Harkive: how are you listening to music?

Harkive: how are you listening to music?

This week a mass observation will take place as annual research project Harkive has its day and asks us to say how, where and why we’re listening to music. 


Back in 2013 I was part of the editorial team of website Louder Than War and an intriguing email dropped in about a new research project which was taking place. Over the course of one day, it said, people would be asked to share on social media how, where and why they were listening to music. The first Harkive day, already planned to be an annual event, would form part of the research into how listening habits were changing, and (perhaps) so too attitudes to music and the formats we consume it in.

Back then project manager Craig Hamilton told me more about why he had set up Harkive. He said, “The landscape of music consumption has changed radically over the last decade.

“Services that many of us take for granted, such as YouTube and Spotify, simply did not exist 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the resurgence of some physical formats, and vinyl in particular, show that these still resonate for fans. Harkive will discover how we each create our own patchwork from what is available to us, and will map how these change in the years to come when Harkive returns in 2014, and beyond.”

Seven years on from that first event and Harkive is about to run again. On Tuesday 21 July people are being asked to share their stories of listening via social media so the research can continue. Averaging more than 2000 contributions a year the project is uncovering year by year the part digital and data technologies play in the way we experience music.

Is the way we listen changing?

The project not only analyses the overall data but allows you to look back at how you have contributed across the years through putting your Twitter username into myHarkive. I can see some fairly typical activity from me since 2013: singing with my children, secondary listening to the TV or in the supermarket, intentional listening to submissions to me as a music writer and label owner. I can see the names of albums I still love pop up against tracks I have no memory of now and the convenience of streaming against the uneasy ethics of not investing more money and time in how I listen. A snapshot, sure, but a fascinating window back on one aspect of my life which opens the memory on so many others.

#harkive commute long enough to fit in a few Tim Burgess tracks (iPhone via stereo) & sing nursery rhymes with my 2 yr old – from my Twitter submission to Harkive in 2013.

For most of us we will pay little heed each day to how we listen and are far more interested in ‘what’ we’re listening to. Old favourites, a new discovery, the choice handed over to a DJ or an algorithm. We will have our own defined view of what music constitutes – recorded by a band in a format which is accessible or birdsong as we’re out on our daily walk? In a world where background noise is ubiquitous and often intrusive perhaps intentional silence is becoming as important (or at least as interesting) as music listening.

The intersection of technology and behaviour

In an earlier article here on Popoptica I started to pick apart how technology was changing our listening through devices, formats, and behaviour. In wrapping up that piece I wrote, “Music remains important to us not only culturally but psychologically – it can nurture creativity, it is linked to our memories, it helps us connect with others yet also explore our individuality, can become cultural moments around which we cluster or incredibly intimate soundtracks to the most personal moments of our lives.

“It’s not only digital which has changed our listening habits, but formats which came before also influenced changes in us – technology does have a hold over us as music fans even if we aren’t always aware of it or become attached to the medium as much as the music. Technology plays a part in how we hear the music even if the means seems secondary or unimportant to many listeners and as tech changes our habits will too – what we don’t know is whether time will show those changes to be beneficial or detrimental, and how artists and music overall will be affected alongside our listening.”

Harkive delves much deeper than I ever could, and with more than my own experience to evidence changing trends, or the link between technology and behaviour. Perhaps this year will be out of step as so many of us are out of our usual routines and our attention focusing in different ways in unsettled times. Or perhaps it will show, when viewed from a distance and in context, that listening is fluid or change is constant.

What it will certainly capture is a small glimpse at how music slots into our lives and how the mundanity of every day is subtly punctuated by the magic of the music we listen to.

Take part in Harkive 2020

To take part in Harkive 2020 you need to add #harkive to your music related posts on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram on Tuesday 21 July 2020. You can also email the project, use the submission form on their website, or post on the Facebook wall.

You can post as many times as you like during the day and share photos and links if you want to also. There is some info on telling your music listening story here.

Find Harkive: website | Twitter | Facebook

If you have enjoyed reading this piece on Popoptica you can buy us a virtual coffee via Ko-fi – every donation helps us to do what we do. We’d love it if you shared on social media too – and do join the conversation with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Find me...

Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
Find me...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *