My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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music genres and moods

One of the reasons that i loved Napster was that you could see how people labeled their music, particularly the genre. In music, i use genre like i use tagging in Gmail, del.icio.us and Flickr, only i’m a bit more obsessive about keeping them organized. My playlists are all automatically created based on my idiosyncratic genre labels. The labels are not for you, but for me and i don’t care if PsyChill doesn’t really exist – it’s the label that ties together things like bluetech and Shpongle.

Due to 1) my new iPod, 2) the barfing of my Mac, 3) the scanning of CDs and 4) my obsession with last.FM, i am diving deeply into my music collection to re-genrify things. It is this attribute of last.FM that is given me the greatest curiosity. Last.FM is full of people with – shall we say – “interesting” tastes. I’m sorry but there is no playlist in the world that should have Gwar and Nina Simone together. Wrong wrong wrong. And why is Elliott Smith on the top artists page of the genre Breaks? No no no.

Of course, i’m part of fucking this up. I love Elliott Smith and i love breaks. Since i am in the breaks group, my listening to Elliott Smith is affecting that genre page. This is a problem. I know better when i manually genrify my music. Elliott Smith is is the MaleNeuvoFolk genre (which is effectively equivalent to Sadcore except can also be listened to when not depressed). I would never recommend Elliott Smith to a breaks aficionado.

I’m worried that this diverse listening pattern is messing up all the data. After three days of listening to non-stop chillout, goa and breaks, i should not be getting recommendations for Rancid and Ludacris. The problem is that there’s a big gap between Beth Orton and Son Kite and i fear that trying to resolve those two listening patterns will result in abysmal results. The system should know that i’m listening with two different faceted patterns – the chill danah and the dancey danah.

When i ask a friend for music advice, i don’t simply say “give me anything you listen to.” I know better. But i would ask “could you make me a dub mix?” or “what would complement Dr Toast?” Or think about the Back to Mine series (collections based on what musicians chill out to). I want my last.FM to understand that there are moods. All of my playlists get this. All of my genrification gets this. Now it’s time for last.FM. I should be able to play everything that userx thinks makes for “coding music” or for “chill out” or for “getting ready to go out.” I want to be able to cluster my music. I want to be able to inform Audioscrobbler to only tell the genre group “PsyTrance” about things that i’ve marked Full-On, Melodic, Scando or PsyChill. Or tell them about a playlist or two. Tag the genres so that i don’t blush when i see my love of Johnny Cash appear as appropriate for other Trip-Hop fiends.

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25 comments to music genres and moods

  • I love you so much! You rock! Though when I have seen you I have been afraid to say hi.
    Ok yeah just wanted to say that I have this problem too.
    I have “Feather Boa Pop” as a genre and “Drama Pop”
    ect.
    Rachael Sage and Justin Tranter for examples respectively
    Happy New Years!!!

  • About online music, I love webjay and I suggest you to try it. http://webjay.org
    you can create compilation of online mp3s and let your friends listen them, comment them, …
    my compilations are at http://webjay.org/by/phauly .
    love your blog! 😉

  • joe

    Danah, I’ve got to take issue with you saying that no playlist should have GWAR and Nina Simone together… that’s almost exactly what a playlist of mine looks like. That is to say, I’m almost the opposite of you in terms of music obsession… my preferred way of listening to music is to queue up *all* my tracks and massively random shuffle them. I don’t worry about genres because I don’t worry about playlists.

    Granted, Live.FM needs to get a clue if ES is at the top of the breaks… they need to allow people to articulate what subset of their music would constitute “breaks” (in their own minds). This might still produce some weird edge-case results, but it wouldn’t land ES at the top of the breaks.

  • So you are basically asking for del.icio.us style tags? Maybe being able to assign albums/songs to their respective groups that you’ve joined on last.fm.

    Or perhaps set a mood while you are listening, so those songs get heaped in a certain category.

    I just know I’m hitting the ‘ban’ button an awful lot today.

  • Audioscrobbler/Last.fm

    I’ve just left a comment over at 3 Quarks Daily, extolling Audioscrobbler and Last.fm.

  • daum

    social networking thru music, thru music people actually listen to …. feels much more permanent, much more pleasant when compared to many of today’s typically hollow, clone-like new social software fads.

    If audioscrobbler scales up and works, a meaningful, useful social network WILL hit the industry….. NO MORE “filter then publish” for the music industry. ONLY “publish then filter” !!!!

  • my initial thoughts about last.fm and id3 tags

    i’m going through the same issue as danah is, and been wondering why we have to feel compelled about retagging musical genres for the sake of other users? if i create a genre with the name of “awesome_tunes” or “college2002” – does it matter what the a…

  • my initial thoughts about last.fm and id3 tags

    i’m going through the same issue as danah is, and been wondering why we have to feel compelled about retagging musical genres for the sake of other users? if i create a genre with the name of “awesome_tunes” or “college2002” – does it matter what the a…

  • Happy New Year to you (and may it be a happier new year for all of our brothers and sisters on the other side of the planet right now).

    My name is Ruth Mendelson. I am a composer (I score films for a living and teach Advanced Film Composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston)- deeply committed to aspects of Healing and Music- and have just launched a web site that could be of interest to you.

