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What is Music Psychology? An Audio Producer’s Guide

Audio producer listening to music through studio headphones

Are you interested in becoming an audio producer? Some people think that being an audio producer means staying safely hidden behind a huge soundboard and never interacting directly with the artists themselves. The role that those people are envisioning is more likely the sound technician, who indeed spends the majority of their time on countless sliders, buttons, and knobs.

Audio producers, on the other hand, are often the bridge between the artists and the technicians. Working between these two different worlds to ensure that the entire recording sound perfect is often a challenge, though it is highly rewarding. One discipline an audio producer will benefit from, to make their music sound good, is music psychology.

What is Music Psychology?

The psychology of music involves layers of complexity as it incorporates concepts from the fields of both psychology and musicology. The interactions between the two are what make music psychology such a richly dynamic and often unpredictable concept.

The overall aim of music psychology is to better understand and explain what causes and influences people’s musical experiences. This includes everything from a person’s choice in music, how it is perceived, and how the listener responds to what they hear. It’s a study not just of theoretical musical concepts but of how those concepts actually impact and relate to real everyday people.

Music psychology also delves into how music is created. Before a listener or audience member can emotionally and physiologically respond to a song, the songwriter has to dream it up. The process of writing music is a highly psychological process that can only be partially broken down and understood by scientific methods. The rest will likely remain a mystery until technological advancements allow for the human psyche to be further explored. The work of music psychologists is invaluable to audio producers everywhere, especially as it relates to musicians and how their brains work when they’re in the creative “zone.”

Music Psychology for a Modern Age

Advancements in music psychology almost always happen through empirical data. The countless studies that have been conducted and collected over the years provide a plethora of data to be interpreted. Systematic observations of how human participants interact with certain types of music and sounds have shed light on the inner workings of the psyche, though there’s still much more to be discovered.

The information gleaned from this music-related research is important for a surprising range of industries. It might be natural to think of the fields of performance and composition being the primary beneficiaries of these studies, which they certainly are. But everything from education, criticism, and therapy have also seen many improvements in their fields as a direct influence of the work that music psychologists do. Since music comes into people’s lives in every way imaginable, numerous industries have a lot to gain from applying the deeper understanding of music’s effect on the human mind.

The angles taken by music psychology studies are as varied as music itself. Psychologists and other researchers have delved into the way different songs and chords impact a person’s attitude, probing the question of whether sound alone can truly shift a person’s mood from happy to sad or anywhere in between. This area of study also involves looking into how music comes into play in a person’s development, including skill level, performance ability, overall intelligence and creativity, as well as their social behavior. Just as music is everywhere in life, music psychology looks at the resonating effects that music has in every part of a person’s psyche.

Music, Psychology, and Beyond

Music and psychology in themselves are such holistic concepts that the research associated with them, both individually and combined, provides valuable insight into areas that might seem far apart from both the musical and psychological scope.

Although some struggling music students might not delight in hearing it, studying the psychology of music contributes to the advancement of music theory itself. Nervous students need not fret though: advancement in theory doesn’t always translate into something more difficult. Sometimes it’s just an easier way of expressing certain patterns and musical structures with the help of computational modeling. In each of these cases, the furthering of music theory is in direct relation to the investigations of how music is perceived through a combination of form, meter, rhythm, tone, melody, and harmony.

It’s not just the modern world of music that benefits from work done in music psychology, either. Musical historians have long used the advancement of this knowledge to gain a greater understanding of musical syntax. Systematic studies in music psychology have explored how people were composing, expressing, and reacting to music hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Through this research, historians and psychologists dug deep into the minds of great composers like Beethoven and Bach, as well as ones with particularly quirky psychologies like Paganini and Mozart. Research has also focused on the receiving end of those compositions, investigating the social response to the most famous musical pieces and scrutinizing every piece of evidence to find any indications of how people perceived music in the past.

Plumbing the depths of music’s historic impact on the minds of human beings is a broad field because music has been a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years, if not longer. Early Neanderthals left remnants of their ancient flutes and drums at the sites of their European mountain cave dwellings. Historians believe that, like today, these instruments were used to create music as an expression of emotion, just as it is today.

Music Therapy: Professionally Administered or Self-Medicated

Music therapists often view their patients through what is known as the Jungian perspective. Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that everyone’s mind contains a vast “collective unconscious,” which was his term for traits that everyone has, even if they don’t realize it. According to Jung, this collective unconscious is at odds with repressed memories and experiences, which can cause serious problems in a person’s life.

Approaching music therapy in this way, the therapist can use a patient’s perception and reaction to different pieces of music, or even analyze the patient’s own compositions, to uncover anything that might be repressed in that person’s mind. The use of music might allow the patient to feel more relaxed and open. Other times, music might be an outlet for the patient to express negative feelings that they otherwise don’t have the means to express.

As you can imagine, music therapy doesn’t have to happen in a licensed professional’s office. In fact, most people are probably self-medicating with music on a near-daily basis. It’s through the work of audio producers that listeners are able to plug into their therapy playlist and unwind from a stressful day, get out all the bad vibes, or reminisce over a lost love or amazing vacation. The applications of music therapy and psychology are as boundless as the imaginations of the listeners, artists, and you, the audio producer.

Audio Production Program

The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.