6794/0 | 52.74

Over a year ago, I set out on a quest to rate all the songs in my iTunes library. Don’t ask me why–I’m a sucker for data, so I had dreams of all the cool scripts I could write and patterns I could find if each song in my library were categorized according to how much I liked it.

I’m not sure exactly how many songs I had then, but it was probably in the vicinity of 5,000. So even if I rated one song a second, it would have taken an hour and a half. What I decided to do, though, to be fair, was to listen to each song fully before rating it. If an average song is 3 minutes, we need to multiply that 1.5 hours by 180–270 hours! I was somewhat optimistic that this 270 hours would pass by quickly while I was working or what not.

I soon discovered that rating songs one-by-one in iTunes was a somewhat inefficient task, given that the only way to rate something was to go into iTunes and click on the little star for that particular song. Not a bad method if you’re already in iTunes, but if you are working on something else and would rather not have your workflow interrupted every 3 minutes, it’s less than optimal. So I wrote some software (iRateTunes) that let me rate songs with keystrokes, without going to iTunes.

(I also created a little app that showed me info about my iTunes library in the OS X status bar, including the number of songs left to be rated, and the total amount of time I’d spent listening to songs in iTunes. This was so I could monitor my progress)

Still, even with these tools, it was slow going. It turned out that the mental energy required to rate song after song was somewhat exhausting, so if I could get 100 done per day, that was good. Most days I got far fewer songs rated, and some not at all, depending on the intensity required by my work. An even more exhausting task was keeping a consistent standard with which to rate the songs. There are all sorts of options–should the ratings be relative to just the songs in my library? Or should it be relative to all the songs in pop culture? Should I try to keep a nice bell curve, so that there are about as many 1-star songs as 5-star songs, and far more 3-stars than either? In the end, I’m not sure I was super-consistent.

But anyway. Today, over a year after I began, my iTunesCount status bar reads: “6794/0 | 52.74” This means that I have 6794 songs in my library, and 0 are unrated! Finally! The 52.74 lets me know that the total amount of song air time with this iTunes library is 52.74 days (I created the library in July of 2004). That’s 1,265 hours! And I don’t let iTunes run while I’m not there listening.

Stats per rating category:
1-star: 443 songs (6.5%)
2-star: 801 songs (11.8%)
3-star: 2752 songs (40.5%)
4-star: 1836 songs (27%)
5-star: 962 songs (14.2%)

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

5 replies on “6794/0 | 52.74”

That is so completly awesome. I sympathize with every aspect of this entry. Particularly about the daunting task of rating so many unrated songs. My problem is that music seems to enter my library faster than I can even listen to it all, let alone rate it. The plus side of this is that, since the music in my library is most likely something I like (I put it there), I can put it in shuffle mode (which its in 90% of the time) and often songs I havent heard before come up and I happen to like them. This is such a good feeling because its like I’m passively discovering good music! (though I guess I already discovered it, even if I havent listened to it all the way through).

Which brings me to the point that I’m not nearly as disciplined as you. I tend to rate songs in the 1st minute because I feel like I have a sense of it. A down side to rating while working, like I do, is that its harder to pay close attention to lyrical content, meaning sometimes i’ll rate a stupid song high or pass over a gem because i wasnt paying close enough attention to the words.

My rating standard is pretty easy to adhere to:
5 stars – I absolutely adore it, musically and lyrically. Also I am proud to like the song (no guilty pleasures get 5 stars)
4 stars – I have some sort of good feeling toward the song and I would be happy to put it on a compilation for someone.
3 stars – I have no feelings about the song. Its a song that I’ll just as likely FF’d as listen to all the way through.
2 stars – I dont really like the song, but it stays in the library (sometimes because its part of a beloved artist’s catalogue, sometimes becuase I have faith that someday I will like it more)
1 star – Delete from library. Because its often a bit harder to delete songs as your listening to them (if youre in a playlist you have to switch to the library and find the song, or if you arent even using the iTunes interface and instead navigating you music with a taskbar app) I indicate a hated song with a one star. Then I can do periodic Spring cleaning on the songs I dont like.

So anyway, I dont think I’m anywhere close to being where you are. I think I have a little under 1000 songs unrated out of about 7800 (i couldnt tell you now becuase I’m on my work computer, on which i keep only about half my music).

Speaking of too much music, as of July or so, my library outgrew my iPod. The first person to get me a ≥40G iPod for Christmas wins.

I like your standard, Chris, but it’s a bit too strict for me. Mine would be yours with the star measurements shifted up about .5 per description. Here’s mine:

5 stars – I’m pretty much always in the mood to listen to this song / I’d get really excited if it came on in a random rotation of my entire playlist / I’m very proud to like this song

4 stars – I consider this song very good, and would put it on compilations / I consider this song very good, but it’s new to my library and I don’t want to jump the gun by saying it’s a favorite

3 stars – This song is alright. I probably wouldn’t recommend it passionately, but I enjoy listening to it.

2 stars – This song is just OK. I’d just as soon FF’d as listen to it. Maybe a 60% chance of FF’d.

1 star – I don’t like this song, but I’m keeping it because I own the CD and I want my whole CD library on my iTunes / The song’s OK but I’d never want it to come up in a rotation (like Christmas songs for example) / It’s not really a song (like language learning audio files)

Also, I don’t really take lyrics into account. If I happen to know and really love a song’s lyrics (e.g. Diamond Ring, by Pedro the Lion), it could bump it up. And, as often happened with Christian rock songs, if I found the lyrics particularly saccharine or irritating, the rating would be demoted for lyrical reasons. But for the most part, I was going by how the song made me feel, and the lyrics only insofar as they played into that.

how can you not take lyrics more seriously? The world was created with a word, it was with the challenge of the meaning of words that the serpent tempted eve and it is by the Word we are re-created. Words are intensely important and it drives me mad when people listen to music without paying attention to the words. (Please don’t whistle while you read this comment, else you may be distracted from what I’m saying).

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