinstein, 2021).
  • Some people use music in unhelpful ways. So, does this mean they’ll continue to get recommended music that doesn’t have a positive impact on them?
  • We all respond and interact with music in different ways. For example, what someone might find relaxing could be anxiety-provoking or sad; or what might help someone concentrate could be a source of distraction.

It’s a tricky space at the moment as technology is something we rely upon for work, school, and play. I have started to think about how I use and interact with social media, music streaming, and other online information. I’ve also started to think about why I am being shown certain things on these applications… Think about the countless targeted advertisements and recommendations we receive. From here, I encourage you to do things with intention. Pick music with intention, pick up your device knowing what you want to find or do, and reach out to someone close to you if you notice any problems in the way you interact with technology. We need to do our best to equip ourselves with information to support our interaction and engagement with technology.

If you have any questions about this blog post, want to share your ideas, or want to know more about Music Therapy, please contact me at

*It’s important to note that technology inequality does exist, it’s often caused by inaccessibility to technology; and widening wage gaps – for example, people viewed by society as ‘more productive’ are able to be ‘even more productive’ with technology.


Freeman, S., Gibbs, M., & Nansen, B. (2022). ‘Don’t mess with my algorithm’: Exploring the relationship between listeners and automated curation and recommendation on music streaming services. First Monday.

Maasø, A., & Spilker, H. S. (2022). The streaming paradox: Untangling the hybrid gatekeeping mechanisms of music streaming. Popular Music and Society, 45(3), 300-316.

Wacks, Y., & Weinstein, A. M. (2021). Excessive smartphone use is associated with health problems in adolescents and young adults. Frontiers in psychiatry, 12, 669042.

Wade, N. E., Ortigara, J. M., Sullivan, R. M., Tomko, R. L., Breslin, F. J., Baker, F. C., … & Bagot, K. S. (2021). Passive sensing of preteens’ smartphone use: An Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) cohort substudy. JMIR mental health, 8(10), e29426.

By Isaac Lizzit

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