Nick Dunn - Cambridge U. Metal Survey
"Massive Metal Survey!"

By: Frank Hill, Greg Watson  |  Published: Friday, May 3, 2019

Headbangers all over the world know that heavy metal is a style that explores a wide range of emotional qualities--anger, despair, depression, relief, triumph; emotions we feel but cannot always name. Everything from light to dark and in-between, every feeling that moves our core is represented in the style.

Academic study of metal's emotional qualities is a bit scant, but now there is a large research project underway that needs your input.

In association with Cambridge University, music website PureGrainAudio is teaming up with Musical Universe to bring you a massive metal survey!

With this survey, PGA are asking for emotional and intellectual responses to 33 musical excerpts that represent over 15 subgenres of metal. The information gained will be analyzed by psychologists at Cambridge and aims to be published in a scientific journal as well as an article on PureGrainAudio.

After completing the survey you will instantly receive your musical engagement score (intellectual, emotional, physical, narrative, and social), personality score (extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and conscientiousness), and well-being scores. The survey should take no more than 20 minutes to complete.

"We know there’s something in that wall of noise that works. We know that extreme music can be just as cathartic as any other form. And we’re looking to find out why. What initially started out as a conversation about the catharsis of listening to this genre has snowballed into a far bigger and impactful project."

We had a chance to speak with one of the project's personnel, Nick Dunn, about the survey. We also took it with one of our results at the end.

The survey can be found here: [LINK]

"There must be something about heavy metal that makes it so universally appealing...so what is it? --Nick Dunn"

Maximum Metal: What was the impetus behind putting this survey together?

Nick Dunn: A couple of years ago, Mark Brandt and I were discussing future projects and we hit upon the idea of looking at how heavy metal affects its listeners emotionally. Every so often, we'll see an article in a newspaper or magazine asking why people like heavy metal. The writer treats heavy metal with the same kind of bemusement and caution that surrounds weird local delicacies in other countries and cultures: "Why do people like eating fermented shark (Iceland) or fried spiders (Cambodia)?" The same kind of confusion is directed at heavy metal: "Why do people like this music that sounds like a bunch of people screaming and banging garden furniture together?"

But people do like it, and it affects people on an emotional level just the same as classical or folk or jazz. Being somewhat self-aware, heavy metal is a very noisy genre of music. It's loud, it's dissonant, and it's harsh. So, we thought we'd set up a survey to see what it is about heavy metal that affects its fans on an emotional level.

MM: Was the heavy metal genre always the initial genre that the survey was placed for or was other genres considered to be the focal point of the survey?

ND: Heavy metal was always going to be the focal point of this survey. The apparatus that we've used to set it up comes from the Musical Universe survey run by David Greenberg of Cambridge University. That survey casts a wider net of genres, looking at the emotional profiles of listeners as per the genres they relate to and enjoy the most. We just wanted to focus on heavy metal.

We love heavy metal, and there are millions of metalheads all around the world. There must be something about heavy metal that makes it so universally appealing--so what is it?

MM: Are there any preliminary expectations being looked for or is the survey goal only about finding patterns in the resultant data?

ND: It's more about finding patterns, I think. We're aiming to discover what it is about heavy metal that metalheads enjoy and relate to most on an emotional level, so I don't think going in with specific expectations would work.

MM: What was the process for the selection of songs that would be included in the survey as well as the questions that comprised the end section of the survey?

ND: This was quite a lengthy process. Heavy metal is one of the most diverse areas of music, with about as many subgenres as you can imagine. Mark and I whittled it down to what we considered the 15 biggest, and then from there chose two different bands from within those different subgenres. We then picked particularly notable songs by those bands that we felt best exemplified the specifics of the genre, and cut samples of those songs so that they'd fit into the survey apparatus.

MM: Is this the first survey of this type that has been done? Are there any future surveys planned that are similar?

ND: I believe it's the first to look at heavy metal in this way, rather than simply asking the broad stroke question of why people like it and then leaving it at that. But if I'm wrong, I'm more than happy to be corrected!

MM: When will the full results of the survey be published and where can those results be found?

ND: Ultimately, I'm not sure. But it's going to be a little while yet! Once the survey has enough responses, they'll be collated and analyzed, and the data then presented in a proper academic format.

The survey can be found here: [LINK]

If you take it and wish to go into further detail about your relationship with metal--or the specific subgenres covered in the survey--then send an email to surveymetal@gmail.com with the subject "Survey Response". All information will remain anonymous. However, if you email, then reserve the right to contact you for any follow-up questions which may arise from your comments.

Below are our Musical Engagement scores. Scores range from 7 to 21. Your highest score indicates your most prominent musical engagement style and your lowest score indicates your least prominent style.

Your score for Emotional Engagement with music: 21
Your score for Intellectual Engagement with music: 18
Your score for Physical Engagement with music: 12
Your score for Social Engagement with music: 18
Your score for Narrative Engagement with music: 16

Your score for Emotional Engagement with music: 19
Your score for Intellectual Engagement with music: 16
Your score for Physical Engagement with music: 14
Your score for Social Engagement with music: 16
Your score for Narrative Engagement with music: 17

One of us was slightly more emotionally invested where the other was more physically engaged.

(Our Personality and Satisfaction scores were received but are left off here)

Here is a description of the research and of each musical engagement category.

People engage with music in a variety of ways. For some it is simply background noise, but for others it is an activity that holds deep meaning. People also engage with music in a variety of ways. Some engage in physical movement and dance, others experience music on a more intellectual level, and others become more engaged in the narrative or storytelling aspect of music. Recent research has suggested that there are 5 musical engagement domains:

Emotional engagement: People who engage emotionally with music (also referred to as Affective Engagement) experience music on a deeply emotional level. Those who engage emotionally not only experience a wide range of emotions while listening, but also use music as an emotional catharsis. They are able to express both positive and negative feelings through music, and to heal emotional wounds.

Intellectual engagement: People who engage intellectually with music (also referred to as Cognitive Engagement) focus more on the sonic, sound-related, and instrumental qualities in music. They notice the different instrumentation of the band, and focus on the melodies, counter-melodies, and the musical patterns that emerge in the music.

Physical engagement: People who engage with music physically tend tend to react more with their body to music. They feel the vibrations of music "in their bones" and whether in private or in public, may get the urge to nod their head, tap their food, or to dance. Those who physically engage are also more likely to feel motivated, energized, and "pumped" up from listening to music.

Social engagement: People who engage socially with music tend to identify closely with the musicians of the music that they like. At lives concerts they feel interconnected with the audience and feel a sense of group cohesion or social bonding when listening to music in groups.

Narrative engagement: People who engage with the narrative in music focus on the story that is being told through the music. They analyze the lyrics for underling meanings and symbols and often compare the narrative of the music to their own personal situation and life stories.


Nick DunnFrank Hill, Greg Watson5/3/2019"Massive Metal Survey!"


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