Measuring perfection

iTunes playlists 09/03Image by fabi_k via Flickr

Just lately I've been going through my iTunes library creating and refining my playlists and re-rating many of my songs. It's a process familiar to music nerds the world over, and remarkably satisfying given the modest aims of it.

In large part this exercise has been prompted by a new music rating system I'm using. I've long been dissatisfied with the 5 star option that defaults with iTunes. Even downloading an app that enabled me to give 1/2 star ratings did not meet my expectations.

One of the problems with the 5 star standard is that it doesn't measure up to the real world. It's fine for rating movies, and even music if you're some independent arbiter, but it's unrealistic for rating music already in your library. Let's face it, if you rate a song a measly 1 or even 2 stars the question has to be asked: why is it in your library? It makes a mockery of the rating system.

I've overcome this with a bit of mental gymnastics. Instead of 5 stars I rate my music out of 10. I do this by simply presuming that no song rated 5 or less belongs in my library, which is a fair assessment. And so when I go to rate a song I start with 5 stars as the default rating and add a premium to that. In other words, if I click on the 3 star option in my iTunes I'm actually rating it an 8.

This does a couple of things. In the first place it gives me a far greater range of rating options – I can give a song a 1/2 rating and know it belongs in my library, whereas before I pretty well wouldn't rate anything under 2 stars. Secondly it enables me to be a lot more precise in my judgement (particularly with the 1/2 star option), and in a lot of cases a lot tougher.

I would guess that my average rating previously would have been about 3.2. Now it would be about 2.6 – equivalent to 7.6, which seems a good average score.

The other question related to this is how high do you rate a song? Is there any such thing as the perfect song? Is there anything worth a score of 5 (10)? Not in my world there isn't.

I get frustrated watching the Olympics sometimes and seeing the perfect scores they often give to gymnasts, divers and the like. I'm not a big watcher of those sports, but part of the reason is that the scoring is a bit of a wank. Seriously, has perfection ever actually been achieved? No? Then a score of 10 is wrong.

The best any of my music gets scored is 4 1/2 stars (9 1/2), and there wouldn't be more than 10 or 15 at that. Until I can somehow get a decimal rating system (how I'd love that) that's as good as it gets.

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