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Music is contagious, according to Mathematicians

Electronica music is also thought to be the most infectious genre

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 22 September 2021
Music is contagious, according to Mathematicians

New research has found that music is infectious, and spreads similarly to viruses.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, has found that the pattern of music downloads after their release appears to closely resemble epidemic curves for infectious disease.

Electronica appears to be the most infectious genre of all, according to the research.

Dora Rosati, the study's lead author and a former graduate of McMaster University with a degree in mathematics and statistics, along with her team used a database of nearly 1.4 billion individual song downloads from the now-defunct music streaming service MixRadio.

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They examined how well a classic model of epidemic disease, known as the SIR model, reflected trends in song downloads over time by focusing on the top 1,000 songs downloaded in the UK between 2007 and 2014.

The model worked just as well in describing song download trends as it did in explaining the transmission of disease through populations.

The research team also calculated the basic reproduction number (R0), an epidemiologic metric used to describe the contagiousness or transmissibility of infectious agents assuming a population has zero immunity, for different genres to make cross-genre comparisons.

Dance and metal had the lowest median R0 scores, at 2.8 and 3.7, respectively. Pop music was more transmissible, but genres like rock and hip hop outperformed it, with electronica having the highest R0 at 3,430.

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This does not automatically imply that more electronica music is downloaded; rather, it means that it is distributed faster within a group of fans.

For comparison, chickenpox has an R0 of 10-12 and measles has an R0 of 12-18, making electronica music far more contagious than many common contagious diseases currently present.

According to Dora Rosati, the numbers show that electronica fans may be more passionate about their favourite songs, or maybe that electronica fans have a more strongly connected network than fans of other genres.

Dr Thomas Rawson, a disease modeller at Imperial College London, commented by stating that diseases are limited in how they can spread by requiring physical interaction. He explained how the R0 can be incredibly high for some songs and genres because after posting one Tweet or social media post, you can “infect” hundreds of other fans within minutes, “you can spread a song disease far quicker than you could an infectious disease”.

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“There are probably a lot of people in a population that may already be immune to a genre like electronica, because of their existing tastes,” said Rawson.

Dora Rosati said: “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.

“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.”

The research has also found that music such as pop and rock have notable variations in how contagious it can be, most likely due to influences such as the radio- according to Rosati.

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“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.”

This data model can be useful in predicting trends for new releases and how quickly people will catch onto new tunes.

[Via: The Guardian]

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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