At the end of sushi dinner, with Todd:

“You’re a bit hoarder. You have all this music, and all these games you’ve never played.”

“I can’t help it! It’s how I GREW UP.”

My name is Lauren and I’m a bit hoarder. I hoard digital music. (Also, apps and games that go on sale, but that might be the subject for another post.) The way I justified my behavior to Todd this evening is that when I was finishing sophomore year in college, I had a university-issued PC full of Audiogalaxy– and Epitonic-obtained mp3s and nowhere to transfer them. This was before CD burning drives, kids! There was some website I signed up for, I forget what it was called. It gave me a few mb of storage for free, something pitiful, and I selected the choicest and rarest of low-quality files to upload and then download to my next machine. I also might have put some on a zip drive. Olde-tyme rock and roll.

iTunes stars

I probably still have these files. I still have everything I have ever downloaded and ripped! I’ll be honest: some of the digital stuff I have accumulated over the years has never been listened to. It exists so that I could send my physical media into permanent storage. It exists to make me feel complete, like a serious music collector, an historian of obscure random ’60s, early ’80s, late ’90s rarities. Also that eMusic subscription that I had to justify every month with fresh downloads, or lose my ten bucks. So maybe if some of these weird cuts ever came up on shuffle I would “next song” repeatedly. WHAT OF IT. They are not taking over my living room floor or anything. Why throw away perfectly good music files?

Enough about digital hoarding — that’s not what this post is about! This post is about everyday uses of technology to make our lives better and more manageable. And what I want to tell you about is stars, baby. iTunes STARS.

Does anybody really use the star ratings system in iTunes? Why? When I got my first iPod in 2003 I tried to use them. I’d be bored on the train or something and be like, “this song ROCKS it’s a five star all the way.” But then I’d hear another song later and be like, “oh but this song is better than the song I already rated five stars. That other song is eight minutes long. I should just give up and start over.” And then I’d start asking myself impossible questions like, “what kind of song is only one star? Something I’d rather listen to at the dentist office instead of 102.7 LITE FM? Why even waste a rating on it at all?”

NO. If you want to be super type-A about your music collection, I have another option for you that requires less of this musical ratings absolutism. The enjoyment of music is all about CONTEXT. Not how many stars a single deserves on the way to work and napping and cleaning and also while entertaining people you don’t know that well. Not to mention the gym! Oh how I loathe exercise but I really do feel motivated to run super fast on the treadmill when I have awesomely curated tunes to look forward to. This idea was actually born at the gym. Here’s how it works:

Stars are based on intensity, so that

★★★★★ Gym music. Super upbeat. Might be jarring or even embarrassing if accidentally played in another context.
[Representative track: The Hood Internet – JAY-Z vs. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM]

★★★★ Nighttime party funtime music. Let’s say you were to have a gathering, and you might try to encourage people to start dancing at some point, then this would be good to have on. Also excellent for cleaning.
[Representative track: Talking Heads – Life During Wartime]

★★★ Mid-day, or driving music. Neutral. Upbeat enough so that you stay awake and focused. Also so that your travel mates don’t start whining about how depressing your music is (although they will still make juvenile jokes about misheard lyrics). This might be the most interesting and populous allotment of stars!
[Representative track: Yo La Tengo – You Can Have It All]

★★ Relaxation music. Hanging out. Magic hour. Reading a magazine. Chill time. Your dad might say “depressing.”
[Representative track: Stereolab – Des Etoiles Electroniques]

★ Super chill. Sleeping. Or crying maybe — if that’s what you need.
[Representative track: Pale Saints – A Deep Sleep for Steven]

The best part about this system is that it can be managed from anywhere. iTunes has Smart Playlists that you can set up that automatically organize each list based on the stars. You can set the stars from your computer or on the go on your iPod or iOS device. Unlike the ‘on-the-go’ playlists, you can add to or edit the playlist WHILE you are listening to a song and it should update on the device right there. Then every time you sync to the master list, the starred songs will be transferred in both directions.

Smart Playlists

When I got my first iPhone earlier this year, I opted for the smallest amount of storage — 16GB. I already have an 80GB iPod with all of my music on it, so the question was really what to store on the iPhone for convenience’s sake. And having to determine that on a regular basis would paralyze me with indecision, except that I need stuff to listen to at the gym since I am not bringing both devices with me. So, I sync only star-rated songs, and mostly listen to fives at the gym, threes if I am driving and get to pick the music because sometimes I get kind of tired of Karl Pilkington, sorry, no offense. The four to two range is the all-purpose list and it really works for me.

I know I’m not the only person in the whole world who does not trust shuffle, who enjoys the time spent investing in some thoughtful advanced curation. I hope if you read this far you find this nerdery to be somewhat servicey. Are you a bit hoarder? How many gigs you got? How do you tame your bloated iTunes beast?

Comment now!