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Study: New York, L.A. not the most influential music cities

April 18, 2012 |  5:40 pm

Win Butler of Arcade Fire performs in concert at Madison Square Garden on August 4, 2010 in New York City.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who's been to a show at the Echo where half the audience is frantically texting about the great time they're having (at the expense of watching the set): Particular cities are influential in shaping music tastes. But how exactly does that influencer-chain work, and how does it differ among genres? Two Cornell researchers have a new paper that tries to diagram how one gets from a Patient Zero with a rad underground 7-inch in Montreal to an album of the year Grammy.

The paper, by Conrad Lee and Padraig Cunningham, uses an influence-modeling method gleaned from the study of bird-flock leadership to track how taste patterns spread over geography in Last.fm users. In short? Montreal, Atlanta and Oslo are the early adopters; New York and L.A. are relative bit players.

Now, Angelenos, as you read this in the shadow of the Capitol Records tower with the Coachella sunburn still on your face, you may feel slighted. And this study has plenty of quirks. The source for this study, Last.fm, is handy because it tracks the geography of its users. But that leaves out Spotify, YouTube, iTunes and the other (arguably far more relevant) tools that people use to listen to new music. The study's definition of "influence" leans toward the spread of aesthetic preferences as opposed to concentrations of the industry. And some of their statistical conclusions seem like isolated events owed to particular artists -- is Toronto really one of the most influential cities in hip-hop, or did Torontonian Drake just get really popular?

That said, the paper does upend some conventional wisdom about how taste spreads. If you really want to be influential as an artist, it might be a better idea to head for Montreal's Mile End than Echo Park.

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-- August Brown

Photo: Win Butler of Arcade Fire performs in concert at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 4, 2010, in New York City. Credit: Cory Schwartz/Getty Images.

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