    Here’s the link which features a few brief sound clips that download automatically and play as a loop:

    http://www.ruthmendelson.com/

    I originally composed the “Amazing Jellies” CD last year for the New England Aquarium’s exhibit re: jellyfish and saving the oceans.

    Several months ago, a teacher who was visiting the exhibit was so taken by the music she wrote about it on an internet teachers forum, saying that it had the strong potential to help her students learn. Before I knew it, I was flooded with CD orders from teachers all across the US and Canada.

    Since then, people of all ages and occupations (massage therapists, teachers, nurses, the elderly, teens, mothers, autistic children, psychotherapists etc etc etc), from all over the US and Canada, are now using the CD for anything from gentle relaxation to surgery post-op care, to pain management, to over all stress/anxiety reduction.

    The latest news is that Mass General Hospital (Pediatrics) here is Boston is now interested in doing a study with the CD re: monitoring reduction of pain levels in children.

    If there is anyone who feel could benefit from this, would you mind passing on this link to them? The CD carries much Light and has the potential to Bless many.

    Thanks and Blessings!

    -Ruth Mendelson

  • Google Groups Beta, Group Lists Social Courtesy, or What We Really Don’t Want

    Over the last few days, I’ve been getting email from a Google Groups list I have been subscribed on… by someone unknown to me, that I did not agree to or ask to be included in. Dan Gillmor responded to…

  • You mean it wasn’t gwar that opened on Nina Simone’s final tour? I could have sworn…

    last.fm is absolutely the best thing since sliced Flickr. Maybe it is just that the software is revealing the shockingly deep and secret connection between Johnny Cash and PsyTrance? 🙂

  • Music-Driven Networking

    I’ve been actively watching last.FM lately [1] [2]. I believe that the value of this tool has yet to be truly uncovered (partially because it’s buggy as hell and there are key features missing). Still, i think that it is…

  • thoughts on last.FM

    I’m never quite sure when some of my more random posts are of value to Many-To-Many readers so i don’t always post everything here. That said, i’ve written three entries as of late concerning Last.FM and i think that collectively,…

  • Last FM the bomb!

    I read about this ‘net radio service on Liz Lawley’s blog, She broadened the nature of the riff to include the social computing aspect, “…systems where the communication is implicit, where the social component is the emergent information that comes…

  • You’re touching on my biggest problem with Last.FM: I often want to listen to it while I eat breakfast, but it has no idea what music is appropriate for that time of day. Of course I would be too lazy to tag appropriate morning music.
    Sometimes it’s a little uncanny: I set up an account for my girlfriend the other day, and it was soon playing ‘Space Oddity,’ which she had been singing for the previous three days.

  • Hi Danah,

    On webjay.org, my own site, there is no genre. This is not intended to be quirky, the idea is that playlists define genre rather than the other way around. In other words, it’s not wrong for Eliot Smith to be at the top of the Breaks cluster, it’s wrong to call the genre that Eliot Smith is at the top of “Breaks”.

    This is actually a well known problem in information retrieval. It’s one thing to be able to automatically find groups of related items, it’s another to figure out what to call them.

  • I’ll take your obsession with personal genre tagged and double it! (Sorry, bad poker metaphor)

    Ever since I got my iPod, I too have spent hours organizing my genres. I originally had my genres by year, because the year a song comes out is very important to me, and the iPod doesn’t sort by year. But now I’ve got genre by actual genre, and year by year (and a playlist for every year). In the comments field, I have my own set of del.icio.us style tags, all marked by []. For instance, I have the following tags:

    [Teen]
    [Quirky]
    [Angry Love]
    [Sad Love]
    [Old Skool]

    Because I’ve separated them by brackets, I can list them one after the other. So if I consider a song both quirky and old skool, my comments tag looks like this:

    [Quirky][Old Skool]

    I can then create playlists according to any of these “genres.”

    Obesssive? You bet? But worth it? To me, most definitely!

  • Seems to me that what you see as a problem is really what makes these sites most interesting… shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that you like Johnny Cash and trip-hop. Isn’t that what it’s all about? I can get a good list of trip-hop anywhere. I don’t want a classification of music, I want a classification of LISTENERS because that’s what turns me on to the good stuff I might otherwise have missed. I love Elliott Smith. But I want people who groove to Elliott Smith to also get turned on to The Postal Service, The Ramones, and Pantera. Not because they are the same, but because we are wildly diverse and if they open up their ears they might be just as able to handle the diversity as me (or you!).

  • Chris – the problem is that i don’t just want to see what you’re listening to – i want to listen to it. Thus, it’d be great if you could see that i listen to trip-hop and Cash, but choose to listen to those as separate radio stations.

  • Well, that takes all the fun out of it! I think you’re looking at only one level of connection and not the most interesting (to me): surface style. I’d rather hear the diverse music from one’s playlist and perhaps learn to understand the connection that must be there between them! If there were such an option from the production end, I’d like to see it paired with a similar option on the consumer end to ignore it 🙂 Cheers…

  • Lucas, please, add tagging to WebJay

    A lot of discussion about why tags are so useful (folksonomies is the current buzzword) on Many2Many. As I noted in a previous post, at the moment there are services that allows you to tag: URLs (del.icio.us), photos (flickr), your…

  • mark

    spend more time listening and less time catagorising and maybe you will appreciate the music on a deeper less materialistic level.

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