Our public spaces are evolving quickly in order to welcome us back. A fundamental challenge for all businesses is to meet our changed needs following social isolation, including anxiety related to being in shared spaces. As you will read here, music provides the perfect warm welcome - music is part of who we are and we rely on it even more during hard times. Music can add a much needed comfort feeling to public spaces post-lockdown.
We are all musical
As a music psychologist, I study musical minds and behaviours. Music is critical to our world, as every human society that has ever existed has enjoyed music. What is more, fossil evidence shows that we have been making and listening to music for at least 40,000 years.
In times of crisis our love of music only increases. According to Sonos, among its 10 million homes worldwide, music listening increased by 32% in March and 48% in April of 2020. And we were looking for a specific kind of music. In a media release from March 2020, Spotify reported that users were adding more relaxing music to their playlists —more acoustic, more instrumental, and lower energy
Music reduces lockdown stress
Reaching for peaceful music during times of global crisis is nothing new, it long predates streaming services and even the advent of recorded music. A study of music behaviour during a 16th Century outbreak of plague in Italy revealed that listening to positive, relaxing music was recommended by the medical experts of the day. A quote from the Renaissance doctor Niccolo Massa in 1540 stated:
Many people, from fear and imagination alone, have fallen to pestilential fever; therefore, it is necessary to be joyful… It is especially advantageous to listen to songs and lovely instrumental music, and to play now and then, and to sing with a quiet voice…
Few things in life comfort us as quickly or as effectively as well-chosen music. It triggers key emotion centres in the brain that are active when we experience happiness, feel rewarded and are content.
It can also have a calming effect on the core, ancient areas of the brain that control our physical relaxation levels, including our breathing and blood pressure. There are no doubts about the power of music to have a positive impact on our bodies: the latest scientific studies describe how music can literally heal the human heart.
Music for new comforting spaces
Smart public spaces are looking to respond sensitively to welcome a post-lockdown public. They can do a great deal to reduce anxiety by replicating the experience of relaxation, transportation, and calm that people achieved using music in their own homes since 2019.
This noble aim however, requires more than a quick playlist search. What kinds of music should we select and why? Where there is the power to have an effect, there comes responsibility.
Luckily, knowledge exists to offer guidance as to how best to curate and compose music to calm our understandable anxieties. There are clues in the music listening habits of half a millennium that tell us how smart music curation can be optimally supportive for public spaces that wish to successfully recreate the comforting effects of great music.