The Science Behind Background Music For Events

The Science Behind Background Music For Events

The background music at an event can easily be the difference between a smooth, flowing event and an unpleasant experience where attendees cannot wait to leave. We have all been at those events where the background music was just too loud, or the DJ played songs with inappropriate lyrics. These cringy moments become the only memories attendees have of your event, undermining all the hard work you put into it. So, how do you make sure that you tick all of the background music boxes?

You need to ask yourself this simple question, “What effect do I want my event to have?” Answering this question will guide you to select music throughout the event timeline that will make your event cohesive and virtually successful. 

Music affects us in emotional, psychological, and sociobiological ways, making it an essential tool for shaping experiences. Below we discuss scientifically proven insights on the touchpoints between music and human beings and how you can use these insights to make failsafe music choices.

Related: 20 Common Live Event Audio Issues And How To Solve Them Fast

1. Background Music Influences Our Emotions

From as far back as Ancient Greece, music was understood to have emotive powers. In a study aimed to observe the differential effects of background music on how people behave, Haans Drieberg found that listening to music can induce positive or negative emotions depending on the nature of the music. Abraham Maslow, one of the founding fathers of humanist psychology, believed that “…listening to music was one of the easiest ways of achieving ‘peak experiences’ which can be characterized as being emotion-laden and absorbing states of extreme intensity” (Drieberg 2013:2).

“…listening to music was one of the easiest ways of achieving ‘peak experiences’ which can be characterized as being emotion-laden and absorbing states of extreme intensity”

Drieberg 2013:2

This is how you can recruit the expressive powers of music to stage successful events:

  • Music influences our emotions because it affects the memory and reward systems of the brain. Therefore, the music at your event must have positive undertones so that for each attendee, the memories of your event become positive connections in the brain.
  • Music has also been proven to help the secretion of Oxytocin in the brain. This neuropeptide is associated with an increase in feelings of connectedness and contentment. These are essential to your attendees networking successfully and enjoying one another’s company.
  • Heartbeats International also found that most people are deeply concerned with musicians getting paid fairly. So, make sure to clear all licensing requirements for your music. Royalty-free music can be found on sites like Purple Planet or AudioJungle. Showing your attendees that you care about licensing requirements will create trust and enhance their positive emotions towards your event.

Related: The Physiology of Stress During Event Planning

2. Background Music Influences Us Physiologically

The effects of listening to music can also manifest in our bodies. Initially, we have emotional responses to outside stimuli like music. These responses affect our nervous system. Music can affect our heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance, and the depth and speed of respiration. And most importantly, different kinds of music influence these factors in specific ways. These physical responses are “…mediated by the character of the music, rather than simply a general tendency for any type of music listening to provoke a uniform response” (Drieberg 2013:5).

This is how these physical responses to music can play out in an event:

  • Our physical energy levels are different depending on the time of day. Music can be used to boost attendees’ energy levels. For example, guests to a conference or educational event can be encouraged with lively music or regular boosts of music in-between segments to reenergize them as the event proceeds.
  • Background music can also help your attendees relax physically so that they can mingle and network. The music fills the lapses in conversation or even starts the conversations, decreasing situations where people feel awkward about the sound of their own voice.
  • Music is not only for the benefit of the attendees; it can also enhance the performance of your staff. Heartbeat International also reveals that “more than 6 out of 10 people listen to music every day or at least once a week when they’re at work” to perform their duties better.

3. Music Shapes Social Gatherings

The relationship between human beings and music has also been considered from an evolutionary perspective. It turns out that music has been a fixture of human life since the dawn of humanity. Studies like this one in Frontiers in Psychology report that early humans who lived in arboreal contexts used music, before language, to reinforce social bonds. The study notes that “…music contributes to social cohesion and thereby increases the effectiveness of group action.”

This is how music enhances cohesion at social gatherings:

  • The choice between live or prerecorded music influences the nature of a social gathering. Live music requires a stage and a dancefloor where attendees can dance together, thus enhancing the sense of community in the event. Prerecorded music gives attendees more chances to sing along to popular favorites, which also encourages social bonding.
  • Music also activates the circuit in the brain responsible for the social skill termed Theory of Mind. Essentially, this is an acute sensitivity to what other people are thinking and feeling, which helps us respond appropriately to different people. This skill also contributes to social gatherings running smoothly.
  • Music can also be a bridge between different kinds of people. In an event where different people are meeting each other for the first time, you may, for example, ask people to RSVP with their favorite song to compile the playlist. Use this as an icebreaker at the event.

4. Background Music Can Provide Structure

Music can be a structuring tool when an event has different parts. And generally, each event has a welcome phase, a structured program in the middle, and the final period where attendees start to leave. As your event proceeds, you can play music of different variations. This will also allow you to satisfy everyone’s musical tastes. Music can also smooth transitions between speakers or various activities taking place in the event. And it can also be used to let guests know when it is suitable for them to start leaving.

Here are a few ways that music can be used in partitioning an event:

  • An event can be separated by different moods. For example, start a birthday party with sentiment where you play soothing music during the speeches. Later, follow with a more outgoing spirit by playing upbeat music.
  • Make sure that your transitions are seamless. Change the tone of your music gradually without confusing your attendees. This means reading your attendees and knowing when to hike things up or tone it down.
  • One song out of place can change the mood, so plan your music segments and listen to the whole playlist from start to finish to prevent any mistakes on the day. 

Related: Choosing The Right Master of Ceremonies For Your Event

5. Music Influences The Opinions Of Attendees About Your Brand

Music can deepen attendees’ engagement with the messaging of your brand and cater to all the demographics in your audience. When music that a person is personally fond of is played, they are likely to stay at the event longer. They’ll also attend future events, recommend those events to others through social media and word of mouth, and buy more of their products after the event.

Here’s how you can use music at your event to build lasting relationships with your attendees:

  • Do research on your expected attendees so you can play music that specifically appeals to them. This will show attendees that your brand shares their values, and you’ll gain their long-term trust and loyalty.
  • Pick three songs that perfectly capture the message you want to communicate in your event and build the rest of your song selection around these “guiding songs.”
  • Use your music as a storytelling tool. For example, compile songs that symbolize the milestones of your brand. Or stage a live performance incorporating videos and images of the brand’s journey.

Background Music Is Worth More Than An Afterthought

You cannot afford to let your music feel like an afterthought. You could plan the most extravagant event, but attendees will notice generic song choices because human experiences are deeply connected to music. Do your research, put in the time, and make sure your music is the invisible thread that ties all the elements of your event together.

You can work with the event’s DJ, band, lighting, and audio professionals all in one place with ThymeBase’s event planning software.