Intense listening

Here’s an interesting idea for organizing your music library from my pal Len.

Instead of shoe-horning music into arbitrary and fluid genres or using the freeform grouping tag, Len uses the five-star rating field in iTunes as an intensity indicator. This breaks down generic distinctions entirely and focuses on the content of the music instead. It isn’t just BPM; determining a song’s intensity also factors in loudness.

One star is the most low-key: nearly all your ambient and new age tunes, some classical, some jazz, etc. Two stars would encompass things like ambient downtempo, much of the blues, etc. And so on up to five stars which contains your drill-and-bass and deathmetal.

But the point here is that the stars are not genre markers. Classical tracks could live in any one of the five star categories. As could most genres. You merely filter your music based on intensity. This makes sense to me because it represents how I feel before I put a song on. Rarely do I think, gee, I’d love to hear some smooth jazz right now. More often I am merely craving something downbeat and relaxed. This could be a country tune for all I care (though I certainly hope it isn’t).

More importantly this frees you from the shackles of taxonomy. Is that ambient or electronica? Can I call a mashup rock-and-roll if it contains a Mangione interlude? Etc.

This method is labor-intensive, no doubt. Instead of marking a whole album with a genre you have to listen to each track and note its intensity. But it can be done programatically. Tangerine is an OSX app that will crawl your library and pop the BPM into track metadata. It also allows you to create playlists by choosing intensity curves. You could imagine a smart playlist (actually I bet it would have to be an applescript) that assigned star ratings to all tunes in a certain BPM range.

How do you organize your library? Or, more specifically, what is your route into it? By artist, by genre, by intensity?

One response to “Intense listening”

  1. Darren says :

    That’s a really interesting organisational strategy, one I may copy. I completely agree that genre is very rarely a suitable way of selecting what to play.
    The trouble is I think there may be other scales I’d want to represent using the stars, like song temperature or time of day? I can definitely think of songs that are morning, lunch time or night time ones.
    At least with intensity it probably applies to all songs. I wouldn’t be able to say what time of day some tracks are appropriate for.