Although we’re all probably a little (or a lot) burnt out on talking about infectious diseases, the conversation appears to be endemic. In a new scientific study, a team of researchers applied disease transmission models to music—an idea that seems surprisingly intuitive. And they found songs can indeed spread like infectious diseases. Especially Electronica songs, which are apparently like are very contagious.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers analyzed data from the now-defunct music streaming service MixRadio. The researchers looked at 1.4 billion song downloads between 2007 and 2014, focusing on the top 1,000 songs people in the UK downloaded during the timeframe. Lo and behold, when the researchers applied the standard susceptible–infectious–recovered (SIR) epidemic model—in the image above—to growth in song popularity, they found it fit well.
The researchers specifically looked at their subject songs’ basic reproduction number (or “R0”). Meaning how “infectious” they were between a prime listener and subsequent listeners. For example, if a person listened to a song and then shared it with two other people, the researchers assigned it with an R0 of 2.
When divvying up the results by genre, the researchers found massive disparities in R0. A report from
The title for “most transmissible genre” belonged squarely to electronica, which had a median R0 of 3,430; meaning if a listener liked say “Genesis” by Justice, they’d pass it on to 3,400+ other people. For reference, Rosati told
The researchers note that a high R0 for a genre did not equate proportionally to a total number of downloads; a fact the graph above shows vividly. Even though pop music spread much slower than electronica did, for example, it ended up with
As for why this is the case, the researchers again parallel the spread of music with the spread of disease. They note that in the case of electronica music, many people have an “immunity” to it. Meaning they just don’t listen to the genre, so they never hear any of the songs. As for those of us who love the genre, we actually enjoy being hyper infectious. That just means the beat’s good.