Music is a powerful tool. It can be mood behavior and productivity. Music is generally thought of as an entertainment medium, it can also be used to achieve other objectives. In particular, music is employed in the background of production facilities, offices and retail stores to produce certain desired attitudes and behaviors among employees and/or customers. For example, background music is thought to improve store image, make employees happier, reduce employee turnover and stimulate customer purchasing. 

Science researchers try to understand how our brains can hear and play music. A stereo system puts out vibrations that travel through the air and somehow get inside the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brain stem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music.

Johns Hopkins researchers have had dozens of jazz performers and rappers improvise music while lying down inside an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to watch and see which areas of their brains light up.

“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist.

How does AI fit into the world of AI?

AI performs incredible power when given a complex number of inputs. That’s why it excels at predictive services like scanning thousands of skin samples to identify cancerous moles. Or recommending your next Netflix binge. Much like it can predict a hiring fit for a sales role, AI can create a tailored experience to the work environment. 

Endel, an AI music company, reveals how their AI’s algorithm takes on complex data like the pentatonic scale, circadian rhythms, and sound masking to produce unique soundscapes for individuals and organizations. The AI also can take in additional complex inputs like time of day, weather, heart rate, and location. Their AI creates playlists for people depending on a specific output, or objective. It could be to create a feel-good workout. If you’re like Grimes (the artist whose famous boyfriend is Elon Musk), you may be wanting a lullaby playlist for your newborn. With AI, a certain outcome is desired---and AI can deliver that outcome when a human inserts a number of parameters. For employers and employees, these objectives may range from increasing focus to decreasing stress. 

What does music mean for work?

AI in recruiting

Music creates a cascade of benefits, whether you’re working from home during this pandemic or plugging in your headphones at your office desk. If people are spending hours of their day working, they’re likely to turn into a bit of music to keep them in the zone. After all, Spotify has 248 million monthly active users and 113 million premium subscribers. The younger demographic---the same one that comprises 50% of the workforce---make up 55% of Spotify’s user base. Employees are more than likely tuning into music for productivity or stress management. 

Western Kentucky University professor Ronald E. Milliman pioneered research into how background music influences shopping behaviour in the 1980s. His research opened the doors to understanding music’s effects on behavior. For example, one study published by the Association for Consumer Research, found middle-aged subjects preferred shopping to music when it was played in the foreground; those older than 50 preferred music in the background. If employees are younger, they may need the stimulation of music as they work. If older, a quiet background is key. 

How---and where---employees' work has shifted. More remote work and/or a combination of the two. It may not seem obvious, but even now employers can use music to motivate employees and create a more resilient culture.

Increase productivity

AI in recruiting

Music is not only for customers, but employees and managers benefit from it too. Implementing an effective music strategy can be a great tool to boost staff morale, concentration and productivity. In a 2013 research by DJS, 77% of businesses agreed that their staff is more productive when music is playing. If you have a retail or manufacturing organization, music could be key in influencing people to work faster and complete their tasks more effectively and accurately. This may be especially important if you manage employees working within an industry or organization that assembles packages or devices. It therefore becomes a key element in the employee experience. Science shows the wrong music can have devastating effects; one study found that out of 1000 UK shoppers, one or two shoppers left the store simply due to the bad background music. One concept to incorporate AI in recruiting or a special talent development benefit could be giving employees a membership to Spotify or another streaming service. 

Jump-start employee creativity

AI in recruiting

Creativity is now considered one of the core competencies of the 21st century workplace. It’s with creative talent that organizations are able to navigate the opportunities and challenges of a fast-changing world. Talent leaders need to hone creativity within their teams. Creative cognition—the ability to come up with creative ideas and problem solving---is a competitive advantage leaders take seriously. The right music for the right setting could be on advantage. One study found creativity was higher for participants who listened to ‘happy music’ (i.e., classical music high on arousal and positive mood) while performing the divergent creativity task, than for participants who performed the task in silence. This suggests certain music enhances cognitive flexibility that is demanded to arrive at innovative ideas. Employees would have the ability to switch between different concepts and perspectives, rather than approaching the problem from a rigid point of view.

Interestingly, it didn’t even matter if participants particularly “liked” the music; this suggests that these creativity benefits don’t come from an employee plugging in their headphones and listening to their favorite jams. It really is about specific kinds of music. Organizational and talent management may want to play this kind of music to create the ambience to jumpstart employee creativity. If science shows it can help the brain make faster connections, it could be an easy competitive advantage. 

Music remains a mystery

AI in recruiting

While organizations can unlock the known benefits of music, science is still uncovering how and why our brain is influenced by music. Before the technology of medical imagery came along, scientists observed music’s influence mainly by studying patients, including famous composers who experienced a range of brain deficits. For instance, one French composer Maurice Ravel exhibited symptoms of brain tissue atrophy. While his conceptual abilities remained intact, like being able to hear and remember his old compositions and play scales, he could no longer write music. Another composer, Vissarion Shebalin, suffered a stroke and could no longer talk or understand speech---yet still was able to compose music until his death.

Similar to the understanding modern imaging brought about,  AI is the next technology merging music and creative cognition for greater benefit. In the past, neuroscientists tried to better understand the impact of music on the body, brain and emotions using MRI brain scans over very short segments of time–for instance, looking at the brain reacting to two seconds of music. However one study started using AI algorithms to analyze data gathered in the lab. Because of how quickly the AI digested the information, scientists were able to understand how participants felt listening to music over longer periods of time and also combining data from other sources. 

If music and creative cognition can gain leverage from AI, more rote tasks like job description writing, scheduling job interviews, parsing through candidate information, hiring and recruitment processes can definitely receive better results. This leaves the more creative tasks to the human experts.



Companies like BMW and Lufthansa, leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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Elizabeth T.

Written by Elizabeth T.

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