Music is actually as "catchy" and "viral" as we say it is.
The growing popularity of songs and the way they become popular is said to share similar characteristics to the spread of diseases, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences.
Music industry professionals discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
The research team, which was led by Dora Rosati, explored how songs become popular using mathematical tools typically used to study infectious studies and found the model worked well studying popular music. The study analysed a database of "1.4 billion individual song downloads from the now-discontinued music streaming service MixRadio", focusing on the top 1,000 songs downloaded in the UK from 2007 to 2014.
"It implies that a lot of the social processes that drive the spread of disease, or analogues of those processes, might also be driving the spread of songs. More specifically, it supports the idea that both music and infectious diseases depend on social connections to spread through populations," said Rosati, in the study.
"With a disease, if you come into contact with someone who is ill, then you have a certain chance of catching that disease. With songs, it looks very similar. The big difference is that for songs, it doesn’t necessarily have to be physical contact – it could be that my friend used this cool new song in their Instagram story, so now I’m going to go and find it.”
Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on musicians
The research also delved into the differences in "transmissible rates" of music genres, finding that electronic music was most infectious than that of rock, hip-hop, pop, or metal music. Rosati shared that the result suggests that either electronic music spreads faster through the masses than any other genre or that the community around electronic music are more connected.
The transmission rates of music also tend to change over time, having found that pop's infectious nature has decreased through the years. Rosati suggests that this is because of the change of methods of distribution, from radio to streaming.
"The biggest changes are likely to be in these more niche genres that wouldn’t necessarily have been getting the radio play, or where the artists weren’t as big. I think they have a much better chance of spreading in our current situation of streaming and social media platforms," says Rosati.
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