The Long Tail of your Tunes

November 12, 2007

A long tail of tunes.Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail highlights how nowadays, what’s the most popular matters less and less. For example, Amazon has hundreds of thousands of books that would never even fit in a bookstore generating a large portion of its profit. Its main lesson is not to count out the long tail of occasionally-useful creations that trails off into obscurity.

I recently discovered that this phenomenon applies on much smaller scales too. I have an older 2GB iPod nano, and must select a subset of my music so it will fit. My initial setup was to have it take the songs rated 3/5 or above ((For those iTunes users who have not yet rated their songs, trust me that it’s worth doing. It may seem like a momentous task, but if you listen to your tunes more than an hour a day, the cost/benefit ratio is worth it. Rating your songs lets you do great things with Smart Playlists and your iPod.)), with certain conditions. At first this was enjoyable, but I began to get sick of this fraction of my music. About half of my library was rated 2/5 or 1/5 and I was never hearing it at all.

People have asked me why I even have songs rated 1/5. If they’re so bad, why not delete them? The answer ((Sorry if this is obvious, but multiple intelligent people have found this unintuitive.)) is that if all your songs are rated 3+, you’ve just compressed your ratings to be out of 3 rather than out of 5. If you define 1/5 as worth having, but in the bottom 20%, then you can make use of the full 5 star rating resolution.

So, to freshen things up, I had the iPod also load some lower-rated songs, on the condition that I hadn’t heard them in months. What an improvement! Although I almost never want to hear White and Nerdy by Weird Al, every few months it’s great for 3 minutes. It turns out that if you treat your favourite music as your only music, it becomes like a Greatest Hits album that you get sick of. If instead you treat it like a radio station, where sometimes there are okay songs and sometimes there are awesome songs, your whole experience is a lot better.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.