Happy New Year. 2016 will be another year marked by fear, tumult and political activism. We are beginning to experience “limits to growth” caused by dwindling natural resources, especially oil and water. Hopefully, you and your family are warm and well-fed, and have friends and laughter in your lives.
I spent most of my time this year editing and improving artist profiles. As the year wore on, I got kind of bored with the editing process, not to mention frustrated by how sloppy the early profiles were. My progress slowed to a crawl, and I finished editing “96. The Eagles” in early November. The first ninety-six profiles are in pretty good shape, but I still have another sixty profiles to edit, and another fifteen or so to create. At this point no guarantees I’ll finish everything. Next year I’ll probably choose selective profiles to work on, anything to stay motivated.
In November I began working through the entire music collection, and adding accurate, formatted data for each song. In particular, I am adding or verifying the composer(s), year of recording and musical genre, while also verifying which album each song represents. In addition, I am making sure I have a good, clean recording of that song. Back in 2005, the first few thousand songs were burned from my CD collection using a lowest sampling rate. Many of these songs have remastered, improved version available on iTunes.
This is the first time I’ve gone through the collection song by song, and I’m enjoying it. It has given me the opportunity to better understand the collection as a whole. Also, I’m trying to relax a bit, and not pressure myself so much to create a finished product. I am removing about 2-3% of the songs, while adding hundreds more for consideration. Working my way alphabetically by artist, I have reviewed just over 4000 songs, about 37-38% of the collection. I expect that it will take me three or four months to complete this exercise, at which point I will have an attractive, concise database for further analysis and discussion.
The average song rating is falling, while the quality of songs in the collection is improving. The rating criteria has gradually changed. Compare the breakdown of ratings since the last update at the end of 2012:
On September 13th, 2014:
Total Songs: 9646 songs
5 star songs: 77 (0.7%)
4 star songs: 679 (7.0%)
3 star songs: 2136 (22.1%)
2 star songs: 3996 (41.4%)
1 star songs: 2736 (28.4%)
0 star songs: 19 (0.2%)
Songs Currently Under Review: 21
Average Song Rating: 2.10 stars
Total Length/Size of The Perfect iPod Collection: 24.9 days/46.7 GB
On December 31st, 2015:
Total Songs: 10519 songs
5 star songs: 76 (0.7%)
4 star songs: 639 (6.6%)
3 star songs: 1912 (18.7%)
2 star songs: 4082 (39.9%)
1 star songs: 3495 (34.2%)
0 star songs: 14 (0.1%)
Songs Currently Under Review: 300
Average Song Rating: 1.99 stars
Total Length/Size of The Perfect iPod Collection: 27.3 days/55.8 GB
Since September 13th, 2014:
1733 songs added to the collection. Quite a few of these are higher quality versions of existing songs.
860 songs removed from the collection.
The average rating per song has continued to decrease. Five years ago it was about 2.4, but as I add new songs to the collection. They are generally assigned a one or two star rating. The quality of the collection is clearly better, and the rating criteria has changed. A one-star song is a song with significant merit, but I also want to keep the size of the collection relatively small. Nevertheless, I think the average rating has gotten too low, so I make efforts to grade a bit higher, even though the song ratings seem less important as the collection evolves.
Over the next year, I will keep “filling holes” in the collection, adding songs from various genres and eras that need better representation.
2015: New Music
I don’t keep up with new music very well. I’m too busy researching old music, and there’s so much new music to choose from. Every year I pay attention to NPR and Rolling Stone Magazine reviews, though I am finding Rolling Stone’s opinions diverging from my own. I place a high priority on traditional instruments in small band settings, where each musician’s voice can be heard. I like a wide variety of sounds, and a syncopated beat. So when 25, Adele’s new CD, with its highly orchestrated sound, earns five stars from Rolling Stone, I’m beginning to think Rolling Stone has lost their way. Adele is a lovely woman and a powerful singer, but her music sounds overproduced, lacks variety, and does not swing. I fear that this great talent will go the way of Whitney Houston and other great modern singers — into the hands of big business, where her talents will be underutilized in the pursuit of maximum profitability. I can only stand so many tearjerker ballads; give this woman a small, swinging band whose talent competes with that big voice, free her from the confines of songwriting royalties, and turn her loose. No more Whitney Houston nightmares of unrealized potential.
Currently I have added fifty-one new songs released in 2015. It doesn’t sound like many, but 10500 songs spread over a ninety year period averages out to about 110-120 per year. As I find more songs, it is likely that the number of 2015 songs will increase. For comparison, there are about eighty songs from 2014. Given my age (57), and the goal of collecting a broad cross-section of music, modern songs are added to fill holes, something that sounds fresh and different.
Late last summer I spent the day working with a pair of brothers who are sons of a good friend. They both like modern rap/hip-hop music, and after work, I asked them to pick twenty-five songs they thought were great. After listening to each song several times, I kept seven, including three by Kendrick Lamar. My primary objection to most of these songs was overuse of the N-word. I sent them a letter afterwards, thanking them for the suggestions, but making a case that songs where “n*****” is used over and over excludes me. It is socially unacceptable for me to use that word, I don’t want to use that word, and I don’t want to hear it over and over again. Besides, it’s lazy poetry, like fucking saying fuck all the time. Kendrick Lamar appears to be exceptional in this regard, by not relying on the N-word and the same tiresome subjects. Rap music can be cool, but like all music I like compelling lyrics, a melody, and fine music. The self-deprecating tradition of referring to one another as “n*****” is centuries old. I’m allowed to not like it. Perhaps more on this subject in a dedicated post.
Here is a short list of favorite songs released in 2015:
No One Is Alone, Anthony de Mare ★★
The Blade, Ashley Monroe ★★
I Buried Your Love Alive, Ashley Monroe ★★
Mar (Lo Que Siento), Bomba Estéreo ★★
Stepsister’s Lament, Cecile McLorin Salvant ★★
Whiskey And You, Chris Stapleton ★★
The God Of Loss, Darlingside ★★
Before The World Was Big, Girlpool ★★
Speed Trap Town, Jason Isbell ★★
Over And Even, Joan Shelley ★★
King Kunta, Kendrick Lamar ★★
Amor De Lejos, Los Hijos De La Montaña ★★
El Tamalito, Los Hijos De La Montaña ★★
Stories We Could Tell, The Mavericks ★★
Pardon Me, The Mavericks ★★
Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind, Rhiannon Giddens ★★
Should Have Known Better, Sufjan Stevens ★★
Biscuits, Kacey Musgraves ★★
For me, the artist of the year is Rhiannon Giddens, the former lead singer of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a traditional folk band known for playing old-time music. In essence, the band dropped the name and started to support her as the lead attraction. Here Ms. Giddens sings “She’s Got You” at the Grand Old Opry, my favorite new video of the year:
Another highlight for 2015 is Mono by The Mavericks, a veteran country rock band. In this nice audience video, the band plays “Stories We Could Tell” in Grass Valley, CA last May.
Cecile McLorin Salvant has a growing reputation as a great young jazz singer. Here she is in 2013, singing the traditional coal mining song “John Henry”:
There’s a nice country music renaissance. There are some fine young female songwriters out there. In this official video, Kacey Musgraves sings, “Mind your own biscuits and live will be gravy.”
I’ll be back in a few months with some good statistics, and maybe something interesting to say about it.