Music Elicitation in Practice; ‘Never coming home’

I have recently carried out a training session to a diverse audience- social researchers, social workers, NGOs, international development workers. The subject of the session was ‘Music Elicitation as a Listening Tool’ and I spoke broadly about the benefits of the method as a way to listen to vulnerable or marginalised people. I keep talking about it to both academic and front-line practitioners as I do think it has utility in a range of contexts- particuarly those where you aim to redress the power imbalances of interviewer/interviewee and think more creatively about how to get people to talk in non-confrontational and co-produced ways.

In the session I looked at a case study of the way in which one participant used the following music video to open up discussions about his life. I thought I would share it here as it brings the method to life and starts us thinking about the elasticity of the method from the participant’s perspective. They choose what to bring, when to play it, how much/little to share (there are no pre-set questions). The whole aim is to create a co-produced and collaborative space which puts the interview in the role of expert/lead/curator with the intervier as the audience.

Before you watch the embedded video, consider:

What do you think the participant is telling us by selecting this track?

Consider the video, lyrics, feel of the song…

<Don’t worry either if you can’t understand all of the lyrics- remember, what is important about this method is the way in which the participant uses the track- music is a tool- it is the means-to-an-end not an end in itself…>

Now let’s see the multi-dimensional ways in which the participant used this track choice…

Using the music video (“the visuals”)

•“So that song there I guess for me…it’s a song that I would say probably represented the early parts of my life in terms of growing up and the visuals, lots of kids in the house, single parent, kids looking like not really (.) not not being looked after but their environment that they’re living in is a hard environment, the kids that they are going to school with, it’s harder, maybe there’s a lack of opportunities, there’s not enough money, as a result your just drawn, for me anyway, drawn to the streets, making bad choices, and drawn to trying to find a way out and in the process that comes with drug dealing, robberies, violence, respect…”

Using Lyrics (‘Never coming home’)

•…for me, the songs called never coming home and that signifies 2 things really, some people in this lifestyle as a result from coming from a broken home or not having a home and never coming home because they’re going to prison for life for a murder case or for a series of things, and they’re away for a long time, so they’re never going home…”

Shift from lyrics to personal disclosure

•…The other thing to this I guess of never coming home is the transition from when you move, I got kicked out of my house from when I was 15 and I’ve never been home since…” •“…I’ve never gone home, I’ve had to make my own home and as a result you’ve had to become a man and take care of your responsibilities and you start to build your future and that’s what it’s about”

•“…I’ve never gone home, I’ve had to make my own home and as a result you’ve had to become a man and take care of your responsibilities and you start to build your future and that’s what it’s about”

Musician as role model

it’s more than just a song, I really relate to it and the flyness of it in terms of the artist himself, being dressed so nice and suave yet you can see bandos and trap houses and rubbish heaps and alcohol bottles on the floor and you can see it’s a gritty place but you can see he stands out and is shining…

… And that’s another thing you is that you know you don’t have to succumb to what your environment or where you live, you don’t have to be a product of your environment, you can change your destiny, you can change your life”…


As you can see in these examples

•Music Elicitation is an interactive and creative addition to a life-story narrative interview.

•It can enrich both the participants’ experience as well as the breadth of what they share in the interview.

•When the music track or accompanying video is used in a way to tell part of the participant’s story, it can serve to enhance and enrich the data gathered.

•It can enable the participant to offer up different information than they would have in a words-only interview, as complex concepts or feelings can be easier communicated through music or video format.

•Participants may also feel more willing and able to share very personal memories through using the lyrics or video as examples of their experience. By offering an alternative way for the participants to convey or illustrate their experiences; they can instead bring the song and say, that was what happened to me.

I have published an academic paper on this topic- please read/cite this paper if you use this method- Click here

Also, do get in touch if you are considering using music elicitation- I would love to share experiences and contexts for this technique.

An overview of the benefits from this method;

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