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Researchers say that music spreads like a virus, and electronica is the most infectious genre of all

Music virus
(Image credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Given the events of the past 18 months, you’ve probably had enough of hearing about the transmission of viruses, so we can only apologise as we tell you about new research that indicates that music is spread in a similar way.

The Guardian reports that mathematicians, led by Dora Rosati - former graduate in maths and statistics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada - have discovered that the SIR model, the standard for measuring the spread of epidemic disease, can be used to predict how many times a song will be downloaded.

It seems that people have the ability to ‘infect’ others with their music tastes - by telling them about a song, sharing it on social media or playing it in front of them, for example.

“With a disease, if you come into contact with someone who is ill, then you have a certain chance of catching that disease,” says Rosati. “With songs, it looks very similar. The big difference is that for songs, it doesn’t necessarily have to be physical contact - it could be that my friend used this cool new song in their Instagram story, so now I’m going to go and find it.”

By applying the modelling, researchers were able to calculate a basic reproduction number for different genres of music. It turns out that electronica - the kind you listen to at home rather than dance to in a club - is the most transmissible, with an Ro of 3,430. That makes it around 190 times more transmissible than measles.

The scores for several other popular types of music were far lower - the likes of hip-hop (310), rock (129), and pop (35). Dance music (2.8) and metal (3.7) are even less contagious.

It’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t mean that more electronica songs are downloaded than anything else (they’re not), but that this kind of music spreads faster among people are are ‘susceptible’ to it, possibly because they have closer connections online or are more passionate about it than fans of other music genres.

Reports that a team of scientists is working on a vaccine to protect against tropical house are unsubstantiated.

If you like reading academic papers, you can check out the full study on the Royal Society website.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology. 

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