Confirmation bias – the tendency for people to look for what confirms their beliefs and ignore what contradicts their beliefs – may be getting in the way of finding the real answer to the question “is my song good?“. This goes well beyond the positive thinking trap you might find yourself in when asking friends and family for feedback on your music. It’s a tested psychological concept that can trick you into thinking your perception of your own songs is representative of what others hear.
Confirmation Bias & Art
An article in the Scientific American asks what happens when you look at confirmation bias and its effects on our view of art, including music:
Its ubiquity is observed in both academia and our everyday lives: Republicans watch Fox while Democrats watch MSNBC; creationists see fossils as evidence of God, evolutionary biologists see fossils as evidence of evolution. Simply put, our ideologies and personal dogmas dictate our realities…it strikes me as ironic to think that it is almost exclusively discussed as a hindrance to knowledge and better decision-making. With such a broad definition, I think it also explains our aesthetic judgments.
Of course confirmation bias comes into play heavily in the art world; it’s such a subjective concept in the first place. There is no “good” or “bad” music, there’s just music. Is my song good? Hell yes! Also, hell no! The problem arises when you don’t even realize that as you seek feedback, you subconsciously gravitate towards information that supports your desire for positive encouragement.
Going another level deeper, neuroscientists believe that instinctual feelings race to the top of our minds faster than rational thought. In other words, even when faced with black-and-white facts many people continue on with their biased thinking.
Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientists Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.
So where does that leave a musician looking to improve his or her craft?
Is my song good…to you?
Let’s bring this back to what we know very well here at ReverbNation – unbiased consumer feedback on your music. Here’s how you can beat confirmation bias before it even happens.
1. Burst the bubble of biased feedback by asking people outside your support system and social circle what they think about your tracks. Whether that’s through Audiokite, on Twitter, or at live shows, focus on music fans who are most likely to be honest.
2. Avoid participating in narrowcasting by expanding your feedback audience. If you play particularly well with college males who love gaming and live concerts, try talking to twentysomething females with no interest in Xbox or the Boiler Room. Get out of your comfort zone.
3. Let go of your beliefs. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, try to approach your feedback analysis with a fully open mind. Recognize that your instincts will try to mess with you and that’s just part of being human.
It’s your choice what to do with any feedback collected on your songs, and no data point should ultimately override your veteran musical experience. But understand the first step in making better music with fan feedback involves being mindful of confirmation bias and taking the right steps to hold it at bay.
Dave Marcello is Director of Marketing at ReverbNation. Join us for free and see why 4 million artists use our platform to grow their careers the right way.