Does This Music Really Represent Your State?


A map that seems to show which musician or band is preferred by each of the 50 states has been making the rounds online, but a closer look at the research methods — not to mention the strange results — shows that the study and the map don’t show which artists are the most ‘popular’ in general, but rather the most ‘distinctive’ among people who use online streaming services.

The study comes from Paul Lamere, the director of the music platform The Echo Nest, a “music intelligence platform synthesizes billions of data points and transforms it into musical understanding to power smarter music applications for our customers.”

The research highlights the “most distinctive” act in each state, not the most listened to or the favorite. Lamere took data from roughly 250,000 listeners that have zip codes attached to their music streaming accounts from various streaming services that Echo Nest works with. Therein lies a major flaw in the research, as obviously people who use online streaming services are skewed towards the young side, something that was definitely reflected in the study’s results.

Lamere then took the most popular artists in each state’s listening habits and compared them with both the regional and national averages. Artists that had the most support in one state versus the other states were the ones placed on the map. So Nirvana isn’t the most popular band in Rhode Island, but people (who use streaming services) in Rhode Island seem to listen to Nirvana more than in other states.

The general genre preferences of each region were more illuminating than the list of bands that are preferred by young music-streamers in each state. For example, when comparing Tennessee to New England, we see more country, folk, Christian bands, and southern rappers, while listeners in New England prefer indie rock and alternative. But listing Memphis-based rapper Juicy J as the artist for Tennessee does not mean that most people in Tennessee listen to Juicy J, or even necessarily know who he is.

“It is pretty clear that people in different parts of the U.S. listen to different kinds of music. These regionalisms can be used to help recommend music for people when you otherwise might not know anything about their music taste,” Lamere says.

When perusing the bands that are listed as favorites in each state, it becomes highly apparent how young the listeners are. While R.E.M., Neil Young, and Nirvana all make appearances up in New England, the majority of the list is focused on newer bands. The group has acknowledged the age skew of typical online streaming listeners in previous research and would have done better to discuss that in the results that produced the map.

Lamere used the data to create an app that anyone can use to compare different states and regions around the U.S. You can play with the app yourself here. Do you think this research accurately represents what people are listening to in your state? If not, here’s a map we can hopefully all agree on.

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