Sensum Does The Brit Awards 2014


The nominations were:

Laura Mvula
London Grammar
Tom Odell

We picked a track from each nominee using Youtube and Spotify viewing/listening stats and tested them all under the same conditions. Each respondent wore headphones and the listening order for each respondent was randomized to eliminate the chance of respondents favouring any one track due to its order.

The respondents were an opportunistic sample made up of the key demographic (18-24) for the Brit Awards and any volunteers available. Using 10 Female and 10 Male respondents we tested using both the Arousal and the Valence (like/dislike) for each individual.

The Aim?

To produce an emotional award for the "Best British Breakthrough Act" of 2014 and see how this would relate to the eventual winner.

Bastille – Pompeii

In this track we can see an initial response to the song when it begins with a raise in both valence and arousal. As the first verse comes in, the arousal appears to have a slight drop which plateaus until a rhythmic drum beat comes in bringing a swell in the arousal. This is the same for the second verse. By the second chorus there is a downward slope in Arousal and fairly dramatic drop in Valence at the same moment. This suggests over familiarity with the content, perhaps even boredom. The largest rise in arousal happens around the 153 second mark. In this area of the song, the bridge has begun, which is the most dramatic change in the audio content both lyrically and instrumental content. Despite a swell in arousal, the valence drops at this point. This could suggest a feeling of irritation by this point of the song. Towards the end of the content, both readings begin to plateau with the valence dropping to its lowest at the end of the song.

From this test, one interesting Respondent was an 18-24 year old female in the performing arts. This listeners valence was both deliberate and decisive. Very quickly into this song, she has swipped her paddle down to the very bottom and left it there showing a high level of dislike. As you can see, despite her concious decision, her arousal continues to rise, reaching its peak near the end of the song. This could point towards an incresing level of irritation when listening to this song, only showing any signs of easing when the song draws to its end.

Disclosure – Latch

The vocal intro to this song creates peaks in both arousal and valence at almost the exact same moment. This is the highest point of arousal that this song reaches. This could be related to the nature of this songs introduction, both loud and instantaneous which would be expected to grab a listener's attention. There is an arousal drop during the first verse which is a more mellow area in the song and this drop increases during the pre-chorus breakdown. There is a noticeable shift in the use of kick drum at a particular point in this song, where we see a spike in the arousal. Over the chorus there is a slight rise until both the arousal and valence drop at the point where the second verse begins. There are some areas where the audio has a slight pause or shift towards the end of the track seen from around 208s to around 247s that create pulses in the arousal. The valence has a much more gradual increase during this period of the song towards the end. At the end of the song a high pass filter is used which creates a final spike in arousal. In this song the subtle changes in instrumental content create jumps and shifts which seem to gather the most attention in relation to arousal.

A 25-34 year old male in the creative arts had an interesting response to this song. On an overview, after the initial spike, the arousal tailed off during the duration of the song with the exception of a few small peaks, yet the concious valence raised on several occasions. The spike at around 171s takes places during the bridge of the song as it builds. The respondents main area of drop in valence between 111s and 151s takes place during the second verse, showing quite a durastic comparison with the chorus previous. This correlation between Arousal and Valence in this set of results would suggest the repsondents emotion to rest between content and relaxed. This could be due to previous exposure to the content and the respondent enjoying the track.

Laura Mvula – Green Garden

There are several areas of close correlation between arousal and valence in the results for this song. However, the levels of arousal and valence were not as dramatic as the previous two tracks. The track begins with background noise which creates a raise in arousal; however the initial rise in valence comes later in the song as claps become part of the track. The arousal lessens over the first two verses of the song. Areas of vocal layering appear to cause a rise in valence at around 34s into the track as part of the conscious response. This song is controlled mainly by the mixing and placement of the vocals which is reflected in the arousal. During areas of lesser instrumentation, only a small drop in arousal is present yet at around the 168s mark the re-introduction of vocals creates a rise in arousal. The introduction of claps and more particularly a drum beat at around 190s shows an area of higher valence

This 18-24 year old female working in hospitality shows areas of correlation between her arousal and her conscious valence response during this track. As you can see, both the arousal and valence rise at the exact same point as the track begins. A second correlation lies between 65s and 115s. This section has an increase in instrumental content. Drums begin to play and this created an obvious spike in arousal as well as valence. The valence however, drops during the next breakdown of the song, to rise again at the final chorus. This could be due to the instrumental gap left during this point that the respondent consciously notices the changes in the track.

