Thinking too much about things:

The Middle Ground of Music and Numbers

I like fiddling with numbers; they’re quite significant. Mile times over a year, projected grades after scores are up, these are mental games for me.

There’s a specific subset of numbers that I care about a hell of a lot too much, so much as to write a whole post about them:

iTunes play counts for my music.

I enjoy looking at my 25 most played songs on iTunes and treating them like regularly changing rankings.

“Oh, looks like Hans Zimmer is dominating the board, with 9 of 25 songs, and in distant second we have Rahat Fateh Ali Khan with 2.”

Hans Zimmer himself, one of the greatest composers of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Or, “It’s no doubt the undisputed champion here is Man of Steel’s This Is Clark Kent, but if we take a closer look here, John, we’ll see that Interstellar’s soundtrack has taken up a lot of slots in the top 10, whaddaya think about that?”

What? What’s that look for? What’s the point of having statistics if you can’t create commentary around them? God, everyone’s a critic.

Either ways, all these conversations with myself have highlighted a couple of flaws about iTunes’ system, and I’ve gone to the trouble of numbering them 1 through 3.

1. It’s too simple, mate.

When you say a 1 minute song has 100 plays and a 7 minute song has 15 plays, the 7 minute is very far down the list in terms of plays. But when you think of the amount of time this particular melody has existed in your life, the 7 minute song has taken up a greater amount of breaths than the 1 minute song.

A better metric, for people like me who care altogether far too much, is a multiple of the plays by the length of the song. Essentially, this number reflects the amount of time the song has been played.

This number better reflects the importance this song has in my life.

2. It requires practically the full song to be played

iTunes doesn’t consider it a full play until you’ve only got basically 2% left on the song. If you change songs with say 20 seconds left, the entire play is basically zilch. So if I play Sketchbook from Man of Steel, a 28 minute behemoth, for 24 minutes, it’s not considered a full play.

Well that’s a pot of dirty napkins, isn’t it?

A certain percentage of the runtime should be what is considered a play; for myself, I think 33% is perfect. Because sometimes a play is not start to finish. Perhaps only a part of the song was what you needed. Or you changed your mind, but the time this song gave you should still be recorded somewhere.

Of course, all this becomes a hell of a lot easier if we measured ‘how long’ each song has been played, as in #1. Nikhil, you are a genius…

3. When you get a new Mac, the numbers are gone…

Get some Kleenex up in this bizsnatch, things are going to get emotional here.

My fascination with these numbers started when I was sixteen, and I’d built a beautiful set of numbers around songs that meant a lot to me. Hey Jude was my anthem for junior year, it racked up close to a hundred plays. The exceptionally sad Evenstar, part of the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack, was my go to depressing music for ‘those days’. It held at least 120 plays.

Then one day, my laptop decided to stop working. The CPU was corrupted, the memory just wasn’t having it.

New Macbook, new CPU. All the songs were backed up, but the plays weren’t. Over 2,000 songs, soundtracks, and instrumentals were downloaded at once as if they were fresh from the music store.

Zero plays for all of them.

I’d listened to my own iTunes library for years, Holmes. If I had to restore the numbers to what they were, these songs would need to be played nonstop for at least two months.

But I’m a different person now. I’ve found new anthems, new ‘those day’ songs. Whereas once Evenstar had a place in my top 25, today it sits at a measly 7 plays. Somewhere around 305th place.

The album artwork for the album Evenstar came from

These songs statistics were part of my life as much as childhood photos should be. The statistics said, “This song really mattered to Nikhil, he played it over and over again.” The music we listen to defines us, and the top 25 most played songs communicated a lot to me.

It’s like losing a childhood album in a fire.

Yes, they should make these numbers carry over, I argue the statistics should be optional to transfer over with the songs.

But not all is hopeless, Holmes.

A forest fire is essential for growth. Those who see it as destructive only look in the short term.

And therein lies the life lesson.

Music isn’t beautiful because it lasts forever, it’s beautiful because it was there in the time that I needed it. By that metric, my music library will be eternally a brilliant collection of some of the best music I have had the good fortune to hear.

God bless you, Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore, James Horner, Alexandre Dumas, and all of you other wickedly good composers. Your music has touched one young individual deeply, and he is indebted.

If you were wondering, this entire post was written with Evenstar playing in the background. “Hopefully, John, tonight’s the night Evenstar makes its big comeback into the top 200s. It’s no top 25, but hey, we’ve been waiting a long time for this gal to get some time in the limelight…”

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