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Music Makes Its Mark: The Reminiscence Bump
- Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018
I recently attended a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden (my wife and her siblings, raised in Upstate NY near the Canadian border, are all hockey fanatics—I just follow the puck). Before start time, the photo of a new team member, Brett Howden, appeared on the jumbotron, and with it, important information about Brett: He’s 20 years old. He’s from Oakbank, Manitoba, Canada. His favorite artist is Justin Bieber. His favorite song is “Gucci Flip Flops” by Bhad Bhabie, aka Danielle Bregoli.
Now some of you—like my wife and her sibs—may not have heard of Ms. Bhabie, or “Gucci Flip Flops,” so allow me: Danielle is a 15 year-old rapper signed to Atlantic Records who first appeared on the Dr. Phil show with her mother at the age of 13, a troubled, hurt, angry, disrespectful “outsider” teen making life hell for her mom and barely showing up in school. Perfect for the good doctor’s ratings! During this awkward “session” with Dr. Phil, audience members were mocking Danielle for her street “blaccent”—the presumed appropriation by a white girl of black hip-hop vernacular. Danielle’s gangster response to the audience was, “Cash me ousside, how ‘bout dah."
Within days her street challenge had gone viral, a dream meme reconstituted in dozens of videos and suddenly Danielle, now an internet phenom, is contacted by a promoter who thinks she could be a rap star, signs on as her agent, gets her a record deal and, and, and, and…a star is born!
So what does this bit about the young hockey player and his favorite song have to do with anything? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s talk about the “reminiscence bump.” Yes, it really is a thing, and I’m going to paraphrase and/or steal some of the neuroscience and psychology directly from Wikipedia (apologies…I did donate!). The reminiscence bump refers to a time in our lives, from adolescence into early adulthood, when we’re developing the greatest number of significant memories—the “life lessons,” if you will—from the forming of our beliefs and attitudes to our sexual experiences and identities, our greatest fears, our closest friends. A time of “the emergence of a stable and enduring self,” according to researchers at the University of Leeds.
Not surprisingly, the music we loved and listened to (over and over) during those years made an indelible impression too, often linked directly with specific events, whether personal (a first love) or societal (i.e. economic or political upheaval). As we now know, music has its own discreet neural pathways to the brain, apart from all other sounds. So nothing dilutes the connection between our music and our reminiscence bump memories. Further proof of this has come from experiments with Alzheimer’s patients, which demonstrated that playing music from that period in their lives stimulated far greater recall—especially of events that took place during their reminiscence bump.
One of my colleagues has talked about the music of the 80’s and early 90’s that made a lasting impression on both his tastes and songwriting, from Duran Duran to Nirvana
A young voice actor working in our studio today told me that from elementary school into high school her very favorite band and music was NSYNC (second place, Spice Girls). “In third grade I got to see them in concert with my best friend and her parents!”
The SHOOT content within which this column appears is largely focused on the subject of moving pictures—whether in commercials, television or features. In thinking about the former, one of the great challenges that brands and their agencies face is knowing, not simply guessing, how music can make the message more compelling to its intended audience. For the Generation X population (and earlier)—those born before the 1980s—the music influences of that reminiscence bump period can be a little bit easier to identify. Because, to generalize (which I love doing), streaming music hadn’t fully taken hold yet. In many ways we were still all listening to the same soundtrack on traditional radio (those of us who like hearing the Top 40 stuff). We were still buying cassettes or CDs.
Suddenly, it all changed. Tower Records closed its stores in the early 2000’s. All Virgin Megastores in the U.S. closed in 2009. Pandora radio started in 2000 (then called Savage Beast Technologies). Spotify launched in 2008. So you Gen Y and Z folks, born in the mid 80’s to mid 2000’s, probably heard the majority of your music on streaming radio or YouTube, with a little car radio Top 40 thrown in. It’s hard to know what music shaped/accompanied your strongest memories, because you were able to create your own soundtrack. Maybe it was all hip-hop, or indie rock, or pop R&B, or electronic dance, emo, reggaeton...or some highly personalized mix of everything. (For one of Bang’s chief engineers it was hard rock and metal, starting with Guns N’ Roses)
And therein lies what I believe is a great marketing challenge of this era: the art and science of assigning a “sound” to a brand. (I can’t imagine what the hell Brett Howden would have on his playlist along with “Gucci Flip Flops”!) I’ll attempt to address that in the next Earwitness, working title: “Algorithm & Blues.”
Full disclosure: Our other awesome engineer asked me if The Beatles had made an impression on me when they first came out. I was pretty honest. “Yea, one day I was just a regular geeky 16 year-old with a crew cut. The next day I needed hair, a wardrobe…and a whole new life.”