How 51 Countries Listen



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Travel is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s also expensive, in terms of time, money, carbon, and hassle. But it’s worth it. Seen in context, our differences connect us.

No need to book a travel agent just yet — data alchemist and principal engineer Glenn McDonald for The Echo Nest at Spotify contrived a new map of the world that you can play from your browser, so you can listen to the distinctive sound of 51 countries around the world. It also works on phones and tablets.

This is not the most popular music in each country (you can see that here). Rather, these 100-song playlists consist of music that each of these countries listens to disproportionately to the others:

Click the map to hear the distinctive sound of 51 countries.
Click to hear the distinctive sound of 51 countries.

The Distinctive Music of 51* Countries

The people in these countries prefer this music more than people anywhere else, which is what makes this music distinctive to that country, outside of what’s generally popular all over the place.

This “distinctive” method of identifying music associated with these countries involves ranking music popular in each country and then running that against the flipped over rankings for all the other countries. It produces such interesting, defining results in part because it focuses specifically on music you likely won’t have heard — but that people in each of these countries have much more likely heard than people anywhere else. That’s what lets these playlists take you on a headphone trip to any of these countries.

You might notice that we didn’t put these countries on a geographical map as we did when we mapped musical weather systems in the United States. We did, however, put them on a map. Instead of longitude (the X axis), we have mechanized-sounding music (repetitive techno, click tracks) on to the “west,” and more organic-sounding music to the “east.”

And instead of latitude (the Y axis), we have smoother sounding music in the “north” and more bouncy-sounding music in the “south.”


Bonus Round: A Six-Dimensional Map of Music

Click for a six-dimensional map of the world based on musical attributes.
Click for a six-dimensional map of the world based on musical attributes.

McDonald recently took this concept further, to create a six-dimensional map of genres. In addition to the X and Y axis you can see above, he depicts three other acoustic attributes with color and another with size.

What you are seeing part of to the right, with your human eyes, is part of a six-dimensional map of music genres.

You can click on any genre on that map to see the bands in it, also color-coded by audio attributes.

“I arrived at this particular combination through not-at-all-exhaustive experimentation, so maybe I’ll come up with a better one, but for the moment red is energy, green is dynamic variation, and blue is instrumentalness,” explains McDonald.


Back to Those 51 Countries

Now you can listen like an Argentinian, an Australian, an Austrian, and so on — 51 countries in total. Here they are alphabetically, in addition to the map view:

Also of possible interest:

*Spotify added its 58th country recently, but we need lots of listening in order to perform these calculations, and didn’t have enough play data from Andorra, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, or Nicaragua.