The History of Ranking

Like most, I have listened to music for a very long time. I would dare say that I heard music on the first day I was born (hopefully it was something good). Since that day in 1984, I had a quest. It just so happens that the introduction to this epic story was 30+ years of prep work.

Spring Cleaning and Music Discovery

I purchased three large bookshelves for my newly finished home office. Filled with Walt Disney World history books and trinkets, these shelves would also be home to some of my prized possessions – original vinyl records from 60s/70s. As I unpacked my records from a plastic bin, I uncovered a ziplock bag filled with CDs. It would have been easy to discard the entire bag (much like many items in my bins) but I decided to go through the bag CD by CD. I was happy to discover my early 2000s collection of CD mixes.

Lots of Songs on One Disc

I made it a habit to use colorful sharpies on all of my CDs after I burnt the CD-R. Many I would give their own album (mix) title. These were quick doodles and never pre-planned. I ran into a stack of CDs with simple letters intersected by dashes. I forgot all about this collection.

In 2006 I purchased my first ‘brand new’ car. This Ford Focus was nothing special and was within my budget. Little did I know that it had the coolest feature – it played mp3 discs. Post-CD and pre-iPods, this feature allowed you to burn your music on the disc and accounted for file size – not length of tracks. I remember going through and making data discs of all of my music A to Z and using these in my new ride. How many songs could you fit? About 169. Nice.

Now 169 songs is an estimate. It’s all based on file size and if you put “Singring and the Glass Guitar” for every track, you might get 12 songs. I remember 169 because of the more important CD I would find in that ziplock bag.

Best Artist, Best Songs

One CD, decorated in red, blue, and green, was a project I distinctly remember. Before my vast knowledge of databases and when I was probably novice, at best, with spreadsheets – I created a ranking of my favorite artists/bands. Listed from 1 to 169, I selected my favorite artist and my favorite song from their songbook. I quickly exported the files on my computer to see what my musical tastes were in 2007. There were some shockers, but I can’t imagine I was too far off.

Brother Campfire Meta Discussions

My brother Todd and I share many similarities. One of these includes our love for music and more importantly how we organize our music. Nerds at heart, we have the blood of a 60s rock and roll drummer – Bill Hersey. As we talked over a campfire (Todd’s bachelor party), we discovered that we have strikingly similar takes on some music (mostly those influenced by our father). We also have many differences (generational trends probably). We ended up talking most of the night about our favorites. I probably asked for him to rank his. When it was my turn, it was an easy task – so I thought.

Since I practiced this exercise years ago, I hammered out my top ten. As I was saying it, I thought to myself that it may be inaccurate. Not just because of new bands, trends, and tastes, but why did I rank this way?

The idea sparked that night and process began.

Starting Over

After a discussion about smart playlists, I started to rank all of my music. One to Five stars, it was easy to make a playlist that only synced songs without a rank. Slowly I went through my collection (built since 1999) and ranked every single song. By using ranks, I could easily calculate what my favorite songs were. Artists would remain mostly subjective.

One grand morning, my external hard drive stopped working. This had everything. I do not want to dwell or give any more thought to this day.

I found my old plastic bins filled with CDs and records and started to rip them back to the computer. Slowly I acquired cheap CDs and digital copies of my favorites and started to build my catalog. This process would take some time – and with time came a new goal and process.

One Artist at a Time

After I realized that I can export my metadata to Excel, I could actually come up with an algorithm to determine my favorite artist and songs. No longer did I have to rely on my subjectivity. By ranking the songs and giving scores, I can find out exactly who should be my favorite band. But this would require a lot of work.

I would need to acquire the entire discography for every artist. I would have to rank the good, the bad, and the obscure. The formula would have to make sense for artists with one album and artists with 30. Exceptions to songs and rules were needed to cover all scenarios.

After a year of playing around, sampling, tweaking, and discussing with my fellow nerds – I have created a solid plan.

I will take my original list and go artist to artist, ranking song by song. I will create a new list, updated whenever new music is acquired or ranked. I have created an algorithm that will determine an overall score. I will have a definitive list for Eric Hersey’s Artists.

All Music Must Be Ranked!