Which City Is the Musical Tastemaker for the US? Hint: Not NY or LA

By Sarah Zhang | April 17, 2012 11:00 am

music flow
Click to enlarge.

If you want to know what the cool kids will be listening to next month, here are two hints: 1) Head to Atlanta. 2) It’s probably hip hop. That’s according to a recently posted arXiv paper mapping the geographic flow of music on the social-networking music site Last.fm.

Last.fm users sync their iTunes listening histories to the site, recording some 11 billion tracks played in 2011. The site has been a gold mine for data viz lovers like LastGraph, and social-network researchers are getting in on the action, too. In this study, they looked for trendsetting cities that started (and stopped—those snobs) listening to new artists before everyone else. Among American Last.fm users, Atlanta is the trendsetting city.

But when they sorted by music genre, the researchers found subtler patterns. Atlanta dominates the overall music flow mostly because it’s a hip hop center, and hip hop has been ubiquitous to American ears. When it comes to other genres such as indie music, the trendsetting city of North America is further north—much further north—in Montreal.

Overall, in an age of music blogs and mp3s and sites like Last.fm, physical distance is less and less important. But geography seems to matter insofar as it recapitulates language and cultural boundaries. English-, French-, and Spanish-speaking cities all cluster with themselves. US cities actually splinter into two distinct groups: one group including big cites like New York and LA as well as hipster-dense ones like Austin, Portland, and Seattle. The other group of cities is sprinkled all over the map but you probably wouldn’t call them hotbeds of hipness: Cleveland, West Palm Beach, Little Rock, etc. All the data in this paper are publicly available through Last.fm’s API, so you can download it yourself to investigate how music flows into and out of your city.

Of course, Last.fm represents only one slice of music-listening habits, considering the existence of other services like Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio. Here in New York we’re still a little skeptical about our low influence. Bet if they had looked at Brooklyn by itself…

[via arXiv blog]


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