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Home » BYU students have lowest energy music taste in the world, Spotify data finds
BYU ranks 54th out of 1908 universities for Spotify listening activities. The music streaming service has 456 million monthly listeners worldwide. (Emma Everett)
BYU often tops college rankings: its library rivals, Ivy League institutions, business, and promotional programs regularly receive national recognition, and the student body is still stone-sober. In one area, however, BYU ranks last.
The algorithm-generated Every College At Once list, which processes Spotify users’ listening data, found that BYU students overall have the least energetic tastes in music of any university community in the world.
Every College At Once and its parent site, Every Noise At Once, are the brainchild of Spotify data alchemist Glenn McDonald. In his view, music is a powerful tool to understand individuals and communities.
Through data collection and algorithms, McDonald has found a way to capture the unique musical fingerprint of cities, countries, ages and genders. With Spotify’s student discount plan, he can also refine the listening habits of specific schools.
“Once you have a subset of the world’s listening, you can ask what is both true and different about it — that measure we call distinctiveness,” he said.
McDonald defines distinctiveness as a combination of popularity and uniqueness. For example, the sound of Brigham Young University includes many songs by local bands and the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, but no more ubiquitous artists like Taylor Swift or Harry Styles.
The musical quality of “Energy” includes factors such as danceability, tempo, emotional tone, instrumentality, and loudness, McDonald explained. To quantify “energy,” a machine learning process analyzes a song’s waveforms and “attempts to model the psychoacoustics, or experience, of listening to music.”
Every School at Once automatically generates a playlist based on BYU’s distinctive listening style. The playlist often reflects local events. For example, it’s not uncommon for the BYU Fight Song to be featured during the fall football season. ( Emma Everett)
Junior accounting student Mason Ewing said he wasn’t surprised to hear that BYU’s listening patterns tended towards the lower end of the energy spectrum.
Until recently, Ewing co-owned Home Studio Records, a Provo recording studio that regularly mentored local music groups.
“Indie music is just so chilled and everyone’s into it. Most people who come in say, ‘I don’t know if I want to use a drum kit.’ Everyone wants that vibe to be pretty smooth floating, not super crazy and upbeat,” he said.
Scott Clarke, a pre-business junior, agreed with the algorithm’s assessment of BYU music culture. “I feel like when I listen to music, I’m trying to relieve stress,” he said.
However, Ewing and Clarke acknowledged that personal taste in music plays a big part in Provo. People take their music seriously, whether they’re creators or consumers, they said. Students attempt to curate diverse music libraries that are simultaneously accessible and obscure.
“I hear stuff no one else hears, and I bet everyone in this room listens to stuff no one else hears. When you’re listening to music that nobody else is listening to, you’re cool,” Clarke said.
This map shows the five most musically energetic and five least musical universities in the country, according to Every School At Once charts. Congressional districts were used to approximate the location of each university. (Emma Everett)
According to Every School At Once, some of the most popular genres at BYU include LDS, indiecoustica, new-age piano, a cappella and orchestral soundtracks, and a few pop spin-off genres.
Jane Beeson, a political science student at BYU, describes herself as an artist who “does alternative pop in Utah.” She began her solo musical project Beeson when she moved to Provo for school and began opening for groups at Velor Live Music Gallery.
Beeson performs at Velor, an eclectic music venue on University Avenue in Provo. She compares her music to Lorde, Maggie Rogers and Japanese House. (Jane Beson)
Since then, Beeson has built a significant audience. In 2022 alone, she played 35 shows.
Her song “Pink Light” will be featured in Every School’s auto-generated playlist, The Sound of Brigham Young University-Provo.
The playlist is updated weekly and reflects events in the local music scene. Both Beeson and San Diego group The Happy Return were featured on the playlist following their January 20 concert in Salt Lake City.
Beeson said she’s glad to see “Pink Light” gaining traction with local audiences. “It’s a song that comes from a very feminine experience. It shows that you can listen to music made from a different perspective than your own and still get something out of it,” she said.
Despite occasional frustration with what Beeson sees as “Provo form,” she said she’s grateful for her audience here.
“Maybe part of the reason we have people listening to us is because we’re a little bit on the edge of the Provo culture,” she said.
In creating Every Noise at Once and Every School At Once, the ultimate goal was to encourage musical exploration and connection, McDonald said.