How Music Taste Predicts Movie Taste


(This post originally appeared here.)

We’re building ways to understand your music taste, or Musical Identity, and relate that to your taste in politics, movies, and other areas. Before we get to that, what is “Musical Identity?”

Music taste is so personal. It’s an important part of defining and communicating who we are. Unlike the passive listening experience of broadcast radio or listening to a CD, online music is a two-way conversation. Not only are you listening to music, but music listens to you too, whenever you search, skip, rate, favorite, ban and share what you hear. By analyzing this expression of your musical taste, we can better understand who you are as a fan.

Musical Identity has always been a powerful indicator of other things about you. Broadcast radio’s formats — Urban, Hot A/C, Pop, and so on — are based on the premise that a certain type of music attracts a certain type of person. However, the broadcast version of Musical Identity is a blunt instrument, grouping millions of people into about 12 audience segments. Now that music has become a two-way conversation online, Musical Identity can become considerably more precise, powerful, and predictive.

For example, did you know that it’s possible to predict with relative accuracy a person’s political affiliation based on what they listen to? Well, it is, and we did it.

Predicting Movie Preference from Music Taste

As the next step on our exploration of how Musical Identity relates to other facets of life, we’ve been looking at “cross-media” preferences. Can your music taste predict your taste in other forms of entertainment (books, movies, games, etc)? This post focuses on some (hopefully) amusing, interesting examples of what our Taste Profiling technology can uncover about the relationship between one’s taste in music and one’s taste in movies.

(The Echo Nest co-founder and CTO Brian Whitman and Product Manager Ajay Kalia did the data work on this. Brian, has a much more in-depth analysis here.)

The Analysis

First, we decided to see whether our system can tell us things we already know about the relationship between people’s taste in music and movies.

To determine this stuff, we correlated music and movie preferences of 50,000 people, then applied all of the data points we maintain about music preference through our Taste Profiling technology, to identify associations among preference types, and ultimately to find out where those associations are strong enough to be predictive.

After we got through the science of it all, we pored over the data to test our own theories and biases, from the intriguing to the counter-intuitive. Here are a few…

What sort of music fan loves a good Rom Com?

It takes a certain kind of person to really Like a romantic comedy — those feel-good date movies where star-crossed lovers encounter each other, hi-jinx ensue, and everything works out in the end.

Here are the artists most beloved by fans of romantic comedy movies:

  1. Reba McEntire
  2. Beyoncé
  3. Usher
  4. Céline Dion
  5. Jennifer Lopez

Do Country music fans like Western films?

We would expect people who like Westerns to like Country music. After all, “Country” is sometimes called “Country & Western.” Indeed, the top three discriminant artists — meaning that they are way more popular with fans of a certain genre of movies, as compared to the general population — for Western movies are:

That’s great, but not too surprising. Let’s challenge some conventional wisdom.

Assumption: People who enjoy Pixar movies have similar musical taste to that of people who enjoy Family films

Verdict: False

When we mashed movie data against music data, we found the following:


There’s some overlap, but these are clearly two different groups of people. Not only do we know they’re different, but we can tell you about how they are different (Family skews much more “country” and “classic rock” than Pixar). Neat.

How old is The Academy in terms of music taste?

It’s no surprise that the Academy Awards voters who decide which films should win Oscars are a bit, erm, longer in the tooth. A 2012 study showed their average age to be 62. To test our system, let’s see if it can tell us something about these people’s musical taste that would jibe with that.

We looked at when the artists most beloved by fans of Twilight, hit movies in general, and Oscar winners started their careers. This tells us how “old” their musical taste is, generally speaking.

  • People who like Twilight also tend to like music artists with careers starting in 1996.
  • People who like hit movies in general prefer artists with careers starting in 1993.
  • Meanwhile, people who liked movies that had won Oscar Awards in the past decade liked musicians whose careers began all the way back in 1981.

So, yup. The movies most loved by The Academy are also enjoyed by fans of music that was recorded a longer time ago. Let’s try another.

The Academy has ‘old’ taste in music. Are they cool?

We’ve established that members of The Academy — and the people who like their Oscar picks — have relatively old music taste. But how mainstream is their Musical Identity?

To establish a baseline, here’s the music most beloved by fans of Drama and Comedy movies:

Rank Drama Comedy
1 Country Country
2 Pop Pop
3 R&B R&B
4 Hip-Hop Hip-Hop
5 Rap Rap
6 Rock Rock
7 Blues

Dramas and Comedies have fairly mainstream music taste. For a jarring comparison, here’s the music most enjoyed by people who agree with The Academy’s Best Picture choices:

  1. Grunge
  2. Alternative Metal
  3. Metal
  4. Pop
  5. Disco
  6. R&B
  7. Rock
  8. Blues
  9. Country

Go ahead, call The Academy old, just don’t call them uncool.

Now, let’s see if Musical Identity can settle the argument about whether fans of Marvel’s sunny, brighter comic book movies (think Spider-Man and The Avengers) are as different from fans of DC’s darker vision (think The Dark Knight and Man of Steel) as both communities of fans believe they are, according to Ajay, who apparently has some reason to know that.

DC vs. Marvel: A Musical Litmus Test

Comic book movies are big business, comprising five of the top-grossing films in the past ten years, lending significance to the classic “DC vs. Marvel” debate. Let’s see how they match up in terms of their taste in music. Here are the top 15 artists for people who like DC and Marvel comic book movies:

Marvel DC
Breaking Benjamin Alice in Chains
Britney Spears Breaking Benjamin
Deftones Deftones
Jay-Z Jay-Z
Kanye West Jimi Hendrix
Korn Korn
Lady Gaga Limp Bizkit
Limp Bizkit Linkin Park
Linkin Park Rage Against the Machine
Madonna Saliva
Rihanna Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg Staind
System of a Down System of a Down
Three Days of Grace The Rolling Stones

The lists are pretty close to identical. As Ajay put it, “In Hollywood, a nerd is a nerd is a nerd.”

But wait, sometimes nerds are different from each other!

In addition to comics, nerds love Sci-Fi and Fantasy films. Let’s check out the musical taste of fans of each, to see what we find.

Based on the top 20 artists for fans of each music genre, we found that Sci-Fi fans have more diverse musical taste than Fantasy fans do:



Fantasy movie buffs have fairly middle-of-the-road Musical Identities, while Sci-Fi fans are a more eclectic bunch, musically speaking, with a heavy classic rock bent.

Conclusion: Yes, Music Taste Can Predict Movie Taste Music taste can in fact predict taste in movies, which has implications for everyone from online advertisers to moviemakers to the people who develop social media campaigns to promote films or music.