Musiconomics

Abstract: How do preferences about music affect or reflect the developmental status of a region? One crude way to measure this is to aggregate the music preferences of different countries and then rate bands or genres on the basis of what types of countries prefer them. In this analysis I set out to look for patterns in the music preferences of countries on the basis of their GDP per capita.

First published: Jun 2008. Latest Updated: Oct 2012. Categories: Social networks, rating systems, economics, culture.

Inspired in part by Virgil Griffith’s “books that make you dumb,” I scoured Facebook’s network page (back when they still made this data public) and imported the top songs from various countries. Only networks with 100,000 or more members were included, because otherwise not enough people would have reported their favorite bands and the data would be more unreliable. Here is a map of the countries that passed this threshold:

Note that the US, UK, and Canada were not included because they have more than one network and therefore no individual network for the whole country.

I found the 2007 population data here and the GDP data from here. I weighed the choices to give more weight to a band rated #1 than #10, and for each band or genre I multiplied this weighted value by the GDP of the country that listed it. I weighed the country’s opinion as more or less important depending on the number of people in its Facebook network. Bands were dismissed unless they were listed in the top 10 of at least 3 countries.

Finally, I found the arithmetic mean of the values assigned to each band, calculated the standard error, and here are the results:

As you can see, The Killers, Oasis, The Kooks, and the Foo Fighters (albeit with a large standard error) are towards the top, and are generally liked by rich countries. Nirvana, Trance, Placebo, and Alternative music are towards the bottom, and tend to be more liked by countries with low GDPs per capita.

One trend that you can see above is that poorer countries are more likely to favor general genres such as Trance, Alternative, and Techno rather than specific bands. According to a t-test comparing the average GDP per capita of countries favoring the genres to the average GDP per capita of countries favoring the individual bands, this is a significant effect, with p = 0.0027 and t = 3.025. Why do richer countries tend to have specific bands in their top 10, while poorer countries have more general answers? I have three explanations:

1) Accessibility. Facebook users from poorer countries may have less access to a wide range of artists and genres to choose between, and their more general preferences might be a reflection of that.

2) Investment. Facebook users from countries with higher GDPs have been exposed to more music in general because they have more time for music, allowing them to develop more specialized interests. For example, individuals in richer countries predominantly don’t have to work at a young age, while people in poorer countries might.

3) Signaling. Facebook users from richer countries have more pressure to differentiate themselves from their peers through their choices in music. While people in poor countries might achieve status simply because they can listen to varied music at all, in richer countries nearly everyone has access to music, and in order to differentiate yourself you must declare more specific musical taste.

Although you cannot see it in the data above, but there is a weak trend that groups or genres favored by poorer countries tend to be listed in the top 10 of more countries. This makes sense in terms of accessibility.

Perhaps further research can elucidate which of these options explains the difference between the choices of rich and poor countries, and whether this effect generalizes to consumer ratings in areas other than music.

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