Paula Gomes Ribeiro and André Malhado

CESEM – FCSH, NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal;;


Much of our daily lives is defined not by sound and music intended to be heard in concert halls or other circumstances of aesthetic enjoyment, but by a variety of audiovisual products that accompany us in an involuntary and often unconscious way. A musical work that aims to provide a certain atmosphere or encourage a particular activity should not, in general, demand an effort on the part of the listener. The less conscious the consumer is of the information provided in the listening process, the more effective it becomes. The market segment that distributes music which intends to remain ‘inaudible’ in the foreground, performing a discrete and ubiquitous role, has grown exponentially in the algorithms age (cg. Kassabian 2013; Quiñones et al. 2016; Gomes- Ribeiro, Malhado et al 2018).

The production of a musical text for these circumstances does not only depend on the knowledge and the ability to manage creative tools, but also on a deep awareness of the social rhetoric of listening. However, the process of systematic devaluation to which these musical works are consigned, implies a generalized lack of a conscious debate concerning its production, professional mastership, and reception. T. Adorno, or even M. Weber, in the foundations of the sociology of music, already debated, the enormous relevance of the study of the sociocultural characteristics of music and of its auditory consumption.

This exposition seeks to examine how specific Portuguese academic music communities interact with the teaching, performing, and learning tools associated with library music. Our theoretical framework combines media studies, sociology, and musicology. In the context of a multimethod research, the study uses in-depth qualitative interviews with a selected sample of individuals. Respondents have extensive practical and/or theoretical musical training and are music and musicology students, instructors, and professionals in the Portuguese music academic area.

Our research show that listeners compare library music circulation with audiovisual activities like cinema and television. This practice consists of “well-established musical ‘signifiers’ so that the mainstream audience’s recognition will be instantaneous and homogenous” (Tagg 1999, 9). Respondents recognize transversal compositional patterns, mentioning the capacity for remembrance, communication, or audiovisual relationships. However, being often seen as “mass music”, it tends to be underestimated or obliterated by some academic circles or music agents, since people learned to be inattentive (Adorno 1991). This music is, in fact, “in action” (DeNora 2000), the audience is capable of listening, understand and respond, despite the unconscious effects and affects to most people. Besides being a professional endeavor with social and aesthetic conventions, the art world (Becker 1982) of library music tends to be integrated in audiovisual uses whose social practices are background sound with secondary relevance. From pre-existing music of Tik Tok to YouTube playlists chosen to be everyday activities’ soundtracks, those soundscapes are simultaneously everywhere and unheard (Gorbman 1987). Described with concepts like illustration, waiting room sound, or even plagiarism, its perceived absence of creativity leads to a sense that the sonic material lacks agency and gives rise to hierarchical discourses which form group musical tastes and rejections.

Keywords: Listening Behavior; Library Music; Musical Value.


Paula Gomes Ribeiro Musicologist. Professor and researcher, affiliated to the Department of Musicology and the CESEM–NOVA FCSH. Lectures in the Department of Musicology of the FCSH since 2005, in the domains of the sociology of music; music and new media; history of contemporary music (1950 to present); opera and music theatre dramaturgy. Received a Ph. D. and a Master degree in Musicology from the Université de Paris VIII after having graduated in Musicology from the New University of Lisbon. She studied music theory, piano, composition, as well opera dramaturgy, stage direction. Serves currently as coordinator of the SociMus (Advanced Studies in the Sociology of Music) and NEGEM (Gender and Music)/CESEM. Specialized in the sociology of music and in opera/music theatre studies, her research interests and publications concern primarily the social, cultural and political roles of music, understood as ordering devices in social life, in the relation music-media of 20th and 21st centuries.

André Malhado is a musicologist, music producer, and cultural commentator. He is a Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the NOVA University of Lisbon and holds an FCT Ph.D. Scholarship (SFRH/BD/145674/2019). In 2019, he earned a master’s with a dissertation on the cyberpunk music label. With a sociomusicological perspective, problematized cyberpunk in digital and audiovisual media between 1982-2017. He received the awards of best graduate (2018) and master (2020) student and a Merit Scholarship awarded by Public and Private Higher Education Institutions to students with exceptional performance (2019). His work spans the fields of music sociology, digital and audiovisual cultures, gender, and sexuality. He is a member of SociMus, NEGEM, coordinator of CysMus since November 2021, and is integrated in the Group of Critical Theory and Communication (GTCC) in the Centre for the Study of the Sociology and Aesthetics of Music.