A recent study showed that volunteers could more accurately identify the winners of music competitions by watching video without sound rather than video with sound or audio alone. It raises the possiblity that visual cues are a much more important aspect of evaluating music quality than we realize. At the very least, the study is a reminder that all aspects of one's performance affect how people hear or think they hear your music.
Chia-Jung Tsay has a dual background in classical piano performance and in psychology. Her music experiences led her to an evaluation of the effects of "Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance"
"People consistently report that sound is the most important source of information in evaluating performance in music. However, the findings demonstrate that people actually depend primarily on visual information when making judgments about music performance. People reliably select the actual winners of live music competitions based on silent video recordings, but neither musical novices nor professional musicians were able to identify the winners based on sound recordings or recordings with both video and sound."
Studying Visual Judgments of Classical Music Performers
I'm not sure how far you can take this study but basically Chia-Jung Tsay found that people of various skill levels could identify the winners of classical music contests most accurately by seeing the videos of them performing without sound.
It's an interesting topic to consider. Tsay believes this study also gives insight into the judges' process, though that doesn't seem to have been directly investigated, but that the results don't indicate superficial judgment:
"There is something about visual information that is better able to convey cues such as passion or involvement or creativity. These elements are very much a part of high-quality performance."
It's unclear if Tsay has considered research on snap judgments and other ways in which visual cues, from clothing to movement, affect people's evaluations. Extending the research to include picking winners after seeing silent videos of varying lengths, from the performer entering up to when they perform to different points in the performance, would start to address such questions as:
How much of this judgment happens based on a first impression?
Does judgment shift over the course of watching a performance?
Does seeing a complete performance make a difference in judgment?
What Does This Research Mean for Musicians in Other Settings?
If we take this study as one of many that could be used to determine the effects of visual judgments on evaluation of music acts, then we should assume that first impressions are incredibly important. Sometimes those first impressions are audio only and that gives the music itself a better chance to be judged on its own regard but any time one makes an appearance could be the first time for a possible fan.
Yet we also know from our own experience, though I haven't seen any studies of this phenomenon, that we can start to watch a music video, think the act looks ridiculous but end up getting won over by the musical performance.
So clearly the visual is important and that can range from how we look (first impressions of clothes, expression, bearing) to how we perform (movement, behavior) over the course of an event that may be incredibly brief depending on the audience and the setting.
Occasionally musicians will balk at taking their look as seriously as their sound but all indicators suggest that, no matter what anybody says, your audience's judgment of your music may be based as much on what they see as on what you play.
[Thumbnail image courtesy Andy Powell.]
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.