Solving Cities

Which cities rule as music tastemakers?

Posting in Cities

A new study shows us who sets the music trends in North America. One clue: New York City and Los Angeles are not on the map.

Gone are the days when we gathered around the fire and listened to Grandpa sing about hunting exploits. Back then, sound waves carried our songs across a distance you could see from the fire pit.

But despite the fact that we can instantly listen to music coming out of Mexico City or Fairfield, Iowa, locality still fights against global cultural homogenization - and it's a good fight. Music remains a way to share our diverse subcultural identities. Which leads me to the main point: consumption trends are ever more essential to music making in the digital age.

So which cities are laying down the law?

A clue: not NYC or LA.

Conrad Lee and Pádraig Cunningham of the Clique Research Cluster, University College Dublin, just put out a study mapping the geographic flow of music. They used the social media website last.fm to get a detailed snapshot of what its users in hundreds of cities listen to each week. The results?

If you want to know about music - look to Atlanta. If you are more into indie music, look to Montreal. According to Lee and Cunningham, here are the top five tastemakers in North America:

Top five for all music:

1. Atlanta
2. Chicago
3. Montreal
4. Pittsburgh
5. Houston

Top five for hip hop:

1. Atlanta
2. Toronto
3. Chicago
4. Montreal
5. Boston

Top five for indie music:

1. Montreal
2. Toronto
3. Los Angeles
4. Boston
5. Richmond

The three main findings of the study:

Some cities are consistently early adopters of new music (and early to snub stale music).

Although many of the most popular artists are listened to around the world, music preferences are closely related to nationality, language, and geographic location.

The hypothesis that large cities tend to be ahead of smaller cities [was found to be generally false].

Of course, there are real limitations to the study. Analyzing Spotify, Grooveshark, YouTube, and iTunes might yield very different results. The authors call the paper "a work in progress."

But perhaps the best detail of this study - the one that makes you miss thinking up ways to make writing that undergrad social science paper less excruciating - is in the methodology. The researchers employed the same methods used to study the leadership network in a flock of birds. And it actually worked.

Check out the full paper and see if your city is on the music flow map.

[via: Discover Magazine; arXiv]

Images: arXiv

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Sonya James

Contributing Writer

Sonya James is a multimedia producer based in New York. With creativity and innovation in mind, she speaks to diverse voices on topics from racism in the art world to the patriotic nature of southern food. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Development. Disclosure