New research suggests that “catchy” songs propagate among a population similar to viruses. Listening to and downloading new music among a group of people resembles the spread of a viral disease among new people in a community.
The study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society used data collected from song downloads on mobile phones between 2007 and 2014. The database contained over 1.4 billion individual downloads from the now-defunct music streaming service MixRadio.
The researchers focussed on the top 1000 songs downloaded between the data collection period and measured if the trends of song downloads fit into the standard model of epidemic disease or susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) model.
The standard model of epidemic disease was developed to understand the way infectious diseases jump from person to person within a community. Hence, using the model to study the underlying mechanisms at work when songs go viral is possible.
The authors writing in the paper say popular songs are often described as “catchy” or “viral,” implying they can infect people. We have found that description is more apt than previously recognized. They found some songs fit perfectly into the SIR model, with similar social mechanisms that propagate infectious disease for the spread of the song.
According to the Guardian, researchers calculated basic reproduction numbers (RO) for different music genres. RO represents the ability of the disease to spread, with some caveats, through a population.
With a score of over 3,430, Electronica was the most transmissible genre of music, making it 190 times more likely to spread than measles. Dance music and metal scored only 2.8 and 3.7 RO, respectively.
Although catchy songs likely go viral due to their inherent musical structure or unique tune, recent studies have shown that communities influence what songs go viral.