Innovative study from The Echo Nest says South Carolina might be most spiritual state

Photo Courtesy of Josh Dickson.
Photo Courtesy of Josh Dickson.

A new music marketing study just might have proven that the most religious state in America is, drum roll please, South Carolina. That’s right, the “Palmetto State,” could arguably lead the way in U.S. spirituality.
At least that’s what data from a recent study by the Somerville, Mass., tech firm The Echo Nest seems to suggest.

The Echo Nest is a music intelligence platform that, according to a 2011 headline by Fast Company writer David Xan, “Makes Pandora Look Like a Transistor Radio.”

Tristan Jehan and Brian Whitman, two Media Ph.D.’s from MIT, founded the company in 2005, as part of their MIT dissertations. The company uses data mining from numerous entertainment clients to provide their customers with high quality information and research about music fans’ interests, tendencies and tastes. Customers of The Echo Nest clientele include over 430 major music apps, services and entertainment companies. Customers range from Spotify to MTV to Coca-Cola.

“Leading music services, editorial, video and social media networks, connected device manufacturers and big brands use our platform and solutions to build smarter music experiences that help fans to better discover, share and interact with the music they love,” the company’s website reads.

Along the way, Jehan, Whitman and their team take the time to conduct some interesting research for future students and the general public. This research is often made available on the company’s website in the form of blog posts. Their latest blog post, posted Wednesday, Feb. 25, was a study on “Music Fans’ Most Distinctive Artists by State.”

The key word here is distinctive. The Echo Nest set about determining which artists fans in different states listened to and mentioned the most, as set in comparison to other states. This is not the strictly a favorite artist by state, but rather the most representative artist that sets the state apart from the rest of the union. This information was based on The Echo Nest’s collection of over 35 million songs and 2.7 million artists and anonymous information gathered from over 432 apps.

Apart from the entertainment value found in the information about a given state’s pop culture and their type of music market (for example, Tennessee’s most distinctive artist is Memphis rapper Juicy J), the research also shed light on an intriguing bit of religious data.

According to data, South Carolina’s most distinctive artist was Australian worship band Hillsong United. This makes South Carolina the only state to have a Christian worship band listed as its most distinctive artist.

In fact, only Oklahoma and Louisiana ranked with worship bands in their top 10, (“Hillsong United” was the worship band of choice for them as well), with all other states having worship bands fall well outside their top 40.

So what exactly does this tell us?

A couple of conclusions are possible. South Carolina’s population could on average listen to much more worship music than other states. The data backs this up, as a greater proportion of South Carolinians are listening to this worship band when compared to the rest of the country.

Quite simply, their music tastes seem to imply that South Carolinians are more focused on worship music than the rest of the country.

Only Louisiana and Oklahoma come even close to South Carolina’s musical piety, with the rest of the United States falling well behind these three states’ religious music listening numbers.

However, this study could also highlight just how poor the quality of Christian religious music is right now. While “Hillsong United” is indeed a popular religious band, proved by the fact that they showed up on three states’ top 40 lists, they seem to be alone at the top of a very small peak in the overall landscape of the music industry. This peak being South Carolina.

This study only gives the ability to reach theoretical conclusions. However, the potential for applying modern technology and massive consumer application data to future innovative studies in fields such as worship is noteworthy.

This is what makes The Echo Nest a company worth keeping on your radar.

It also should cause the academic community to take note of this study and others like it, in order to begin thinking of inventive ways that it can use the massive amounts of data that smart phone apps create to further scholarly studies. Behind-the-scenes marketing agencies are already compiling this data and using it to their advantage. Companies like SocialBro and departments like Google Analytics among others are compiling even more massive amounts of data for their business purposes.

If a private tech firm can come up with data about South Carolina’s religious musical interests as compared to the rest of the country, the academic community should be excited for the new opportunities increasingly becoming available for their own use.

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