Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts performs.

Over the past twenty years the geography of popular music has changed considerably. The internet and social media have obviously played a large role. While industries like automobiles or steel still cluster around resources, cheap labor and transportation routes, or high-tech companies cluster around skilled labor and universities, the forever altered music industry now has fewer physical reasons to cluster — musicians no longer need to be near any particular resource to record and distribute their work anymore. And yet, they clearly still do cluster, just perhaps for slightly different reasons.



Most previous studies of music, including my own, have relied on data from government sources (like the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics) which are limited essentially to counting the number of musicians or music-related firms. But over the past decade or so, new data have become available from social media sites which can provide a wider range of information on the popularity of musical acts and the genres they play.

One intriguing source of this information actually comes from Myspace, which became the go-to source for musicians looking to promote themselves during the mid-2000s. Though the site’s popularity as a social network has waned, it remains a useful repository on the location and popularity of musical acts and genres. In early 2007, at the peak of the site’s popularity (it had more visitors than Google at the time), my team at the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) and I organized and collated information on the more than three million artists that were listed. We cleaned the data, organizing it by location, popularity (as reflected by fans, plays, and page views), and key musical genres. Overall, we were able to code almost two million acts to metro areas. Below, I report our findings for metros that are home to over 250,000 people. The MPI’s Zara Matheson mapped the data.

(Note to music mavens ready to jump on our use of outmoded Myspace data: We are using these data to identify geographic clusters of musical acts only, not to find the most popular or cutting-edge performers or genres today. Though as it happens, Myspace was acquired last year by Specific Media, which, with the help of its marquee investor Justin Timberlake, has launched a concerted effort to make itself relevant again.)

Mapping America’s Musical Landscape

The first map (above) charts the location of musical acts by metro, while the table (below) lists the top 20 metros.

Top 20 Metros by Total Musical Acts
Rank Metro Number of Musical Acts
1 Los Angeles 175,083
2 New York 115,767
3 Chicago 69,963
4 San Diego 46,267
5 Philadelphia 45,508
6 Atlanta 41,747
7 Washington, D.C. 41,518
8 Riverside, California 39,193
9 Seattle 37,224
10 Orange County, California 35,953
11 Nassau-Suffolk, New York 35,584
12 Phoenix 35,293
13 Miami 33,637
14 Boston 32,792
15 Oakland, California 28,372
16 Tampa 28,339
17 Dallas 28,081
18 Orlando 28,037
19 Las Vegas 27,513
20 Newark 26,443

Table data from MPI analysis of Myspace data

Los Angeles tops the list with 175,083 acts. New York is second with 115,767, and Chicago is third with 69,963. The next several locations — San Diego, Philadelphia, Atlanta, D.C., Riverside, Seattle, and Orange County — averaged between 35,000 and 47,000 acts each. Several storied music capitals did not make the list: Detroit’s 22,445 acts put it in 23rd place, Nashville was 34th with 14,084 acts, New Orleans 35th with 13,965, and Memphis just 60th with 7,113.

Not surprisingly, acts are highly concentrated around major population centers on the East and West Coasts — particularly the Bos-Wash Corridor and Southern California (each claim roughly 300,000 acts), as well as Northern California, Atlanta, southern Florida, and Cascadia (Seattle and Portland). Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas are the sole metros from the country’s interior that make the top 20.

The distribution of acts follows population closely, though not entirely. (L.A. proper is, of course, smaller than New York City.) Still, the largest numbers of musical acts are located in the cities and metros with the largest markets and the most well-developed music industries.

To control for the effects of population, this map (above) shows the distribution of musical acts per 10,000 people, while the table (below) lists the top 20 metros.

Top 20 Metros Based on Musical Acts per 10,000 People
Rank Metro Musical Acts per 10,000
1 Los Angeles 184
2 Napa, California 183
3 Las Vegas 176
4 Jersey City 175
5 Honolulu 174
6 Orlando 170
7 San Diego 164
8 Stockton, California 161
9 Albany, New York 154
10 Seattle 154
11 Santa Cruz 153
12 San Francisco 150
13 Miami 149
14 Ventura, California 142
15 San Jose 138
16 Tacoma, Washington 137
17 Santa Barbara, California 132
18 Newark, New Jersey 130
19 Dutchess County, New York 130
20 Bergen-Passaic, New Jersey 129

Table data from MPI analysis of Myspace data

L.A. tops the list again with 184 acts per 10,000 people. With 183 acts, Napa comes in second, and Las Vegas is third with 176. Some of the cities (L.A., San Francisco) are major population centers in their own rights or virtual satellites of much larger cities (Jersey City, Newark, Bergen-Passaic). Las Vegas, Honolulu, Orlando, and Miami are tourist centers, which can support larger numbers of acts than their populations seem to warrant, based on the “borrowed” market size provided by visitors.

Mapping America’s Most Popular Music Scenes

One feature of the Myspace data is that it allowed us to get a handle not only on the cities with the most acts, but which cities have the most popular acts.

To get at this, MPI’s research director Kevin Stolarick combined the numbers of fans, views, and plays for each band and act and aggregated them to the metro level. His Metro Music Popularity Index thus indicates the degree of popularity of bands and acts from a given city or metro across all of Myspace. Recall this index is for popularity circa 2007, when the data was collected. When combined, the numbers for fans, views and plays per metro can grow quite high.

The map (above) charts the Music Popularity Index for U.S. metros. The table (below) lists the top 20 metros on it.

Top 20 Metros on the Music Popularity Index
Rank Metro Music Popularity Index (in millions)
1 Los Angeles 3,547.9
2 New York 1,967.6
3 Atlanta 1,241.2
4 Chicago 950.8
5 Nashville 744.1
6 San Diego 500.7
7 Seattle 459.9
8 Boston 431.3
9 Philadelphia 427.0
10 Miami 395.1
11 Phoenix 375.1
12 Orange County, California 374.6
13 Oakland 312.7
14 San Francisco 305.6
15 Las Vegas 304.3
16 Detroit 285.6
17 Dallas 270.1
18 Washington, D.C. 270.1
19 Orlando 249.2
20 Denver 236.0

Table data from MPI analysis of Myspace data

This broad measure of popularity is again skewed toward large cities and regions, though it does not follow population size exactly. L.A. again tops the list, besting larger New York by a considerable margin. Atlanta is third, topping the much more populous fourth-place Chicago. Nashville is fifth, and Detroit is 16th.

To once again control for population, Stolarick recast the Popularity Index on a per capita basis. The map above charts the pattern across U.S. metros with populations of 250,000 or more. The table below lists the top 20 metros, along with some of their more notable acts. (Because our information is from 2007, note that some of these artists may have since disbanded.)

Top 20 Metros by Popularity Index per Capita
Rank Metro Popularity per capita Popular Acts
1 Nashville 604 Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, Johnny Cash
2 Los Angeles 373 Weezer, the Black Eyed Peas, Snoop Dogg
3 Atlanta, Georgia 302 T.I., Yung Joc, Akon
4 Tallahassee, Florida 223 T-Pain, Creed
5 Santa Cruz, California 218 Kottonmouth Kings
6 Napa, California 212 The Federation
7 New York 211 Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey
8 Las Vegas 195 Panic! At the Disco, the Killers
9 Seattle 190 Death Cab for Cutie, the Postal Service
10 San Diego 178 Blink-182, Switchfoot
11 San Francisco 177 Third Eye Blind, Train
12 Miami 175 Pitbull, Pretty Ricky
13 New Orleans 162 Lil Wayne, Juvenile
14 Memphis 154 Justin Timberlake
15 Orlando 152 Trivium, Cori Yarckin
16 Killeen-Temple, Texas 144 Flyleaf
17 Orange County, California 132 Avenged Sevenfold, the Offspring
18 Oakland, California 131 Green Day, Counting Crows, Keyshia Cole
19 Boston 127 Godsmack, Dropkick Murphys
20 Dutchess County, New York 123 Matchbook Romance

Table data from MPI analysis of Myspace data

Now Nashville tops the list, with L.A. in second place. New York is seventh, Las Vegas eighth, Seattle ninth, San Diego 10th, San Francisco 11th, and Miami 12th. Several smaller college towns which failed to make our population cut-off of 250,000, but have extremely lively music scenes, would rank quite highly. These include Athens, Georgia (home to the now disbanded R.E.M., the B-52s, and Drive-By Truckers) which would rank third overall, and Charlottesville, Virginia (Dave Matthews Band), which would come in at 18th. Some historic music scenes do much better on this measure. New Orleans, for example, is 13th and Memphis 14th. Detroit is lower, however, at 68th.

In a future post, I’ll report on how we used Myspace data to identify the diversity of local music scenes by comparing the numbers of genres they support.

Via The Atlantic Cities