Icelanders, Islanders Exhibit Disproportionate Musical Influence


(This post originally appeared here.)

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The islands of Jamaica and the United Kingdom produce a disproportionate number of musical styles and artists, according to musical legend. The world of pop music would be missing huge pieces, the legend goes, had these islands submerged before the invention of electricity or otherwise been incapable of making music.

Taking this concept beyond mere anecdote and into the realm of data-based reality, data alchemist Glenn McDonald says he “took The Echo Nest’s 10,000 most up-and-coming songs by relatively unknown artists (a.k.a. the Discovery list), found the artists responsible for them, determined those artists’ countries, counted the number of artists per country, and then prorated the counts by population to create a ranking of countries by proportional discovery share – and then I did the same again, ranking by hotness instead of discovery.”

What this means: You’re about to see two lists consisting of countries that punch above their weight in terms of producing the artists who — this month — are captivating the world in two important ways.

The Echo Nest spends a lot of time scouring the web, figuring out what people are listening to and talking about. And then we do some math. Actually, we do a lot of math. Then we take the result of that math, and feed it into yet more math.

When our system has finished processing all of this music and what people are saying about it, one of the many numbers that pops out is a Discovery score for every song in the universe. The point of this number is to identify songs that are heating up right now, but which aren’t yet big hits, having been created by artists who are not yet established.

According to The Echo Nest Discovery (listen on Spotify), the following countries spawned the most relatively unknown artists that have recorded songs that people are only just now getting excited about.


Here’s the list of countries from the above Discovery map. We’ve bolded the islands, and will explain why later:

  1. Iceland (islands are bolded)
  2. Sweden
  3. Finland
  4. Norway
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Denmark
  7. Ireland
  8. United States
  9. Australia
  10. Netherlands
  11. New Zealand
  12. Canada
  13. Jamaica
  14. Belgium
  15. Austria
  16. Germany
  17. France
  18. Switzerland
  19. Puerto Rico
  20. Spain
  21. Poland
  22. Slovakia
  23. Israel
  24. Italy
  25. Greece
  26. South Korea
  27. Brazil
  28. Argentina
  29. Chile
  30. Mexico
  31. Romania
  32. Japan
  33. Russia
  34. South Africa
  35. Colombia
  36. Indonesia

Scandinavian countries claim the top four spots on our Discovery list, and five of the top ten. Perhaps there’s something about being stuck indoors making music in the winter, in a place that is already quite cold, that is conducive to making music that other people want to discover — or at least that’s what happened this year.

Now, about those islands. About a quarter of all countries in the world are island nations, according to Dana Ott as cited by Wikipedia. Our Discovery list contains about 19 percent islands, meaning that island nations are actually slightly underrepresented, although they do rank fairly high in terms of producing music that is just now being discovered.

Now, let’s look at where some more popular music comes from.


We can tell which songs are getting the most buzz – not just how they’re charting, or how many times they’ve been played, but how much people all over the world are talking about and sharing them. We call this buzz-measuring score “Hotttnesss” (listen on Spotify).

Glenn also ranked the world’s countries by the number of “hottt” artists they have right now in our list of the top 10K hottest songs, relative to their populations.


Once again, we’ve bolded the island countries — and just for kicks, italicized countries that are on peninsulas or otherwise are bordered by large bodies of water (i.e. they have fewer direct neighbors):

  1. Iceland (islands are bolded)
  2. Jamaica
  3. Puerto Rico
  4. Sweden (peninsulas are italicized)
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Guadeloupe
  7. Norway
  8. United States
  9. Finland
  10. Ireland
  11. Australia
  12. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  13. New Zealand
  14. Serbia
  15. Estonia 16 Canada
  16. Croatia
  17. Denmark
  18. Netherlands
  19. Belgium
  20. Turkey
  21. France
  22. Panama
  23. Germany
  24. Austria
  25. Spain
  26. Italy
  27. Romania
  28. Hungary
  29. Albania
  30. Portugal
  31. Greece
  32. Switzerland
  33. Israel
  34. Argentina
  35. Mexico
  36. Dominican Republic
  37. Czech Republic
  38. Colombia
  39. Cuba
  40. Poland
  41. Brazil
  42. Chile
  43. Japan
  44. Venezuela
  45. South Korea
  46. Malaysia
  47. Guatemala
  48. Philippines
  49. South Africa
  50. Morocco
  51. Thailand
  52. Vietnam
  53. Iran
  54. Algeria
  55. Russia
  56. Indonesia
  57. Nigeria
  58. Pakistan
  59. India

Iceland tops both lists. No other place in the world makes as much music that’s being discovered and generating buzz as does this particular island nation.

In fact, when it comes to releasing the songs generating the most buzz, climbing the charts the fastest, and making their creators famous, island nations ruled in our testing, claiming the top three spots on the list, and six of the top ten. A full 60 percent of the top 20 on the hottness list are either islands or somewhat island-ish, in that they are peninsulas or largely water-bounded.

McDonald’s research confirms that the legend of Jamaica and the United Kingdom exerting disproportionate musical influence over the world are true. Even more, it shows that when it comes to interesting the rest of the world in one’s music, it helps to be an island-dweller, Scandinavian, or both.