What is the most musical city in the United States?

There are many cities in the United States that are known for their music. Cities like Nashville, Detroit, Seattle and New Orleans have played a major part in the musical history and development of this country.  But what is the most musical city? Which city has spawned the most musical artists? To answer this question I used the soon-to-be-released artist location data from The Echo Nest artist API.  I gathered up the top 50,000 or so U.S. artists, found their city of origin and tallied the number of artists per city.  From this tally I calculated the number of artists per 1,000 inhabitants in each city. The more artists per 1000 inhabitants, the more musical the city.

Using the artists per 1k inhabitants, we can easily find the top 25 most musical cities in the United States:

# Artists per 1,000 inhabitants Artists Population City
1 3.14 111 35355 Beverly Hills, CA
2 2.26 1651 732072 San Francisco, CA
3 1.68 894 530852 Nashville, TN
4 1.64 936 571281 Boston, MA
5 1.54 651 422908 Atlanta, GA
6 1.53 53 34703 Charlottesville, VA
7 1.48 817 552433 Washington, DC
8 1.39 513 367773 Minneapolis, MN
9 1.37 740 540513 Portland, OR
10 1.32 51 38601 Burlington, VT
11 1.24 4789 3877129 Los Angeles, CA
12 1.22 15 12314 Muscle Shoals, AL
13 1.20 683 569369 Seattle, WA
14 1.11 755 678368 Austin, TX
15 1.05 75 71253 Bloomington, IN
16 1.05 50 47529 Chapel Hill, NC
17 1.05 47 44916 Olympia, WA
18 1.00 13 12945 Princeton, NJ
19 0.95 182 190886 Richmond, VA
20 0.94 11 11678 Hendersonville, NC
21 0.87 12 13769 Malibu, CA
22 0.87 88 100975 Denton, TX
23 0.86 179 207970 Orlando, FL
24 0.86 86 100158 Berkeley, CA
25 0.85 114 133874 Orange, CA

I find the results to be pretty interesting.  Beverly Hills, the tiny city at the heart of the entertainment world is #1.  San Francisco is the most musical of all large cities, followed closely by Nashville. Among, the most musical of small cities is Muscle Shoals AL  which, according to Wikipedia, is famous for its contributions to American popular music.  Less musical than expected are New Orleans (rank 36),  NYC (rank 37), Detroit (rank 52).

Among the least musical cities in the U.S. are my hometown (Manchester NH), with only one artist in the top 50,000 U.S. based artist for the 100K inhabitants.  The least musical large city in the U.S. is Kansas City KS, with only 7 top-50k artists for their nearly half million inhabitants. Luckily Kansas City residents can drive a few miles to Kansas city Missouri (with its 194 musicians for its 442k inhabitants) when they get tired of their own seven artists.

You can see the full list of cities with population greater than 5,000 ordered by their musicality here:  The Most Musical Cities in the United States.  I’d love to do this for all the cities in the world, but I can’t find a good source of city population data for world cities. If you know of one let me know.

I’m rather exited about this upcoming release of artist location data in our API. It will open the doors for a whole bunch of interesting applications, such as road trip playlisters that play music by artists local to the city you are near, contextual playlisters that will favor artists from your home town, or music exploration apps that will let you explore music from a particular region of the world.  I can’t wait to see what people build with this data. Stay tuned, I’ll post when the API is released.


  1. #1 by Michael M. on May 20, 2012 - 7:21 pm

    Where is Saint Louis, Missouri?

    • #2 by Paul on May 20, 2012 - 8:09 pm

      Michael – I have two data sources, one with the artist info, and one with the population info. Unfortunately, the sources don’t agree on how to spell Saint Louis. I’ve fixed it and Saint Louis and 20 other saintly towns have been restored. Saint Louis is at position 44. Thanks for the tip. — Paul

  2. #3 by Michael P. on May 20, 2012 - 9:34 pm

    I posted this on Twitter but might as well share here too. I dynamically imported the data into a Google Spreadsheet and added a cumulative column and then created a pareto graph. There are too many data points to make the pareto useful but still a fun exercise. Thanks to Paul and Echonest.


  3. #4 by brian on May 20, 2012 - 9:38 pm

    is there a PBML version?

    • #5 by Paul on May 21, 2012 - 5:40 am

      Of course there is.

  4. #6 by KT on May 21, 2012 - 3:07 am

    This is interesting but I’m wondering about the activeness of the artists. Is there a time frame on when the artists were active or is this just, the most popular right now until all the way back in time when someone started keeping track? And do the artists have to be active right now? Do the artists have to alive right now? I’d like to see who is actually counted for each city.

