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Jocularity? Jocularity?!?

Your Humble Blogger was considering writing about the recent death of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified the five stages of feeding a two-year old (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), but I think instead it’s time for something truly frivolous.

So, as this article in the NYTimes coincided, more or less, with my losing 6,000 song ratings again, I’ll write about music. Oh, and I won’t seize the opportunity to write about the stupidity of hesaid-shesaid-ism. No, I’ll write about music.

Or at least about this whole listening-to-music-via-computer thang. I’ve been doing it for something like three years, now, and it’s been two or more since I essentially stopped listening to music any other way. On the other hand, I have never managed to complete the ratings, even for the Jazz, Klezmer and Rock. That’s not due to my adding new stuff to the hard drive, which I do only sparingly these days, but to (have I mentioned this before?) having twice lost all the ratings I had given. Feh. So take any ratings-related stuff I say with that in mind.

Ratings, actually, was one of my conceptual difficulties with the whole thing. When I think of rating a song from one to five stars, I expect to do it based on how much I like the song. But that’s not what rating songs is about; I’m not starting a Music Hall O’ Fame to spark discussions with my friends and neighbors. I’m laying the groundwork for setting up mixes. So the rating is not one-to-five greatness, but one-to-five mixability. I think the Monty Python Barbershop Quarter singing “Sit on My Face” is great, but I don’t want it to play in the middle of a mix. Nor do I want to hear Tom Waits doing one or another brilliant spoken-word ramble, nor do I want to hear the Finale to La Cage. Too jarring, too distracting. Mostly, I have the music going while I am writing, or reading, or playing: the extent to which I want to pay attention is to say ‘Good song!’ every three minutes or so, and perhaps sing along without paying attention. Not too much drama, not too much funny business, no matter how much I like the song.

Some of that, of course, can be handled with genre: I don’t pull from Musicals or Novelty (or Children’s Music or Early Music or Classical or Xmas music) for my general listening mix. I could well create a genre of Unmixable, for songs I like but want to exclude from the mix. When I go to rate the song, I could change the genre; if I want to listen to those, it’ll be because they’ve earwormed me and I can search for them, or because I’ve put on the album. I could do that, but I don’t. I could also subdivide my genres a lot more than I do. Really, I’ve just got Rock, Jazz and Klezmer; I don’t have a Jazz Instrumentals, a Jazz with Vocals, a 30s Pop, a Big Band, or a Combos category. I could, but the only point would be if I want to make mixes specifically including or excluding those; I don’t see the point of doing it just to make my list more informative.

What I really should do is create a subdivision of Rock (with Profanity), or one of Rock (too loud whilst my Perfect Non-Reader is sleeping), or one of Jazz (company won’t enjoy), or one of Children’s Music (works in a mix). I don’t really mind, at home, if my Perfect Non-Reader sings along with “Heck of a Hat”, but I don’t think the librarians want her growling “Sharpest motherfucker in the joint/other motherfuckers stop and point” even if she sounds more like Shirley Temple than Dicky Barrett. As the comprehension grows, I might well put more songs into the Not Around the Children genre (do I want to explain what is meant by “Kicking the Gong Around”, or “Triggeration”?), and might want to add a mix of grown-up songs the child likes (If it’s the Andrews Sisters singing Mairzy Doats, should it be in the Children’s Music category? What about Rosemary Clooney singing “Sweet Betsy from Pike”?)

And, of course, there’s the whole question of what I want from a mix. Certainly, one of the things I like best about the Big Shuffle (all JKR songs except the ones I’ve excluded, totaling some 400 hours of music) is that I often hear songs that I only like a little, but haven’t heard in forever. At fifty hours (or so) of that a week, I can get through the whole thing in two months; two months of each song once and only once. But I like a bunch of songs enough that I want to hear them more than once every two months. I could put together a mix of faves and near-faves no repeats in a day, or even two days in a row, but probably each song twice a week, and frankly, I could listen to my favorite songs twice a week pretty much forever.

The cool thing about computers and algorithms is that I can make a bunch of conditions, and listen to my favorites twice a week, and my near-favorites twice a month, and pad the rest with good songs, once each until I’ve cycled through the whole six thousand. Sadly, there would be an awful lot of good songs I won’t hear for six months.

And, once I get everything rated and done, and if I don’t have to do it all again right away, I’ll probably want to listen to some Broadway cast albums, and some early music, which I haven’t done in forever, which means shutting off the mix. The only answer, I suppose, is to like fewer songs, or to spend more time near the computer.



I'm assuming that you're using iTunes?

One thing that the article seemed to miss is the fact that you can create normal playlists (no Smart Playlists needed) just by dragging songs into a folder in iTunes. Sure, if you have 10,000 songs, you might miss some of the ones you want—but if you don't want inappropriate ones to come up, playlists are the way to go.

But Smart Playlists can help too. Did you know you can create a Smart Playlist based on words in the Comments text box for a song? For example, when I have two similar versions of a song, I select one of them, press Command+I, select the Info section, and type "Repeat" in the Comments box (without quotation marks). So I have a Smart Playlist that consists of all songs with the word "Repeat" in Comments.

It's not quite as nice as having customizable keywords, but it's a similar effect. So you could use the Comments field to categorize songs semi-automatically. I'm not sure there's any real advantage to this over just dragging them into non-Smart playlists, but it might help you keep track of what playlists a given song is in.

I use a complicated system to ensure that for songs rated 3 stars or less, I don't hear them more than about once every six months, while for songs rated 4 or 5 stars, they can come up as often as every two months. (I don't like repetition, even for songs I love—if I hear a song too many times in too short a period, I stop liking it as much.) Then I have a separate Smart Playlist for songs I haven't heard in the past year, so I can be sure to listen to those. More or less the kind of system you described in your second-to-last paragraph.

Unfortunately, my system relies heavily on last-played date, so if I listen to a whole album at once, it means I won't hear most of the songs on it for six months; I'd rather let the songs on an album be spread out, even though it means I never hear the album all the way through any more.

...There's one other answer in addition to the ones you mentioned at the end there: get a portable music player! :)

...Re ratings: what happens to cause them to disappear? That would suck. Can you back up your music, and restore from backup? If you're not adding new music regularly, you could probably even back up your iTunes Music Library file (assuming you use iTunes) and not the rest of the music, and I think that would keep the ratings you've already made, so if you lost 'em, you could restore that backup. But if you do add music regularly, I don't recommend this approach. ...But you could use the "Export Library" command to achieve a similar effect in a more official sort of way.

The first two times through the ratings were on Real Player. I've stopped using it for my library, now. I actually like the look and feel of it better than iTunes, but for some reason it can't handle my library. This time, I'm using iTunes; do you know if I decide to switch again whether iTunes ratings are readable by the other jukes? Oh, probably not.

Using the Comments sounds good. My problem is (a) I don't like the proliferation of playlists and smart playlists that iTunes encourages, and (2) I tend to listen to ten or twenty songs and then go back and rate them all at once. That means I am less likely to add Comments, or drag songs into playlists, or do anything of that kind. It's possible that after I finish rating all the songs this time (assuming it holds) I'll start getting fancier.

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