Last night, I declared iTunes rating bankruptcy. I did a Cmd-A Cmd-I, then set the ratings to just over 12,000 songs to zero stars.
I’ve been talking about this for a while. Actually doing it gave me the combination of exhilaration and terror usually reserved for when you accidentally delete an entire hard drive. It felt like I’d done a big thing in the war against clutter, but I suddenly realized I’d completely fucked my smart playlists, and would spend the next week or ten re-rating everything.
Email bankruptcy is a term usually attributed to Lawrence Lessig. It’s when you have so many emails in your inbox that there’s no fucking way you’ll ever deal with them. So, you do a select-all, hit the delete key, and maybe send out a mail to everyone in your address book explaining that if one was waiting for a reply to an email, they should resend it. If something important needed a second mailing, it would show up, or the item wasn’t really that important. This solves the clutter problem, and gives you a clean slate to practice one of those hipster productivity methodologies involving answering every single email in your inbox every day, and either filing or junking everything else.
(I also have the email problem. But, I’m a packrat, so the bankruptcy thing’s not going to happen. Well, never say never.)
This sudden iTunes scorched earth action addresses a slightly different problem. I have these 12,000 songs staring at me every day. I realize some of you hoarders have way more than that. I should probably clarify that I actually paid for all of these songs. I don’t download every single link I see in the off-chance that I may someday need to listen to the second demo by a proto-hardcore band from Jersey City called Jewish Karate. A certain amount of curation occurs in that I only buy a limited amount of music, an album or two here and there, maybe a half-dozen a month. That limits the amount of music that accumulates, but not entirely.
I regularly listen to music in shuffle mode. What bugs the hell out of me is I can’t listen to this entire collection in shuffle mode, because then every time some dumb-ass black metal band puts a 37-second intro track of ambient wind noises as the first thing on their album, it will randomly come up and piss me off. So, I started rating those things with one star, and created a smart playlist that included every item that wasn’t a one-star. And then, to avoid the stuff that had yet to be rated, I made that so the playlist was items greater than a star.
That’s fine, but sometimes, I’m just sick of a song. I might want the entire Rush album Moving Pictures, but honestly, I was sick as hell of the song “The Camera Eye” twenty years ago. So that would get one-starred. But honestly, I’m not up for listening to the song “Witch Hunt” five times a week, so I gave that a three-star, and then changed around my playlist so it would only play stuff above a three. I know, you’re saying “why not just trash that song?” but I still wanted the complete album, at least in that case.
I used to carry all of my music on an iPod, and by that, I meant my entire music library went on one of those hard drive-based classic iPods. But a year ago, when I moved to the newest 64-gig version of the iPhone 4s, I decided to simplify things by only carrying a subset of my library on the phone. (Prior to that, I carried no music on the phone.) So, out came the playlists, and I created a byzantine set of rules dictating what got carried onto my phone. I won’t even get into it, except to say it’s involved.
Here’s the problem. I’m sick of so much of my music. I’ve got all of this crap that has four stars that may have been important to me in 1988, but that I really don’t ever need to hear again. Like, why the hell do I have all of these Grim Reaper and Helloween songs on here that are pure cheese? And why the fuck should I ever care about Stuck Mojo again? When I sit down to write, I will sometimes spend 15 or 20 minutes just trying to find music to play.
So, scorched earth. I nuked every rating, then went back and started checking stuff that I purchased in 2012 and 2013, rating what’s good for me right now. 491 songs are now in the 4s and 5s, which is too few, but at least I’m not hearing music I should have put to rest decades ago.