Scotty! I Need Labels!

I’ve been tooling around with iTunes, trying get my digital music organized in preparation for something I’ll euphemistically call my tax refund. Though I have to agree with general consensus that the iTunes interfaces kicks extreme backside, I still think there’s room for improvement.

Every band known to mankind has uttered the phrase “well, it’s really hard to categorize what we do” and lived to regret it. Fantasies of originality notwithstanding, no band is impervious to being peg-holed; sooner or later, everyone gets stuck into a category, even if they’re stuck there in solitude. The problem is that making this category meaningful requires some variety of Star-Trekian pseudo-category, existing in the subspace that exists between and intersects with other categories.

Last I checked, Gene Roddenberry wasn’t a part of the iTunes dev team.

If such a facility existed in iTunes, it’d allow you to do really neat stuff. Right now, half my music is labeled pretty generically: Rock. But what if I could mix categories to better reflect the style of music? At a basic level, you should at least be able to assign multiple categories to a song, but why stop there? A more sophisticated system would allow you to say something like “this song is 20% rock and 80% punk”. Or better yet, you could take it to extremes, narrowing categories to comparisons to other bands – “this song is 20% Radiohead, 30% Alan Parsons Project, and 50% Pink Floyd”. At any time, you could queue up music to suit your current taste.

Still not enough?

Then what about augmenting Smart Playlists to generate playlists not only on static song data, such as song name, year or category, but also allow Smart Playlists to talk to other data sources? For example, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to tell iTunes to “queue up only songs that contain the names of cities in California or relate to California”, using MapPoint as a data source? This is something that might have been appropriate for my drive down to Silicon Valley. Or “queue up songs based on my current location?” Imagine iTunes being smart enough to queue up “Walking in Memphis” when you’re…walking in Memphis! Or “Walking on Sunshine” when your iPod detects you’re feeling especially happy? Talk about a soundtrack for life!

The final step would be to make the leap to tying iTunes to your life completely. We all have songs that trigger memories of particular times in our lives – if projects like My Life Bits succeed in allowing people to capture all digital assets the generate during their lifetime, wouldn’t it make sense to capture what music you were listening to at a certain point in your life? Instant reminiscence!

Yeah, it’d be cool. But instead, here I sit, using single categories and dumb Smart Playlists like a sucker.

iTunes’ Music Madness

It’s been a bit hectic, what with the final two weeks of the MBA approaching, but somewhere in there I managed to download iTunes for Windows. A millionth of a second after launching the newly-installed application, I proceeded to uninstall WinAmp, saying my goodbye quickly so as not to betray my lack of emotion at its departure from my hard-drive. You know Apple is onto something when not only am I deleting the first application I’ve installed on any new machine for the past five years, but even my mother-in-law is looking at buying an iPod.

Now, I’m not one to advocate or admit to mass copyright piracy via a public medium, so let’s just say that I have a sizable digital music collection and leave it at that. But, needless to say, iTunes makes my music addiction a bit more manageable. I can sort! I can shuffle! I can even track which songs I really like, in case I get smacked in the head and forget! It’s lovely. Other people apparently think so too. While pretending to get some work done in the university library, I fired up iTunes only to be surprised by the number of other computers sharing out their music using the application’s built-in streaming capabilities. As Inspector Gadget said to Penny: Yowza!

The most interesting part about trawling through other people’s iTunes libraries is observing the variety of music to which people listen: Mozart, Pink, AC/DC, Britney Spears, Oscar Peterson, and so on. And that’s on one machine. People are shamelessly mixing and matching musical genres in their playlists with wild abandon – crazy! It’s refreshing to see so much variety in people’s musical tastes, even if some of the combinations are liable to make them as sick as a drink made from Scotch, Vodka, and Gin and served from an unclean toilet bowl. To those musical pioneers who are about to mix Joni Mitchell with a side of AC/DC and some Pavarotti: I salute you!

Apparently, my acceptance for this musical cross-breeding is not shared by all, and the latest Apple-inspired revolution has an ugly name: playlistism. That’s right, we’ve reached the level of social sophistication where judging a person on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, and political affiliation is not enough. We’ve pushed the boundary: now we can judge you by your previously-secret addiction to kitschy show tunes! Point and laugh everybody!