When I became old, in one chart


Whatever happened to my rock and roll?

I turn 33⅓ today, and while I’m not spinning any LPs, it does seem like a good day to get into this little self-analysis.

I’m not just a quantitative researcher; I am dispositionally quantitative. I think in terms of numbers about just about anything for which that makes sense. I also love music. So naturally, my iTunes library is loaded with song ratings, which I’ve used to do a little investigation of my trends in finding new, much-loved records.

Concurrent to this, I’ve read somewhere or other that the music you love at 24 is what you stick with for the rest of your life. So let’s see what we’ve got here. I started really paying attention to music in 1991, the year I turned 12. The chart to the right shows the trends in overall rating of my favorite album from each of the last 21 years, as well as my #5, #10 and #15 (I haven’t got ratings for 10 from 1991 or 1992). What we see is that my teenage years generally have higher ceilings than my 20s, but that the mid-range stuff stays fairly steady until a sudden and horrible drop-off the year I turned 29. Now that I’m a third of the way through my 30s, things are just continuing to decline.

What got me thinking about this was a quote from a recent Neil Young interview: “Piracy is the new radio.” The ability to be exposed to exponentially more music than I was ever exposed to via commercial radio and MTV has expanded my taste and introduced me to superb bands I would’ve otherwise never known. It even works going back in time — Audiogalaxy’s recommendations led me to Burning Airlines, which led me to J. Robbins’ previous band, Jawbox (piracy also takes over some of the function of used record stores because of this).

At the same time, it’s a lot harder to focus on any of this new stuff. Unless it’s incredibly awesome, a new song or album has a tough time catching enough of my attention to get repeated plays and become a new favorite. This is true of new stuff from old artists, too, which makes me think a lot of it is that I’m old and set in my ways. But who knows? This new environment could privilege breadth of exposure at the expense of depth.

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    • Guest

      so when you say overall rating, what does that refer to?

      • If I’ve put iTunes star ratings on each track on an album, I have a formula that weights the average, privileging higher-rated songs (so an album that’s half fours and half twos is higher than an album that’s all threes) and albums with more tracks. Then I standardize it to a 10-point scale so it makes more intuitive sense, even though to score a 10 an album would have to be all five-star tracks. My highest-rated full-length is Weezer’s Pinkerton, with a score of 9.429, but the debut EP from Karmella’s Game comes in at 9.571. I mainly started keeping track as a way to help compile my year-end lists back when I was an active music blogger.

        • Guest

          Haha that’s intense, though I’m a stickler for star ratings.  I used to try to have high standards, but I got generous when I started rating songs relative to the artist/album, not an absolute, as a way to process what music I was liking out of the way-too-much i was downloading.  So yeah, I’ve got Pinkerton at 10/10.  I’d say I agree with your last paragraph, that this new environment is more responsible for the decrease over time, at least in an (atypical) habitual music consumer.  However, I find there to be some kind of primacy effect personally, where I mostly listen to batches of new stuff before moving on for a while.  And maybe that has to do with the new organizational tools–i.e. chronological sorting, etc–available digitally. 

          • Yeah, I think that’s true. Everything new that I like enough on first listen to put on my iPod winds up in a smart playlist that I play on shuffle fairly often. But I’ve been playing my 4- and 5-star playlist pretty exclusively for the last few weeks, and I probably hadn’t listened to anything from my new folder in that time until I put the new Soundgarden on today.