Negotiating shared playlists

by Suw on June 2, 2006

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? 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?

Anonymous June 2, 2006 at 11:51 pm

You know, it frightens me to think how many times you actually type his name, and then backspace out and replace it with “T'Other”…
Seriously, Suw, you wrote it *10 times* in this post. He does have a name that doesn't contain an apostrophe, you know. 😛

Anonymous June 3, 2006 at 12:29 am

I'm not sure what you want is practicable or even desirable. You want fully flexible musical jumpsuit-type, figure hugging technology? At some point user input into these systems (hell even iTunes basic rating and classification system is a pain to keep right) will end up too much of a burden. Sure you can tag your blog posts and web pages, but who wants to do it for 10,000 + music tracks? Metadatamyringpiecethankyouverymuch.
There is value to putting on one record and listening to both sides to I think – some albulms really do merit this treatment, but anyway….
How unchallenging do you want your music relationship to be? You are bound to disagree with each others tastes, and I find the idea of a technologically smart solution that creates a totally agreeable, non-offensive playlist quite horrifying.
Let there be disharmony! It keeps you thinking and less prone to moo tendencies. Or something, I dunno!
Oh, I do like the blog btw, but to echo the previous poster, please please please stop refering T'other as such. At first endearing, eventually tiring. *pffff* now I feel petty and mean for that!
Rock On Suw, Rock On

Anonymous June 3, 2006 at 7:45 am

Remember You need Love, Skip, Ban buttons[1]. And to take it a step further you need some sort of co-dependent rating and choosing system for two or more “friends”. I suspect that could already do this if you both share a common account.
I'm assuming all your music playing is audioscrobbled?
[1]I want to see “Love,Skip,Ban” buttons on everything. It's *so* much better as a UI than steenking 1-5 ratings.

Anonymous June 3, 2006 at 7:49 am

BTW. There's a an area of music you don't seem to listen to that might interest both you and t'other and that's trip-hop, downbeat, chillout, ninja Tunes. Female vocals, jazz and interesting. But then maybe it would just send you to sleep and remind you too much of BBC2 gardening programs! Anyway, check out the Chillosophy and Chillout tags on

Anonymous June 5, 2006 at 2:09 am

Hey Suw,
Have you tried the search for more music you'll both love at:
It is a far bettter determiner than say, amazon.
Good luck!

Anonymous June 5, 2006 at 10:41 am

You need to read this about Jazz:

Anonymous June 6, 2006 at 10:41 am

Hi Suw
Take a look at the following;
perhaps you can refactor his idea to tag your mp3's and have smart folders to keep your common-favourites 'in'. [As smart folders only logically exist then they are not really 'in' there]
Of course it is a bit of manual labour to parse through the weird and counterintuitive iTunes filestructure and tag all your mp3's. 🙁 [Guess there is a down side to everything]
All the best.
Martin Graney

Anonymous June 6, 2006 at 3:45 pm

Try this:
No star means unrated, 1 means veto/shite.
Enter your ratings in the Grouping field in the form s4 t3. (Unless you use grouping for something more important, like, um …)
Put all your tags in the Comment field. (I know, but do it anyway)
Then use complex Booleans (see below) to serve up whatever you like.
Complex Booleans can be done with smartlists which refer to other smartlists, I'll use your example:
“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”
To do this you need two smartlists like this:
Smartlist 1 (Mood)
Match ANY of the following rules:
Comment contains summer
Comment contains up
Comment contains dancey
Smartlist 2
Match ALL of the following rules;
Playlist is Smartlist 1 (Mood)
Year > 1995
Grouping contains s5
Grouping contains t5
You can have a library of smartlists tucked away in a folder to do things like:
Smartlist 3 (Suw Veto)
Grouping contains s1
Smartlist 4(T'Other 3-5)
Match ANY of the following rules:
Grouping contains t3
Grouping contains t4
Grouping contains t5
Smartlist 5 (Suw unrated)
Grouping does not contain s
Then you can use these smartlists like you would use star ratings.
Add “Playlist is not Suw Veto” to any smart playlist to apply your veto:
Smartlist 6 (Harmony)
Match ALL of the following rules
Playlist is Smartlist 7 (T'Other's blend)
Playlist is not Smartlist 3 (Suw Veto)
And so on
This technique is not quite what you asked for, it's not web2.0, it's frankly a kludge.
But it will do do most of what you asked. And do it today.
You can nest smartlists arbitrarily deep and get autonomous selection to work really well or get rather confused. My iTunes plays me a blend of faves I haven't heard recently, faves I haven't played much, tracks I haven't played at all, tracks I've played a lot and never rated (so I eventually rate them), new stuff and requests, while never playing the same track twice in one day, nor anything rated below 3 (unless I ask for it).
Hope this helps 🙂

Anonymous June 7, 2006 at 8:19 pm

I was about to suggest the same thing: some Red Snapper, Xploding Plastix, Four Tet and suchlike.

Anonymous June 7, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Fortunately, I will never have this problem because:
A) I have such an astonishingly wonderful and eclectic record collection that it would be impossible for any women to object to it and;
B) I am terminally single so it won't ever become an issue anyway.

Anonymous June 8, 2006 at 10:25 pm

One thing to try is, to use Winamp with the free Predix Musicmagic plugin. You find one tune in your mp3 library that you both like then click magicmix and it will generate a 70min playlist of similar music. Seems to work quite well for me. It has a number of options for how like the original you want the playlist to be….
Let your music play‚Ñ¢, with instant mixes of compatible tracks from your entire library. Just select an audio track in Media Library and click “Mix.”
(Track status should read “Mixable” by the “Hide Info” button.)

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 6:23 am

The more I think about this, the more I want a more intelligent random play in Winamp and on my Creative Zen. I want to be able to click on “Play any track” and have a random shuffle of my entire collection. While playing, I want the Last.FM style buttons “love, skip, ban”. These should modify the ratings or be stored as stats and then used intelligently the next time I kick off “Play any track”. I think I'm going to have suggest this as a Winamp plug in.

Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 6:25 am
Anonymous June 18, 2006 at 11:51 am

I see your dilema. As for web 2.sillyness there are a few sites trying to make playlist creation a little easier. One of the most interesting is The site along with a plugin for iTunes allows you to create playlists based on what other people have tagged. Its still very early and to be honest the software is a bit rubbish, but I like the idea that I can create a playlist which is 'Like this artist' and so forth.

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