U2, Apple, and Musical Personal Space

You ever ask to look through someone’s iPod?

Why don’t you give it a shot right now, go ask a friend, co-worker, your son or daughter, whoever, if you can look through their playlists. I’d be willing to bet you’ll get an array of negative responses ranging from flat out refusal, to apprehensive and apologetic agreement.

If they let you, they very likely will be squirming in their seat while you scroll through songs asking about them. Rationalizations will be made, maybe some convenient forgetfulness (“that’s on there?! Huh, I have no idea where that came from…”) or straight up lies (“er…um…my little sister borrows my iPod sometimes, she must’ve bought that 1 Direction album…yeah, that’s it…”).

What’s with this? Why does opening our music choices up to someone else make us so uncomfortable? Most of us have no problem discussing with others what kinds of bands we enjoy. In fact, many people relish the opportunity to be the first person to know about a band among their circle of friends.

But there’s something about that iTunes playlist that is deeply personal. In many ways, it’s a stream of consciousness for our lives over the last few years. Emotional highs and lows can often be seen in the songs one has purchased across the years.

This song was when I was in school and needed some relaxing study music.

This is from that break up I went through.

This…well this was from that time I got really into heavy metal for a month.

To allow someone access to this means explaining away your emotional states over the last 2, 3, or 5 years.

The U2 Debacle

Which is why I think so many people had such a negative reaction when Apple automatically put the new U2 album into everyone’s iTunes (for free).

It was free! Who doesn’t like free stuff? If you don’t like it, no worries, just delete it.

At least, that was probably the reaction Apple assumed most people would have. What they got, however, was a far more negative reaction.

People were upset that an album they didn’t want or ask for, perhaps by a band they have strong negative feelings for, was crudely inserted into their library. It would be one thing to offer it as a free download, but to automatically add it to their playlists is a whole other story. It would seem that to many people, music being added to their library without their consent felt like an invasion of personal space.

Music Preference is Highly Personal, and Highly Powerful

This all teaches us a valuable lesson about music therapy: music preference is very personal, and very powerful.

Our musical tastes are a personal safe space, a comfort zone that we do not like being interfered with. As music therapists, we’re taught to always use patient preferred music, and you can see why. If we want the therapy environment to be safe and successful, can we expect to achieve that with music our clients don’t like?

If the content of a playlist contributes as much to our feeling of safety and personality as it would seem to from the Apple/U2 experiment, then respecting one's "personal musical space" is every bit as important to a successful therapeutic relationship as personality fit.

Powerful stuff to consider, and all the more reason to leave music therapy to music therapists.

Ready to give our talented team of music therapists a try? Find out what makes The George Center different.