Thursday, April 25, 2002

A Few of My Favorite Sings
Jacob Wolfsheimer's Maven.Sys isn't nearly as frequent or in-depth as I'd like it to be, but I continue to visit frequently to get a sense of where Jacob's been, what he's studying, and what's on his radar. Today I'm glad I stopped by. Jacob's current entry concentrates on Alaska Jim's Music Charts Top Hits Online, a Billboard- and Rolling Stone-like listing of popular singles.

But Top Hits Online is different than most pop music charts in one extremely interesting and exciting way. Just as magazines such as Wire occasionally feature best-seller rankings from independent record stores, the singles listed in Top Hits Online are drawn from a survey of more than 225 personal charts. It seems that there's a cottage DIY industry in which folks maintain their own singles listings -- and Alaska Jim compares and compiles their content into this wide-ranging reflection of the top 100 song selections of the week.

This is collaborative filtering with a difference. And while much of the list features the inane dreck and drivel we've come to expect from mainstream radio, the personal aspect of the source lists introduces some interesting outliers to the mix -- including bands such as Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional, both of which are just on this side of mersh. This indicates an interesting potential for a DIY response to the self-referential and -perpetuating qualities of record sales lists. Records sell because they're played on the radio, advertised, displayed prominently in stores, and listed on charts such as these -- for the most part. And records are played on the radio and displayed prominently in stores because record labels spend money to promote and place select records. Advertising contributes to public awareness, and all of this drives sales -- which are then reflected in top 40 and other lists, which in turn drive more sales.

If we could break free of this cyclical process, if lists actually showed what records people are listening to frequently, if we could easily see what records people are recommending to their friends (a more valuable endorsement than a sale at Newbury Comics, for sure), and if -- as Eugene Chadbourne has suggested -- we could track what records people sell back to used record stores because they were caught up in the hype machine and left listening to a record not worth plastic it's made of -- then and only then could we really see and hear what music was worth making.

No comments: