That question—how do you make a song into a hit?—has been puzzling the music industry ever since it began. There is evidence that a preference for things that sound “familiar” is a product of our neurology. Scientists have examined people’s brains as they listen to music, and have tracked which neural regions are involved in comprehending aural stimuli.
The areas that process music are designed to seek out patterns and look for familiarity. This makes sense. Music, after all, is complicated. The numerous tones, pitches, overlapping melodies, and competing sounds inside almost any song—or anyone speaking on a busy street, for that matter—are so overwhelming that, without our brain’s ability to focus on some sounds and ignore others, everything would seem like a cacophony of noise.
In the video above, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than passive listeners.