Sharing Songs to Social: What your music story says about you.
You’re tapping through your instagram story feed. Among the outtakes, memes, and TikToks, you see that one of your friends shared a song to their story. You come across dozens of these music-sharing stories in your tapping spree; it appears that almost everyone has a song to share.
How often do you pause and think, “maybe I’ll give this song a listen” ? How often do you tap on through? How often do you think “I wonder why they posted this song of all songs” ? We rarely comment on the music choice of others. Some of us don’t even think twice about those stories unless we share the same interests. So why do we still share our favorite playlists and tracks to our instagram stories? Do we hope that our music selection is more intriguing than our other friends? Or perhaps we set a different expectation for our playlists and favorite bands?
I’ve gotten into the habit of claiming that “sharing songs is my love language”, meaning that sharing a song with my followers through instagram is how I choose to show love. I also like to think that I’m spreading the wealth: “Hey everyone! Here’s a great song that I think will make your day better!”
My love for sharing songs and playlists goes beyond instagram and stories. I’ve written letters to friends with specific playlists of songs that make me think of them. I’ve hiked to the top of Mailbox Peak and left dozens of cards with a trail-specific playlist for other hikers to scan.
I’ve even adopted a weekly playlist to share with my followers. My Spotify Saturday playlist has become a fun talking point between my friends, and has helped to provide some routine in my otherwise monotonous life. My mom, though admitting my playlist is a great idea, often questions why I consistently share music to my social channels.
“Alexandria, why do you always share new albums and songs and playlists to your social channels? Do you think your friends and followers really care to see that?”
Intrigued by how often she asks these questions, I decided to explore the answer from a research perspective. Afterall, if I wanted my mom to understand my unorthodox love language, I needed an answer besides “it brings me joy”.
And thus began my search.
We grew up with music being a public event. Between playing in concerts or attending them, music was an experience that we shared with one another: a collection of melodies pulsating among a crowd, a band, or a speaker. Since the early creation of the WalkMan, and in more recent years, the iPod and music streaming services, music has become a private experience between the listener and their headphones. In a 2007 study, researchers Hankansson, Rost, and Holmquist found motivations for sharing music among friends. After giving college students the opportunity to share music with nearby friends on campus with the Push!Music device, they found that many participants shared music because they enjoyed it. Other motivations include wanting to recommend a song to a friend because they knew they would enjoy it, and disseminating a song by form of impression management (Hakansson, Rost, Holmquist, 2007). Another study from 2018 mentions this impression management idea, suggesting that participants in a study of imaginary scenarios favored self-presentation (Johnson & Ranzini, 2018).
Okay mom, do you believe me now? It turns out that “it brings me joy” is a valid answer to why I choose to share music to my social channels. In fairness, “It brings me joy” is a multifaceted phrase that can include personal enjoyment, predicted second-hand enjoyment, and impression management. Even earlier this week, I shared one of my favorite songs “Are you bored yet?” by Wallows. The track had just hit the platinum record milestone, and I wanted to share that achievement and track with my friends and followers. I have to admit that I also chose to share the song in order to appear a certain way. The ideas that “I was a listener before they were platinum”, as well as “my taste in music is obviously good because it’s platinum” certainly crossed my mind before pressing “share” to my friends and followers.
The next time I share a playlist to my instagram story, I’ll remind myself of the research I’ve done: we enjoy sharing music with others. It makes us feel good knowing others might enjoy what we enjoy. I’ll also remind myself of impression management, and how I may be projecting a certain image or idea to my followers through the form of a song or playlist.
What does your music story say about you?
Johnson, B. K., & Ranzini, G. (2018). Click here to look clever: Self-presentation via selective sharing of music and film on social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 82, 148–158.
Håkansson, M., Rost, M., & Holmquist, L. E. (2007). Gifts from friends and strangers: A study of mobile music sharing. In ECSCW 2007 (pp. 311–330). Springer, London.