Monday, November 05, 2007

iTunes Is a Better Deejay Than Me

In a frustrating realization, iTunes - more specifically, the Shuffle function on my iPod - has proven to be a much better deejay than I am. I always thought I could put together a mean mix tape. I related closely to Nick Hornby's Rob Fleming in High Fidelity. Friends and family appeared visibly excited when I gave them my latest compilation. I thought I had the stuff of a solid radio man.

Then iTunes came along.

Initially, I disregarded the Shuffle function. I thought it comparable to buying a greatest hits collection - artists put together their albums in a very specific order, and who am I to ignore the track order in which albums are created. But then I acknowledged the abbreviated attention span that all members of my generation are trained to have in order to survive, and switched to the Shuffle function more often than not when the white headphones go in my ears.

Shortly thereafter, I quit making mix tapes. As it turns out iPod's Shuffle function is much more equipped to string along 10-15 tracks in an order that becomes much more entertaining and cohesive than I am. As a matter of fact, here are two playlists; see if you can tell which one was created by John Richards, DJ Extraordinaire at KEXP, and which is from my iTunes Shuffle:

1) Radiohead - "Subterranean Homesick Alien"
2) Wilco - "Radio Cure"
3) The Who - "My Wife"
4) The Hold Steady - "Stuck Between Stations"
5) The Flaming Lips - "The Spiderbite Song"
6) The Rapture - "Whoo! Alright, Yeah... Uh Huh"
7) Gorillaz - "Tomorrow Comes Today"

1) Iron & Wine - "The Devil Never Sleeps"
2) Yeaysayer - "Red Cave"
3) The Kinks - "Waterloo Sunset"
4) Arthur & Yu - "Afterglow"
5) The Breeders - "Drivin' on 9"
6) UNKLE - "Restless"
7) The The - "Dogs of Lust"

(Answer: Setlist 1 = iTunes Shuffle; Setlist 2 = John in the Morning)

Who's to say that Setlist 2 is any better than Setlist 1? And yet John gets paid to put together Setlist 2.

Keep in mind, now, I firmly believe that iTunes' abilities to Shuffle songs into a quality mix only works if you do not skip songs. I'm convinced that the information that iTunes has to work with - genre, play count, year released, length of song, let alone scientific data such as sound frequency - is used to orchestrate an educated mix. Skipping songs doesn't allow for that process to take place in time, so if you're going to try this at home, please be patient.

Now you may be saying, "wait a tick, iTunes doesn't intentionally sequence similar songs together to create a good mix, you silly dolt." I say maybe it does, though. Maybe the programmers at Apple have purposely programmed it to do so. Or maybe not. Maybe it's proof that computer programs can LEARN.

Or maybe it's just that all of the music that I put onto my iPod is music I like and will sound good together regardless of the order. But that theory would defeat the whole purpose of this blog posting, so we'll just ignore that...


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