Ratings Criteria — Updated, September, 2014

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 December 29th, 2012:

Total Songs: 9465 songs

5 star songs: 98 (1.0%)
4 star songs: 843 (8.9%)
3 star songs: 2534 (26.8%)
2 star songs: 4106 (43.4%)
1 star songs: 1832 (19.4%)
0 star songs: 52 (0.5%)

Average Song Rating: 2.22 stars

On September 13th, 2014:

Total Songs: 9646 songs

5 star songs: 77 (0.8%)
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

Since December 29th, 2012:
1264 songs added to the collection
1083 songs removed from the collection.

Since September 20th, 2009, 3175 new recordings, both new songs and better sounding recordings of existing songs, have been added. In other words, almost a third of the collection has been replaced. I removed songs I considered non-essential, and added ones I either missed or didn’t know about. I continue to study artists and music that deserve to be represented, and add songs accordingly. When I first completed initial ratings for all 8244 songs in August, 2009, the average song rating was 2.44.

The number of one star songs has increased dramatically. The defining attributes of the one star song have changed; now it generally means “a song I like, good enough to be in the collection”, whereas it used to mean something closer to “a well known song I don’t particularly like, one that often results in changing to a new song.” For major artists like the Beatles, or Elton John, the one star rating includes many good songs not considered essential pieces of work. The one star rating also includes popular standards I find less appealing. Also, new additions to the collection, deemed good enough to be in the collection, often earn one star, with the possibility of upgrade with repeat plays.

The four and five star rating is becoming less common, now only 8% of the collection, versus about 11% five years ago. How many favorite songs can one person have? I now have 756 songs rated as great songs, and the 77 five star recordings, which include a few redundant mixes, are those rare songs I never grow tired of, assuming I don’t wear them out by listening to them repeatedly. If I listen to one of my favorite songs about once a month or so, it always sounds as good as it ever did.

However, in general I am growing somewhat tired of researching music, and that contributes to less enthusiastic opinions. It gets harder to find music that sounds exciting and new to me. My plan remains to add more instrumental and jazz music, and fill in any major areas of folk music I’ve missed, once the countdown of artists is complete. The song ratings are less important than the list of suggested songs. It’s still fun to listen to music with friends and loved ones, see what they think, and then assign a simple rating based on a wide variety of factors. Usually the opinions line up pretty well.

★★★★★ – An all-time great song, reserved for the top 1-2% of the collection. These top songs that usually personal favorites, but it also includes songs (“Stairway To Heaven” is an example) widely accepted as great performances.
★★★★ – An outstanding song, possessing great lyrics, structure and/or musicianship. These tend to be the best songs in their respective musical genre. This category tends to include fewer instrumentals and fewer long pieces of music.
★★★ – A very good song, highly recommended. Both three and four songs also include historically significant performances.
★★ – A good song. The definition of the two star song remains tied to the concept of “not changing the radio station”, or “not fast forwarding to the next song in iPod shuffle mode”. How much joy a song brings when presented randomly is a good measure of a song’s value.
★ – Good enough to be in the collection, with the potential for advancement. This category also includes non-essential but pleasing songs from major artists. Many good songs are found here.

There are still a few songs with zero stars, but these tend to be short pieces of little value, except to provide an amusing interlude between songs while in iPod shuffle mode.

Original Rating Comments, August 31, 2008

I am a born critic. I enjoy listening to music, analyzing it and evaluating how good it is. I have little musical education, only a few years of guitar lessons. I’ve spent years reading music reviews in Rolling Stone, the All Music Guide, and other publications, and have a pretty good idea what music critics like.

Before Apple introduced the iPod, I had already concluded that a five star rating system sufficiently divided songs into a suitable number of categories. Here are some comments about the ratings:

★★★★★ – An all-time great song, reserved for the top 1-2% in the collection. Most of these songs are recognized on “technical merit”, but other songs are awarded five stars because they are sentimental favorites.

★★★★ – A excellent song, possessing great lyrics, melody and/or musicianship.

★★★ – A good song. I definitely like it.

★★ – A neutral song. As I refine the collection, this category is filled with good songs, good enough so I won’t change the radio channel, but I may not listen too carefully either. These songs will probably elicit more difference in opinion than the other categories. Some will like them; others will despise them.

★ – A song that I don’t like very much, but worthy of inclusion in the collection. There are some well known and famous songs that deserve to be here, but I don’t necessarily like all notable and famous songs. I will always include one star songs as examples, especially the more famous bad pop songs.

[no stars] – A really awful song. There are certain things I despise in pop music, like men crying and begging for love, or overproduced music whose clear intention seems to be appealing to the lowest common denominator, in order to sell a million copies.

When I first add a song, I tend to assign a minimum rating and add stars as I grow to enjoy it fully. It is not unusual for a song to be assigned one or two stars, then I’ll add a star after a few listens. Moving a song two stars in either direction is less common.

Many songs have sentimental value. They remind us of a certain place and time in our lives. As the months go by, I will share some of these anecdotes about my life. I am naturally fond of songs that directly connect to events. These songs sometimes have high ratings.

Another common factor that influences ratings is song fatigue. If you’ve heard a song a thousand times, it’s hard for be objective about it. The subject is worthy of greater discussion, but in general, I try to recognize a song’s value, whether or not I’m tired of it.

Finally, song ratings fluctuate. I change the ratings as I see fit, at least a few each month, especially as I go through the countdown exercise. I’m influenced by my friend’s opinions, and by critic’s opinions, and try to make a reasonable assessment.

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