Author's Note: As I write this blog I am at the end of my university project. I have completed a few elements of the site that have given me an overall impression of how my identity and musical preferences have developed, and from where I drew my influences. This project is far from complete, but I have written this article as an indicative piece temporally contingent on my understanding of the context on the date 10th May 2016.
Reflecting upon my journey through four self-defined eras, I am able to identify particular influences that have informed my musical taste. During the Primary Years I was influenced by the musical preferences of my parents. My age would have obviously made it difficult, for the most part, for me to purchase my own records. The environment in which I grew up made it easy for me to draw my own conclusions from great records like Sgt Peppers and A Night at the Opera. Throughout High School the influence from peer socialisation and friendships increased, sharing similar music preferences with friends (Miranda & Gaudreau, 2011), as well as involving myself in subcultural activities. My Post Millennial musical activities, influences and consumption were largely driven by environments in which I socialised rather than by the direct influence of friendships. This was largely because I was relatively inactive as a subcultural participant. During my tenure with Sound Over Silence I was actively engaged in the Glasgow music scene, writing and performing in a variety of genres, and studying music. My tastemaking influences had a tendency to be other subcultural participants that initially shared my music taste.
Through the sub-categories on my timeline I have uncovered a pattern of influence over my musical tastes, relating to two broad variable factors that are linked to the level of my sub-cultural participation; peer group and environment. I would describe the former as relationships I have chosen to engage in, whether musical or non musical. The latter could be described as a relationship with my surroundings, whether in the family home or out in public spaces.
There seems to be a sliding scale between the two points depending on my level of participation in music cultures. When I am actively engaged as a cultural participant I am more likely to be surrounded by peers that are presenting me with new musical experiences. The influences that inform my taste in this scenario are similar to those I experienced through high school and whilst participating in Glasgow’s music culture with Sound Over Silence.
So, here I am today. I have a musical taste largely governed by my social and environmental context. What does that mean in relation to my identity? Has my identity been formed by my musical preferences, or have my musical influences informed my identity?
A recent academic analysis titled Musical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles studied the link between a person’s psychological makeup affects musical preferences, and broadly defined two groups; “systemisers” and “empathisers” (Clark, 2015). I have always perceived myself to be of an analytical mind, so I would fall into the category of a systemiser if my self-attribution is correct. Systemisers prefer high energy and complex music with cerebral depth, Clark specifically citing metal, punk, and classical music in his article. I can relate this to my music preferences, especially my love of progressive metal bands like Mastodon, and my long standing relationship with punk rock. David Greenberg , leader of the study, purports that cognitive style “can be a better predictor of what music [a person] likes than their personality.” (cited in Clark, 2015). Another senior author of the study, Jason Rentfrow, believes that music preference is “a mirror of the self… emotionally, socially, and cognitively”. (cited in Clark, 2015).
That being the case, it provides an explanation of how my cognitive patterns are related to the music I love. It doesn’t quite go as far as saying how they developed though. Was the music my Dad left around the house the direct root of my musical tastes, but did I pick and choose what I wanted to listen to based on a developing cognitive function?
I’ve still not quite answered the question of whether my musical preferences and influences have informed my identity, or whether my identity has informed my musical preferences. It is entirely possible for my identity, through cognitive style, to have also informed the music in which I choose to indulge.
Miranda (2012) believes that “exploring musical taste can develop a sense of competency through discerning the cool from the boring and the fashionable from the passé” in youth culture, and that adolescence is a critical period for developing both musical preferences and “cognitive prototypes through acculturation.” (North, Hargreaves, & O’Neill, 2006). This is indicative that cognitive function can be manipulated as a child matures into adulthood.
At this stage, I would be inclined to believe that my identity has been affected by my musical preferences throughout my own development. It does however make me wonder how much of my developing cognitive styles and musical preferences became caught in a cycle, a closed loop that perpetuated the accumulation of the same genres of music over time. The tribalism of youth subcultures would have made it socially unacceptable, and possibly emotionally difficult, to make the leap from skater/bmx and punk rock culture to rave and dance culture, so did my cognitive style really have any chance of developing in a different way?