Top 40 Musical Universities in America: How Students Listen


(interactive map)

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This fall, millions of students are settling in at the universities where they’ll study, socialize, and prepare for their futures — and that includes discovering music they’ll listen to for the rest of their lives.

Maybe it’s all the fresh sounds encountered just as they’re learning new things and working out who they are, but for whatever reason, people tend to establish their music taste at college, and for that matter, during the adolescent to young adult years. The classic rock girl might discover vintage jazz, or the EDM enthusiast gravitate towards hip-hop, and everyone is exposed to lots of new music, no matter where they’re coming from.

Music accompanies much of the studying, socializing, and just about everything else that goes on at universities, so we wondered: Which are the most musical universities? And what does each of those schools listen to?

We found the schools whose students signed up for our student deal at the highest rates last semester, because that plan appeals to students who love music. Then, we ranked the schools where these listeners played the most songs, because people who love music listen a lot:

Spotify’s Top 40 Most Musical Universities in America*

  1. California Polytechnic State University
  2. Iowa State University
  3. University Of California Los Angeles
  4. University Of North Texas
  5. University Of Washington
  6. Texas Tech University
  7. Arizona State University
  8. Northeastern University
  9. University Of Arizona
  10. Georgia Institute Of Technology
  11. Miami University
  12. University Of Missouri Columbia
  13. University Of California Berkeley
  14. Cornell University
  15. University Of Wisconsin Madison
  16. University Of Oklahoma
  17. University Of Colorado Boulder
  18. Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University
  19. Purdue University
  20. Texas A&M University
  21. Ohio State University
  22. University Of Minnesota Twin Cities
  23. University Of Arkansas Fayetteville
  24. Michigan State University
  25. University Of Central Florida
  26. University Of Illinois Urbana Champaign
  27. University Of Virginia
  28. Brigham Young University
  29. University Of Michigan Ann Arbor
  30. University Of Southern California
  31. Pennsylvania State University
  32. University Of Pennsylvania
  33. University Of Florida
  34. University Of Alabama
  35. New York University
  36. Florida State University
  37. Auburn University
  38. Indiana University Bloomington
  39. University Of Texas Austin
  40. University Of Georgia

Paul Lamere, director of developer platform for The Echo Nest at Spotify, identified several distinct musical characteristics of each university: the artists, songs, and genres they listen to way more than the students at other schools.

The map and list lead to individual pages for each school where you can really delve into the data.

“We saw quite a bit of diversity in listening behavior, especially in the distinctive tracks and artists that define a school’s taste,” said Lamere. “I was also really interested in getting insights into the sleep/wake cycles at these schools through music — it’s interesting that some schools stay up late, some get up early, and others do both, burning the candle at both ends as it were.”

Here are some observations. To be clear, these “distinctive” traits mean that a school listens to a song, artist, or genre disproportionately to the other schools. All of the schools showed plenty of variety; looking for distinctive traits makes their unique qualities stand out in relief.

  • In “the city that never sleeps,” listening patterns indicate that NYU students get an hour’s less sleep on average. They also listen to more slowcore and hipster music.
  • This graph shows early-morning listening spikes at Cornell.
    This graph shows early-morning listening spikes at Cornell.

    Cornell University listening spikes at 6am and 7am (right). One possibility: its students wake up and exercise before class more than those at other schools.

  • Texas A&M appears to follow fads and trends less than the other schools.
  • Boston EDM duo Timeflies is really popular at Iowa State, relative to other schools. They played a show there in 2012, which appears to have gone well.
  • You can find fans of fast skatepunk music at Purdue.
  • schools3Students at the University of Alabama listen to country music at about twice the average rate (right). They also listen more to sleep-themed playlists.
  • Speaking of which, Brigham Young goes to bed the earliest and wakes up the earliest, which might have something to do with its midnight visitor curfew (1:30am on Fridays).

There’s plenty more to explore.

*Update: An earlier version of this post listed the top 40 most musical schools alphabetically. You can still find that view here; the list in this post is now ranked by plays per student subscriber to the Spotify Student Deal.