T'Other and I have been living together for nearly three months now, and our single, shared neuron is as happy as ever. We find ourselves in agreement more often than not, but one thing that causes regular contention is the music we play. Music is really important for both of us, but our tastes are really quite different. T'Other loves alt country, female singer-songwriters and jazz. I think alt country is proof that Satan exists, female singer-songwriters are generally tedious dross, and as for jazz… well, my ex-bass teacher and bassist extraordinaire Rob Burns* put it best when he repeated the old joke 'One bad note is a mistake; two bad notes is jazz'.
Trouble is, I am a fickle thing, and my tastes are not subject to simple rules like 'never play alt country, female singer-songwriters, or jazz'. Ok, 'never play alt country' works, but I'm not quite so absolute about the others. I like, for example, a Dido song. Just the one, mind. And I like a Nelly Furtado song. And I've been known to like the occasional PJ Harvey or Tori Amos song. It's just that a full album of them makes me want to stab people. And some female vocalists, even if not singer-songwriters, grate like fingers on a blackboard. That woman from Fairground Attraction, for example. T'Other played that album the other night as we were supposedly dropping off to sleep, but it gave me a headache and made me feel cross and grumpy. I had to nicely ask him to turn it off, because if I'd heard one more second of that whiney voice I would have lost it completely.
I'm sure that there are songs I play that aren't high up on T'Other's list of fun things to listen to either. I'm pretty sure, for example, that he's being polite when he lets me play Duran Duran. But if I'm honest, his tolerance for my music far outstrips my tolerance for his. (Moi? Dictatorial? Nooooo…)
So we are going through that long and tricky process of negotiating a shared playlist through trial and error. I'll play something, say Jeff Hanson, and he'll say whether or not he likes it. After, of course, half an hour of 'Is this really a bloke? You're kidding me, right? That's actually a man singing that?'. Or he'll play something and I'll politely ask him to stop. Now. Please.
How much easier would it be if we had some way of mediating that negotiation through technology. iTunes is a heap of crap in so many ways, but it has sadly become our default music player. Maybe there are other better ones – if there are, please tell me. But what I want to be able to do is to go through T'Other's music and give it a Suw Rating: 1 – 5 or Veto. So a 1 star rating is 'I'll listen to this, but I don't really think it's that great', a 5 star rating is 'I love this!', and a Veto rating is 'Never, ever play this whilst I am in the room. Not if you want to live.'
Then T'Other will go through my music and do the same. Then when I'm looking at my music, I can see at a glance what he likes and what he doesn't.
Of course, the fun part would be if we could both rate both each other's music and our own, at the same time. You'd have two sets of ratings then, and could choose to play music based on, say, 'Both T'Other and Suw rate this as a 5 star track', which would pull out the music that both of us love. Jack Johnson, for example, or Paolo Conte.
The veto option is an important one. A zero star rating is not the same as a veto, in my book. You need a mechanism which says 'I hate this, please, never play it again', and without that you end up with nebulous meaning at the bottom of the ratings scale. Does no star mean that it hasn't been rated yet, or it's been rated as shite? You have to have a way to definitively exclude stuff, otherwise the whole thing falls down and I end up listening to jazz and then my ears start bleeding and T'Other spends the rest of his life riddled with guilt at inflicting such pain on the woman he loves.
I'd also like to be able to tag music too. 'Summery'. Or 'Get yo ass movin''. Or 'Takes me back to my childhood'. Whatever. iTunes lets you pass comment on your music, but that's not a tag. And you can't do complex Boolean searches either. I want to be able to say “Show me only music that's rated 5 stars for both T'Other and Suw, which is tagged 'summery' or 'up' or 'dancey' and which was recorded after 1995”. I want it to show me related tags like Technorati does for blog posts. I want it to break out of this stupid genre thing and start getting all synaesthetic. How does music look? How does it feel? What colour is it?
Between us, T'Other and I have a quite a bit of music – although not as much as some of my friends – but despite music being easier and easier to digitise, music players don't seem to be making it easier and easier to organise. They think 'organisation' means 'putting the right ID tags on each track'. Duh.
What I wanna know: What Web 2.Oh Dear apps are there for organising music? Last.fm is great for sharing playlists online, but I want something with their ethic and imagination that plays the stuff on our hard drives. I'm bored of making playlists. I'm bored of listening album by album. I'm bored of battling with the heap of shit that is iTunes. I want my music to dance to my tune.
Music isn't linear anymore. You don't put the record on the deck and play side 1 before turning it over to play side 2 anymore. CD track listings are nothing more than a serving suggestion. Genre is dead. There is no reason why my music has to be closeted away in one genre – it can be rock and pop. Hell, it can be rock, pop, indie, upbeat, cool, retro, Summer of 04, and orange with purple polkadots all at once, if I want it to be. It can be anything I want.
Except it can't. Because iTunes is shit.
* Rob wrote and performed the bassline on the theme to Blackadder. How cool is that?