If asked to compile a playlist of music that embodies the Ohio State student experience, perhaps the chorus of “Hang on Sloopy” or the bombastic sounds of the OSU Marching Band would come to mind. But what about Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”?
While a playlist filled with Mozart or Strauss might not initially evoke images of Ohio Stadium or Brutus Buckeye, a recent Spotify study has identified OSU as the U.S. university that listens to the most classical music.
The study, which was conducted by music subscription service Spotify, used the music intelligence services of its newly acquired subsidiary, The Echo Nest, to track the listening habits of student subscribers throughout the nation.
“(When) people are at college and at university, they are figuring out what they want to do with their lives … and to a certain extent, they (discover) what music they are going to like,” said Spotify data storyteller Eliot Van Buskirk.
Van Buskirk said the listening data was collected from Spotify listeners who had previously registered for the company’s student deal, a discount given to individuals currently enrolled at accredited higher education institutions in the U.S.
The discount allows current students access to Spotify’s premium services, which include unlimited ad-free streaming of songs, as well as the ability to download songs to play while offline. Spotify Premium costs about $10 per month, but the price is reduced to about $5 per month once a student’s name, date of birth and university is verified.
Trends in students’ listening habits were interpreted and summarized from this data, Van Buskirk said.
“We started with a longer list of the schools with the most Spotify subscribers … Out of our Spotify listeners, the schools that put in the most time listening is where that list comes from,” he said. “(Then we looked at) the amount of listening per capita at each school.”
Other schools in the study include Purdue University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Alabama and Cornell University.
Spotify ranked the schools based on the number of plays per student subscriber at each college studied. The results were posted in September on the Spotify Insights blog.
OSU is ranked No. 21 out of 40 on Spotify’s published list of “Top 40 Most Musical Universities in America.”
California Polytechnic State University is ranked at the top of the list, while Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is ranked at No. 11. The University of Wisconsin—Madison leads the Big Ten Conference schools at number 15 and the University of Michigan ranks at No. 29.
“It is interesting because it is all U.S. college students, so it is about finding out how they are similar and how they differ,” Van Buskirk said. “To me, the beauty is looking at each school and seeing the stuff that jumps out there, especially the distinctive genres and artists.”
On the Spotify Insights website, each ranked school has a comprehensive summary of campus-specific listening habits, Van Buskirk said.
“Some of these statistics are distinctive, meaning you are looking at this school versus all of the other schools,” he said.
For example, OSU’s Spotify Insights page said tropical music was played less often than at the other top 40 schools. Classical music, however, was played more often than at any of the other schools.
“I suspect it is because we have a big school of music here on campus,” said David Huron, a professor who heads the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory within the OSU School of Music.
Some students had their own theories as to why classical music emerged as a genre distinctly linked to OSU.
“At first, I was surprised by the classical (music) ranking,” said Kristin George, a second-year in business. “But I know that I listen to classical music when I study, so that could be the reason why.”
Casie Jingle, a second-year in biology, said listening to classical music while studying might explain its prevalence in the data, but the trend might also be a result of OSU’s large student population.
“(I was surprised) that classical music was toward the top,” Jingle said. “I don’t know if it is just because it is good studying music or because we have such a large population, so you would just have more people who are listening to it.”
Although classical music is listened to more often at OSU than at other schools, it is not the most popular genre of music among students on campus.
According to Spotify Insights, more than 50 percent of the music OSU students listen to is pop, about 24 percent is dance or electronic dance music and about 22 percent is hip hop.
In comparison, classical music only takes up about 0.5 percent of the music streamed through Spotify at OSU. But that’s still 900 percent higher than the average of all schools of .05 percent.
Although distinct trends exist in students’ music listening habits, there is no magic formula that explains what makes listeners play one song more often than another, Huron said.
“I don’t think we really understand what is involved in music preference,” he said. “Of course there are lots of factors that must play a role. We know that past experience plays a huge role. There are a few things that we can point to that we know are factors, but I don’t know anyone who has produced a comprehensive explanation for why someone prefers ‘piece x’ to ‘piece y.’”
It is this seemingly unanswerable question that the Spotify Insights team hopes to further explore in several upcoming studies, Van Buskirk said.
“There is ongoing engagement that people have with music after it is released,” he said. “I am interested in delving deeper into music for studying or music for work … It’s for fun, really. It is interesting, that is why we are doing this.”