Music listening habits can be split into five distinct blocks throughout the day, new research shows – so we can add what we listen to as something else that follows the circadian rhythm of our bodies, alongside sleep, eating habits, and much more.
Through an analysis of over 2 billion music streaming data points on Spotify, the study identifies five phases of listening that we generally stick to through each 24-hour period: morning, afternoon, evening, night, and late night/early morning.
While we're not all listening to the same tracks in the same parts of the day, most of us are changing up what we listen to on the same sort of schedule. Think about how the music you listen to when you wake up differs from the music you fall asleep to, for example.
"Our results demonstrate how music intertwines with our daily lives and highlight how even something as individual as musical preference is influenced by underlying diurnal patterns," write the researchers in their published paper.
These five blocks tend to follow the same order throughout the week, but at weekends the duration and starting times of these blocks differ, as you would expect when people aren't necessarily having to go to work or school.
The data – collected from a random sampling of Spotify users over an eight-week period – didn't include any personally identifiable information, but did include metadata about the songs that were listened to, including loudness, tempo, and 'danceability'.
Among the observations noted by the researchers, average track loudness increased steadily towards the end of the morning, then usually remained constant for the rest of the day before dipping again at the end of the night.
Tempo and danceability, meanwhile, had a lull in the early afternoon but peaked during the night – a sign that we're all switching to our favorite songs to dance around to. These differences weren't huge though, indicating the diversity of music that's being listened to across Spotify's millions of users.
A further experiment with 89 volunteers confirmed that a lot of these track choices were deliberately instigated by users through specific choices of playlists, rather than being powered by the algorithms on Spotify. However, there was no pattern in terms of preferences for individual tracks at certain times of the day.
Music habits that shift during the day aren't anything new of course, but studies like this are really useful indicators of how listening habits develop across populations.
The study is another example of how scientists can tap into the digital traces we leave behind – whether on Spotify, Fitbit, or any other app – and use these masses of data to identify patterns and trends across vast numbers of people.
"Our results indicate that musical preferences, as defined by audio features, change cyclically and predictably throughout the day," conclude the researchers.
The research has been published in Royal Society Open Science.