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What is a hit song made up of? And why are some songs much easier to remember than others? Musicologists Ashley Burgoyne and Henkjan Honing investigated this by using music from the Eurovision Song Contest.

In the recently launched online experiment Hooked on Music, participants listen to songs from the Eurovision Song Contest throughout the years. The sooner you recognise which song it is, the more points you can earn. The music keeps cutting out for a few seconds, after which you have to indicate whether the song kicks in again at the correct point or not. This allows you to test your knowledge of music.

The researchers aim to use the experiment to find out more about what makes songs recognisable and how we remember music in the long term. ‘The listener is often underestimated,’ says Henkjan Honing, professor in Music Cognition, ‘but your memory and listening experience have a huge impact on the way you hear and appreciate music. That is what we want to map.’

Hooked on Music is the successor to an experiment organised a few years ago, in which the same researchers investigated how quickly people were able to recognise pop songs. Principal investigator Ashley Burgoyne tells us that that research project was very successful, but that – in hindsight – it had a weak spot: it was aimed at highly popular pop songs performed in English (think of Wannabe by the Spice Girls and Lady Gaga’s Just Dance), leading to many participants easily being able to recall the songs.   

‘We made the new experiment more challenging,’ Burgoyne says. ‘It contains music that is less well-known, which allows us to verify whether our earlier model still holds up. We chose to use songs from the Eurovision Song Contest because people will generally have heard them at some point in time, but not very often.’

If you have never been interested in the Eurovision Song Contest, you most likely will not obtain a very high score in this experiment. But, worry not: comparable experiments featuring different kinds of music are on their way, too, such as an experiment with Christmas songs that will be launched later this year.

Copyright: FGw
Music is such an important part of our daily lives, but there is still so much that we do not understand. Ashley Burgoyne, lecturer in Computational Musicology

Amsterdam Music Lab

The experiments are part of the recently established Amsterdam Music Lab, for which the researchers have ambitious plans. ‘It is a virtual lab,’ Honing explains, ‘which gives it a significant advantage especially during times like these. Online experiments such as this one, which are fun to participate in, too, are an amazing tool with which to gather all kinds of interesting data. They enable us to reach people from all across the world.’

Among others, the researchers are planning on conducting experiments with listeners from China, South America and Congo, in order to find out more about the impact of cultural differences on the way in which people experience music. Burgoyne: ‘Music is such an important part of our daily lives, but there is still so much that we do not understand.’

In the long term, the Amsterdam Music Lab intends to collaborate with the local music industry, too, allowing music producers to, among others, test the hit potential of songs in the lab.

Prof. H.J. (Henkjan) Honing

Faculty of Humanities

Faculty of Science

Dr. J.A. (Ashley) Burgoyne

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Muziekwetenschap