Which Cities Are the Musical Trend Setters?

A new study ranks Atlanta, not New York or L.A., as the most influential on our musical tastes. 

Image
Flickr/eytonz

Which cities shape musical trends, exerting the biggest influence on the geographic flow of music across the United States and the world?  A new study by researchers at University College Dublin uses online data to quantify which cities have the biggest impact on our musical tastes.

The researchers gathered data from the social media website last.fm, which aggregates the music preference of huge numbers of music listeners across the world. According to the study, the site has logged more than 60 billion individual listener-preferences, or "scrobbles," across more than 200 large cities between 2003 and 2011. Using a statistical technique adapted from studies of leadership in pigeon flocks, the researchers were able to trace and identify which cities are early adopters and thus influence the taste and popularity of music in other cities. 

The chart below (from their study) shows the "leader-follower network" for the 20 most active cities in Canada and the United States for popular music overall, indie rock, and hip-hop.

Atlanta leads in popular music overall, followed by Chicago, Montreal, and Pittsburgh. Montreal tops the list for indie music, followed by Toronto, Los Angeles, and Boston. And Atlanta leads hip-hop, followed by Toronto, Chicago, and Montreal.

Curiously, New York produces a huge amount of popular music but ranks much further down the list, as the study notes.

For us, the most surprising features of [the figure above] are (1) the middle ranking positions of some of the largest cities, such as NYC and LA in [the All Music figure] and NYC and Chicago in [the Indie Music figure] and (2) the prominent position of Canadian cities, especially in [the Indie Music figure]. While Montreal is known for having produced some popular indie bands (such as Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade), this does not necessarily mean that last.fm listeners from Montreal would be generally leaders in their taste in indie music; in any case, New York City is presumably home to more prominent indie artists than Montreal.

Oslo and Stockholm are the leading musical influencers in Europe, followed by Hamburg, Dublin, Birmingham, and Leeds - all of which exert more influence than Paris or London. Paris has the biggest influence on indie music followed by Oslo, Dublin, Madrid, and Milan.  

Large cities play a much bigger role in influencing musical taste and leadership in indie music than in popular music overall, the study finds.  

The study has a number of limits. Its data identify the cities which most influence other cities, not the ones that produce the largest or most innovative body of music. And its findings may reflect the cities where last.fm is more popular. The authors admit that their effort remains "a work in progress."

Top image: Flickr/eytonz

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here