The other day, Richard Florida posted about the recent and dramatic rise of Nashville as a global music city. One of the interesting conclusions he proposed is that the increase in quality and numbers of writers, studio musicians, and recording infrastructure was helping Nashville to break out of its country music parochialism into broader vistas:
“like Silicon Valley’s broad reach across many high-tech fields from hardware to software, biotech to green energy, Nashville has become the center for multiple musical genres from country and gospel to rock and pop, attracting top talent from across the United States and the globe.”
The data Florida presents in the post, however, don’t say anything about the genres and styles of music performed by those musicians who call Nashville home. Instead, the evidence he gives us there for Nashville being a center for multiple musical genres is an interesting and suggestive story about White Stripes moving to Nashville from Detroit.
In our report, Chicago: Music City, we developed some innovative analyses that allow us to begin to bring to bear a bit more evidence on this and related questions. Of particular interest is a database we compiled of all pages posted on myspace.com (as of January, 2007). Later, these were aggregated to about 900 locations. And since myspace records the number of fans and genres for each band, we are now able to take a look at which places have the most bands with the most fans in different styles.
Now, clearly there are lots of caveats about these data. Population is for sure a big factor in the numbers. It is worth noting that rap and hip-hop have far and a way the most pages, probably because those are relatively easy for an individual to record and post. There are digital-divide issues, concerns that musicians in some genres or places are much less likely to post than in others, and more general theoretical concerns about the nature of genres as classificatory schemes. In later discussions of these data, we might get into those and related intricacies.
For now, though, since rankings are fun, take a look at some of these tables to get a sense of where Nashville stacks up. Here’s one that shows the top 20 cities in terms of total groups listed on myspace:
Fyi: Nashville is #25, behind Portland, Sacramento, and Long Beach. It might be worth noting that more musicians list Brooklyn as their home than New York, yet another sign that Brooklyn is where most of the creative activity in the five boroughs is going on.
Now compare that table to this one. It shows the cities whose bands have the most fans, call it the city’s “bands with fans” ranking [NB: this is not where the fans are, but where the bands are].
L.A. bands have almost 38,000,000 fans! A few other things jump out right away when looking at the differences between the bands rankings and the fans rankings tables:
- New York goes up, Brooklyn goes down. This might mean that, though Brooklyn has more local musicians, those who have a wider profile still prefer to list their homes as New York, not Brooklyn.
- Atlanta jumps up 9 spots.
- Nashville jumps up 20 spots.
- Detroit jumps up 17 spots.
- Seattle jumps up 8 spots.
Clearly, there are bands and there are bands. Some play for hundreds and thousands of fans; others mostly for themselves and close friends. Cities that are home to bands with high numbers of fans relative to the total number of bands might well indicate urban environments conducive to musical success (“success,” of course, being open to multiple meanings), with the support apparatus, networks, studios, key focalizing venues, management, significant taste-makers, and distinctive and energizing scenes that help to facilitate the circulation of music to a wider audience. And Atlanta, Nashville, Detroit, and Seattle seem to be those kinds of places.
So it does look like Nashville is more than pulling its musical weight, projecting its sound to many more people than its population or # of bands alone would suggest. But has that increase correlated with a broadening of genres, as Florida suggests?
Consider these tables: This first one summarizes Nashville and Portland’s ranking (on number of bands) across 30 genres. I chose Portland because its population and total bands is pretty close to Nashville’s.
As you’d expect, Nashville has more country bands than any other city in the United States. And it’s not even close: over 1800, while #2, San Antonio, has about 380. Nashville is also in the top 20 for Christian music, acoustic, pop, rock, folk, jazz, and Indie. Taken pretty strictly, Richard’s suggestion that Nashville is broadening its horizons to excel in “country and gospel to rock and pop” is not that far off the mark (we don’t have a listing for gospel; Nashville is a low 91.5 for R&B).
Nevertheless, Nashville is still far from an omnivore’s delight. It’s more of a feast for those with a voracious appetite for country, Christian, acoustic, etc: after you get past those 8 genres in which Nashville specializes, you drop pretty far and pretty fast through the rest, resulting in an average rank of about 63.
Compare that profile to Portland’s. Portland is certainly less extreme than Nashville, with no #1’s. But it ranks in the top 20 cities to find bands across 18 genres (19 if you count Emo), and has an average rank of about 23 across all genres. In other words, whatever the genre, you’re likely to find a good amount of it in Portland. Even country! By contrast, in Nashville, once you move past country, Christian, rock, etc., you’re out of luck. Though ideally we’d want to look at trends in genre diversity over time, the presence of strong boundaries around genre clusters seems to be pretty powerfully indicated in these data, not only in the Nashville case but elsewhere and more generally (another topic for another post!). This might suggest that we think less about a general trend toward increasing diversity as such and more about an urban musical ecology increasingly defined by multiple scenes and sub-cultures composed of different clusters of genres linked with different sensibilities and styles.
Nashville’s strongly intensive rather than extensive musical profile is equally evident in the below table, which summarizes rankings for the top 5 cities + Portland on the “bands with fans” metric, across those same 30 genres.
Again, Nashville is the national leader in Country and Christian music, and has bands with the top 10 most fans in folk, acoustic, acapella, pop, rock, punk, jazz, and alternative. This is very impressive indeed; Nashville is for sure a hit maker. But, once again, note the steep drop off. The other top 5 “bands with fans” cities – NY, LA, Chicago, ATL — have high fan rankings across all the genres, with averages of 3, 7, 6, and 18. Nashville plunges to 40. Portland, by contrast, which ranks #19 overall on this metric (14 lower than Nashville), has an average fan rank across genres that is 14 higher than Nashville’s.
So yes, Nashville is more than country music. But, ranked in terms of the sheer cosmopolitan multiplicity of the genres its bands produce and circulate, Nashville is not quite New York City. Or, for that matter, Portland.