In the age of technology, people can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on their phones, but a new research suggests the apps that keep them occupied and engaged are actually not “real” music at all.
In a new study, a team of Canadian researchers found that while apps like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora are good for keeping people in touch, they’re really just apps to “get” people to tune in to the radio.
“You can get people to listen to a song or play a game that is great for a quick conversation, or get them to take a picture or do something else,” said lead researcher Jens Rönnqvist from the University of Calgary.
“But there’s a lot of content that’s not really going to be of any real use.”
Instead, the researchers said the apps use a “music-based content ecosystem” that “allows people to engage with content they may not necessarily have any interest in.”
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of several new studies that suggest apps like those popular on the iPhone and Android can actually be distracting.
The study examined apps that have “lots of music and a lot” of music options, said Röhnqvist.
The results showed that apps like Music Radar, Stitcher and Spotify all tended to rely heavily on music recommendations and the like, but they didn’t seem to be any more effective at making people listen to music than other apps.
And this was despite the fact that they were all available in Canada and all available at a low price point.
The apps also didn’t have any sort of rating system, or any sort that showed whether users were getting more or less useful content than other options.
Instead, they all used the app’s “listener satisfaction” rating system to give users a measure of how satisfied they were with the app.
“We were really surprised to see that Spotify’s music was a pretty good predictor of listener satisfaction,” said Rønnqvis.
“That was surprising, given that we know that it’s really about user experience and it’s not about user satisfaction.”
So what exactly is a “listening experience”?
The researchers did find that there was a “sweet spot” for users, though.
For example, people who were “very engaged” with Spotify listened to a lot more music than those who were more disengaged.
However, this difference was not statistically significant, and Röunnqvist said it wasn’t clear how much more listening meant to a listener.
“It could be a function of the type of music, it could be it could just be a simple effect of having listened to the song in the first place,” he said.
Spotify doesn’t actually make music recommendations, Rönqvist explained, but it does have “a whole set of recommendations” and those recommendations are then used to “favorize” other music in the app based on user preferences.
The researchers also found that there were no significant differences between the types of music that people listened to in different listening situations.
“There are a lot fewer people who would say that Spotify is ‘music,’ and a whole lot more people who say it’s ‘music related,'” said Rörnqvis, who also noted that there are “a lot of different kinds of music” on the app, and that the research “didn’t really find anything that indicates that there’s an effective ‘music-related’ experience.”
In short, the study doesn’t really show that Spotify, or even Apple Music, are actually “better” for music listening, said Paul Wiebe, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo who studies music consumption.
“In terms of the way in which people listen and how they think about music, the vast majority of music is just a mix of different things,” he told CBC News.
“What Spotify is really good at is getting you into a state of mental health.
The fact that people are getting really engaged with their own music is not really that surprising.
They’re getting into their own space and feeling the world around them.”
Wiebbe also suggested that the idea that Spotify and Apple Music “create something really immersive, and give you a virtual world, or something that you can be in” is “a bit of a stretch.”
“In my experience, the way that people listen in the real world, that’s what’s actually engaging and really enjoyable and exciting and creative and engaging,” he added.
“I think that’s actually what people are really looking for in music.
It’s not ‘music that I can sit in front of and sing along to.'”
What about the future?
The study was a step in the right direction, said Chris Johnson, the CEO of SoundExchange, a startup that develops a platform to help artists and music companies communicate directly with fans.
“The fact that there is a whole ecosystem of apps out