Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rolling the ball...Rolling the ball...Rolling the ball...

I use my iPod a lot. My commute is 45 minutes in each direction. I also have iTunes open on my computer all day long at work with an earbud in only one ear (so I can still hear when people are talking to me -- sadly, this means that I can't listen to the Beatles or Bowie, because the vocals are frequently only in the channel I'm not listening to).

The longer I use these things, the more convinced I am that "Shuffle" is just simply not genuinely random. I mean, come on, if it were entirely random, there wouldn't be a "smart shuffle" setting that will make it more likely or less likely to play multiple songs by a single artist or from the same album.

My iPod tends to have its own personal favorite songs that it plays over and over and over. And what's even stranger is that iTunes on my work computer will often pick almost exactly the same tracks as the iPod has picked. For example, both iTunes and my iPod have been on an unusually big Kate Bush kick lately -- I've been getting "Sat In Your Lap," "Them Heavy People," "All We Ever Look For," "My Lagan Love," "Under the Ivy," "Wuthering Heights" from both devices on a daily basis in heavy rotation. It is rare that either device will play just one Kate track -- it's usually two or three Kate tracks in a row. And this is with the "smart shuffle" preference set dead center on "random".

And this is okay for a few days, but after a couple of weeks, even Kate starts to get old.

So I'm developing a stragedy [sic] for this.

A few weeks ago, I went through all the tracks on my iPod and made a playlist based on a few criteria: (1) if my iPod showed that it had played the track more than five times, the track could not go on the playlist; (2) if I felt a more-than-50% likelihood that I would hit "Next" whenever a track started playing, it could not go on the list; (3) if I could not recall ever having heard my iPod play a track it had to go on the playlist.

You can guess the result. After a couple of weeks, my iPod developed a new set of its own favorite tracks.

So now I visit the playlist every week or two and check the play count. The tracks that have been played most often have to get booted off the playlist.

It's a little high-maintenance, but I'm getting more variety out the iPod....

[UPDATE: Just now on my way home from work after writing this, my iPod played "Love and Anger," then two songs not by Kate, then three more Kate songs in a row -- "Rubberband Girl," "Rocket Man," and "Mna Na H-Eireann". See? I don't make this stuff up.]


Anonymous said...

cool. It must have some kind of fuzzy algorithm. Thing.

Did you play your new playlist before the iPod caught on, or was the mere creation of the playlist sufficient?


BGreen said...

The "four out of seven" Kate incident occurred on my REVISED playlist. I had already removed the Kate songs that it had been favoring, and it PICKED NEW ONES!

If the list were 50% or 25% or even 10% Kate Bush songs, it would make more sense. But it's not. I've probably got as much Gomez and Elvis Costello and Nanci Griffith and other artists on that playlist as I have Kate Bush. Yet it keeps homing in on Kate.

Next time I pare down the playlist, several more Kate songs are going to have to come off of it. We'll see how the pod reacts to THAT.

Anonymous said...

One thing we'll want to check is out of all the tracks on your ipod, what % are Kate Bush?


BGreen said...

I just checked.

On a playlist that contains 213 tracks, 19 of them are by Kate Bush (8.9%). There are also 16 by Sarah McLachan (7.5%).

Out of 1076 songs on the entire iPod, 66 are by Kate Bush (6.1%). But she is not the artist with the largest representation on the pod -- 76 songs are by Gomez (7.1%); 66 songs are by Steely Dan (6.1%). And there are several artists with song quantitiess similar to but less than Kate.

On my work computer, Gomez and Steely Dan also outrank Kate in sheer numbers of tracks, and Alison Moyet, Nanci Griffith, Elvis Costello, Tori Amos, XTC and Hot, Hot Heat are all represented in quantities similar to Kate, but iTunes doesn't go on jags with any of them like it does with Kate.

On the playlist, the single most often played song (strictly due to shuffling) is "The Whiffenpoof Song" by Rudy Vallee.

Of the 133 songs with visible play counts, 12 are by Kate Bush (9.0%, so at least that statistic lines up with the overall representation).

And as I've been typing this, my computer has started playing "Somewhere In Between" from "Aerial".