  5. #7 by babylonoise on May 21, 2012 - 5:22 am

    hey Paul, did you use the tags to gather the cities of origin? in this case the Muscle Shoals can be explained because of the so called “Muscle Shoals Sound” – the music studios where famous artists from the US recorded…and they might have been tagged with the name of the city

    • #8 by Paul on May 21, 2012 - 5:34 am

      No tags used, these are city of origin, derived from bios that are on the web. Here are the Muscle Shoals bands (in PBLML format just for Brian):

      ARNKH081187B9B902C Viva Voce 0.510036 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      AR4H4EI1187FB51146 Shenandoah 0.470886 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARMHKPA12086C15CF0 Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit 0.431876 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARTCW251187B9B1E80 Jason Isbell 0.448482 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARA24L51187B9B3E98 Cornbread Red 0.444008 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARSSASE11E9057995B State Line Mob 0.402061 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARMQANC1187B98E1A4 Lauderdale 0.434553 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARVA73J1187B9B0FC5 Boyd Bennett 0.316099 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      AR9Y4BY1187FB57D6C Scott Boyer 0.34268 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARJRFGZ11E8F5C0975 Angela Hacker 0.411673 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      AR3WP8L1187FB38862 Secret Sisters 0.516797 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARU18LO1187B99F703 The Decoys 0.410585 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARCSBOI1187B9A2D9C Southern Rock Allstars 0.328301 Muscle Shoals, AL, US
      ARUMR3G1187B9B2B09 Gary Nichols 0.393471 Muscle Shoals, AL, US

  6. #9 by David on May 21, 2012 - 8:46 am

    I’m happy to see my hometown (Burlington, VT) in the Top 10. The music scene there enjoyed a huge surge after Phish broke out in the 90’s, even with such a small population… I wonder how effective it would be to trace an increase in artists from a city back to one superstar act (e.g. Prince from Minneapolis).

  7. #10 by Ben on May 22, 2012 - 5:43 am

    this is really cool Paul! Two quick things,
    – there’s this world cities source http://www.maxmind.com/app/worldcities not the best (2.7 M entries, but on 33K have populations) but it’s the best I know of for worldwide coverage.
    – I have a couple screwy ideas I’d love to use this data for, any idea when the data will be live via the API?

    • #11 by Paul on May 22, 2012 - 5:48 am

      Hi Ben – indeed I am using the maxmind worldcities data right now. The international coverage was just too sparse (or my name matcher was broken, maybe I should relook at that). As for a release, can’t make any promises, but I suspect that we should see this data surface in the API in the next few weeks and with full support across all the apis (artist, song, taste profile and playlisting) by the end of June.

  8. #12 by Ben on May 22, 2012 - 6:03 am

    hmmm… I mean it has population data for 861 cities in the UK (smallest city is some place in Scotland with a population of 448 called Buchlyvie), 1478 cities in Germany and 863 cities in France, just quickly looking, that doesn’t seem so sparse…

  9. #13 by John on May 23, 2012 - 6:00 am

    I think you need to specify what genre of “artists” you are looking at in your study. It is very offensive to the classical artists of Fremont (of which there are many talented ones) that Fremont is listed as the least musical city.

  10. #14 by JJ on May 25, 2012 - 3:07 pm

    This data is unreliable and misleading. The Washington, DC, (#7) metro area has a population of over 3 million although within the city limits it only has 550,000. Similarly SF the metro area is well over 732,000 (over 7,000,000). While the data shown for smaller cities like Nashville, Austin or Burlington certainly encompass the entire metro area.

  11. #16 by Chris on May 26, 2012 - 10:55 am

    Actually, Kansas City, Kansas-does not have half a million residents, it is actually closer to 150k. While it is certainly not as musically inclined as KCMO, it certainly is not in such a dire situation as it is painted in this article.

  12. #17 by Peter Watts (@ptrwtts) on May 30, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    haha interesting. check my status from a few days ago re: Beverly Hills https://twitter.com/ptrwtts/status/206830849944068096

    as someone born outside the US, i would often have to fake a US address in order to use a service. i always used 90210 as the zip code, because it was the only one i knew off the top of my head (tv education). not sure what the echo nest uses as their source of data, but i dare say it is tainted by pesky foreigners like me :)

  13. #18 by Hey Non on June 1, 2012 - 2:11 pm

    So your saying these people from Beverly Hills started their career (solo or as group)while living there? Or is that where they ended up after achieving success and becoming “working” musicians?

  14. #19 by js on June 15, 2012 - 12:07 pm

    Where is Athens, Ga on the list? I didn’t see it on the full list either.

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