RNCM Leads First Research Project on Earworms in Live Music

The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) has been awarded an AHRC Creative Economies Engagement Fellowship to conduct the first ever study into involuntary musical imagery earworms in live music.

An earworm, sometimes known as stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI) is a fragment of music that plays in a person’s mind without external stimulation (i.e. actually hearing music).

Led by Dr Michelle Phillips, the RNCM’s Assistant Head of Undergraduate Programmes, and Dr Ioanna Filippidi, the new AHRC Creative Economies Engagement Fellow, this exciting project will explore the differences in involuntary musical imagery resulting after listening to live versus recorded music performances.

In collaboration with external partners, including The Bridgewater Hall and the Science and Industry Museum, it will use bespoke software and smartphone applications to collect data from audience members attending a range of concerts.

Michelle said: ‘Big data and live concert audiences are an exciting combination! Music is universal, and learning what makes it replay in our minds is important in furthering our knowledge of the role of music in our lives.

‘We hope to not only learn about musical earworms in live performance, but also explore wider questions such as what makes music memorable, and how does our relationship with technology and the digital world influence our listening experiences?’

Gaining a greater understanding of the immersive triggers for memory is key to understanding and advancing the modern music industry – and applications of this research could have wide-ranging impact across the live events industry, digital advertising, sponsorship, and media purchasing.

Ioanna added: ‘I’m so pleased to be funded for this project and can’t wait to get started. I’ve been studying the topic for seven years now and there are still so many unexplored aspects of music and memory to delve into. I’m very grateful to the AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership and my hopes are that we will add another piece to the puzzle of the involuntary musical imagery experience.’

Paula Wilson, Learning and Participation Manager at The Bridgewater Hall commented, ‘We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the RNCM, the Museum of Science and Industry and Dr Ioanna Filippidi on such an interesting, interdisciplinary project. We hope that our audiences will be equally excited about getting involved.’

Georgina Wells, Contemporary Science Programme Coordinator at the Science and Industry Museum said,We’re really looking forward to working with the RNCM and sharing this fascinating project with museum visitors. It’s the first time we’ve collaborated on a Platform for Investigation event so that’s really exciting.’

17 January 2019