Richmond's Unique Sounds. View and interact wth the map at the end of this article.

Richmond’s Unique Sounds. View and interact wth the map at the end of this article.

In thinking about the unique sounds of Richmond, VA, we have explored the local and on-the-street sounds of the city. But how does Richmond compare in the music we listen to at home? Does Richmond prefer chart-topping hits, or do we listen to underground, eclectic sounds? How is our local preference scaled up to and influenced by national music tastes? While exploring this question, I came across this web map hosted by CartoDB (an open-source mapping site) which highlights major cities of the world and links to Spotify playlists for each city.

Map of the world's cities linked to their unique Spotify playlists.

Map of the world’s cities linked to their unique Spotify playlists.

These playlists include 100 uniquely distinct songs played in each city. Spotify explains this song selection:

What do we mean by “distinctive?” This is music that people in each city listen to quite a bit, which people in other cities also do not listen to very much. So it is, exactly, the music that makes them different from people everywhere else.

The playlist is updated twice monthly to reflect the changing musical preferences of Spotify listeners.

After perusing the playlist, I realized I had heard a few of the songs or at least recognized the artists. There were only a few chart-topping songs or artists, like Rihanna and The Lumineers. But I began to wonder why Richmonders liked these songs more than others and how these sounds came together with Richmond’s musical sub-culture. Being a cartographer, my obvious next step was to create a map to visualize this relationship.

I started by creating a spreadsheet of all the artists and their songs, realizing that many artists had multiple songs featured, meaning Richmond clearly has some favorite artists. I added the genre of each artist and their origin to track the intersection of the artist’s local development with Richmond’s culture. I also noted artists that had three or more songs featured on the playlist, including collaborations.

I visualized these points on a map also using CartoDB, making symbology choices to allow the points to take the focus. Each point is clickable, so the viewer can see the name of the artist, plus the song(s) featured and their genre. I also symbolized popular artists in green, rather than purple like the rest of the points, to highlight them.

The large majority of genres of these songs were R&B, Hip Hop, Rap, and related genres. The other popular genre, though with many fewer songs, were those related to Indie and Folk genres. Gospel and worship music and country round out the list. I found this particularly interesting, knowing Richmond’s proportionately large Black population and how often we hear that “Richmond is so hipster.” Richmond’s demographic seems to be reflected in the genres of this playlist, as classified by these genres’ stereotypical listeners. By exploring Spotify, one can also see that many of the bands and artists come up on the artist pages under “Related Artists”, suggesting a niche group of artists, rather than a disjointed mix of songs.

Screenshot of Lil Yachty's Spotify artist profile. Many of the artists also featured on Richmond's playlist are featured under Lil Yachty's Related Artists.

Screenshot of Lil Yachty’s Spotify artist profile. Many of the artists also featured on Richmond’s playlist are featured under Lil Yachty’s Related Artists.

Atlanta, GA was by far the most popular city of origination of these artists with 13 artists from the city and 2 nearby. The New York City area (including Harlem and Brooklyn) came in second with the most artists. Other popular cities included Philadelphia, Memphis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto, Canada. Interestingly, some of these cities, particularly Atlanta, NYC, and Chicago, are known to produce R&B and Hip Hop artists, which makes their presence less surprising. Los Angeles and Tennessee as a whole are known to produce artists in general.

One of the more popular yet also famous artists on the playlist was The Lumineers. Most Univeristy of Richmond students know that their lead singer, Wesley Schultz, was a UR student before forming the band. This made me wonder if their place on the list is a result of local Spider Pride, or Richmond’s “hipster”scene? Or both. I also found that one artist, Lucy Dacus, is a Richmond native, touting her origin all over her social media. I wonder then if she coincidentally appeared on this list too, or if Richmonders have a special place in their heart for those that rise from our beautiful city.

View the playlist: