How Listeners Shape the Evolution of Music

How Listeners Shape the Evolution of Music

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Public tastes may exert a kind of “natural selection” that improves music’s appeal—up to a point—finds a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research supports the theory that culture and art are shaped by processes similar to those in biological evolution. Whereas past research using computer models has probed whether popular songs could evolve by selecting for particular musical attributes, “the real difference here is the selection process,” says Armand Leroi, professor of evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College London and a co-author of the paper.

Instead of using a computer program or an individual to select which songs “reproduce,” “we just let public taste decide,” Leroi adds. He says that people are very comfortable with the idea of natural selection in organisms, but when it comes to music they fail to recognize the creative power of consumer preferences on which songs survive. There is a perception that only the composer and performer are the innovators.

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