Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cry All the Way to the Bank

Pianist Wladziu Valentino Liberace—known to his 1950’s fans as Liberace—reacted to ridicule of his style with a broad smile and the memorable, “I cried all the way to the bank.” He was, after all, among the highest paid entertainers in the world.
     The May 2013 HBO “Behind the Candelabra,” with an Emmy-winning performance by Michael Douglas as Liberace, portrayed the pianist as genuinely sad much of the time. “I cried all the way to bank” may have been more than a throwaway line. But the sadness would have come from Liberace’s internal struggles about his homosexuality more than directly from criticism of his talents.
     A related perspective on music and sadness is seen in the work of researchers at University of Tokyo, Tokyo University of the Arts, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, and the OKANOYA Emotional Information Project, all in Japan. Their experimental question: Considering sadness is unpleasant, what motivates people to spend time and money in order to listen to sad music?
     The researcher’s answer turned out to be that when consumers say music is sad, they’re talking about what they perceive the music to represent rather than what they themselves are experiencing as they listen to the music. This was particularly true for selections in a minor key. The listeners in the study used words like “gloomy,” “meditative,” and “miserable” to describe that music, but words like “fascinated” and “dear” to describe their reactions to the music.
     Another set of words used to describe the reactions included “merry” and “animated.” This leads to another explanation for our attraction to sad music: Being temporarily exposed to sadness leads to us feeling more joyful. To fully know what happiness is, we need to know what sadness is. Consumers are attracted not only to sad music, but also to depictions of sadness in movies, plays, novels, and nonfiction.
     The Japan researchers also acknowledge that if a piece of music had been playing when a tragic sequence of events occurred, the sadness experienced upon rehearing the music has to do with the characteristics of the tragedy, not the characteristics of the music. Here, we’d expect the consumer to be less interested in seeking out the music except for cathartic release of the tears and mastery over the emotions.
     When your consumers seek sadness, knowing the reasons can help you gather the profits to take all the way to the bank.

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