London Grammar – Strong

London Grammar takes on a different pace than the previous tracks and this is shown in the both arousal and valence. The arousal has a peak at the intro, which can be expected. Respondents may have recognised the song or may have been intrigued by the ambient sounds. The valence rises slightly at the introduction of the vocal and then again when the drum beat starts. The arousal appears to rise at the pre-chorus on both occasions due to a significant change in melody. At around 177s there is a dramatic change in the melody that creates a larger spike in the arousal. At this same point however; the valence appears to drop which could be due to the vocals having an effect of displeasure on the respondents. The drums return after the bridge of the song at around 190s creating an increase in valence until both valence and arousal drop off during the final chorus.

This 25-34 year old female shows some areas of correlation that are very interesting. As we can see, the initial arousal fluctuates a lot at the start while the valence stays neutral. Perhaps the respondent has not made a decision on the content at this stage. The first increase in valence takes place at the pre chorus which correlates with both arousal and valence in the group results. The second large peak in both valence and arousal comes alongside the introduction of the drums. Then both arousal and valence dramatically drop after the chorus which would show boredom with the track. At this stage the arousal rises through a series of peaks and troughs, always staying fairly high while the valence plateaus at the bottom. This fluctuation shows a discontentment with the track to the point where the listener, having the choice, may choose to stop the song completely. The final rise in valence between 208s and 226s takes place during an ambient vocal section as the arousal actually drops. This would relate to an easing in the previous discontentment.

Tom Odell – Another Love

This track carries a fairly mid tempo BPM throughout, with the only real areas of instrumental change being at around 97s. As we have seen with other songs, the introduction creates a spike in arousal then tails of during the first verse. The arousal continues to drop gradually until the 97s introduction of melodic swells and drums. This is met with a similar rise in valence. The arousal then slowly decreases through the next verse and chorus while the valence rises. As the song builds in volume and instrumentation from 180s onward towards the end of the song, the arousal begins to rise again to a peak at the end of the song. The arousal stays fairly consistent for the latter half of the song with one spike we can see at around 126s. The drop in valence is prompted by the placement of a very noticeable swear word in the song.

In this song an 18-24 year old male in the performing arts had very interesting results. The valence was made decisively for the entire length of the song. This listener has had obvious experience with this track at a previous point. This arousal and valence response would suggest discontentment or possible anger towards the track. Despite being our key demographic this respondent did not like the track.


With all the tracks we used, it has become apparent that the tempo of a track is very important. This could be considered a very basic part of song writing. We can suggest that an up-tempo song in a major key should create the emotion of happiness; however, individual respondents associate different things with different songs including past experiences and their opinion of the artist who created the piece of work. In some circumstances the influence of personal opinion shows dramatic dislike.

There are other areas of correlation between songs and respondents including sections of the tracks where drums or rhythmic patterns are introduced. This could be expected but also shows a very natural interest in parts of a song we may consider "catchy". There is a very interesting connection between sections of the songs that are called 'hooks', in song writing and the overall valence of the 20 respondents.

Another interesting point this study brought up was the decisive or indecisive nature of each individual. Some respondents made a definitive decision for the entire length of a song and others paid closer attention to the details of a song. Some respondents in the creative or performing arts paid attention to mixing or mastering quality and even to instrument placement.

The results

The GSR reading is what gives us our Arousal score. The arousal scores for the tracks fell within a fairly close gap of 43 and 56. The arousal scores for each track were:

Bastille – 55.41

Disclosure – 50.36

Laura Mvula – 49.85

London Grammar – 47.52

Tom Odell – 43.96

Our highest Arousal score was 'Bastille' with their single 'Pompeii', by a clear 5 points. This Score is then compared with the Arousal scores from each individual to create our final Sensum Score. The arousal rates are obtained using a thumb paddle to select a level of Like and Dislike. Due to how this data is obtained, some songs have obtained a much higher rating that others. This is due in part to some respondents approach to Valence,by simply deciding they like a whole song and leaving the paddle at the highest level of 'Like' for the entirety of a song. The Valence of each track is:

Bastille – 51.75

Disclosure – 74.7

Laura Mvula – 42.7

London Grammar – 42.78

Tom Odell – 54.77

With all the data gathered from both arousal and valence we created our Sensum scores for each track. This gives us our Emotional Award for the Brits category of "British Breakthrough Act". Here is the track order and their final Sensum Scores.

5. London Grammar – 45.15
4. Laura Mvula – 46.27
3. Tom Odell – 49.36
2. Bastille – 53.58

Our Sensum Emotional Award goes to… ' Disclosure' with 62.53.

Have a listen to their single, 'Latch'…

Good luck to all the Brits 2014 Nominees.

Thanks to all our respondents and the University Of Ulster Belfast for their help.