Words by c.z.robertson

Music Filtering

2001-06-09 01:00:00 UTC

For the last few years I've been worrying about how something approaching a meritocracy could be created for music. I've been trying to work out a system in which the quality of the music rather than the quality of the marketing would determine which musicians would be listened to. A few days ago I had an idea which might help solve that problem.

I was thinking of a system in which musicians could submit the URL of an mp3 file to a database, and then a listener could retrieve a random URL from the database and if they liked the tune they could link to it on their own page. The public would then be able to find a listener whose tastes they shared and that would then be a source of new music for them.

The listener wouldn't have to do anything labour-intensive like writing a review of the tune. If they liked it they would link to it and if they didn't like it they would just ignore it. Significant parts of this could be automated without much difficulty.

I'm trying to minimise the amount of work that the listener has to do because I've seen mp3 review sites become bogged down by the vast amount of requests for reviews and the time and effort it takes to actually write a review. In addition to that, the number of reviewers is quite small because few people are willing to dedicate the amount of time that is required.

Under my system there's no guarantee that a piece of music submitted to the database will be listened to, the listeners have a fairly easy job, and the server is just storing URLs rather than mp3s. Therefore the system should be low-cost and low-maintenance.

There are a few potential difficulties that will have to be worked out: dead URLs and genres.

When URLs die they should be removed from the database. This should be done in such a way that any listener who discovers a dead URL should be able to report it, but it would be undesirable for a listener to have the power to actually remove it since then they would have the power to remove URLs that they didn't like. (Anyone should be able to be a listener, so listeners must be untrusted.) There would probably have to be a group of trusted administrators with the power to remove URLs, or perhaps a group of semi-trusted administrators with removals requiring the approval of a number of them. I'm slightly worried that if the system became large this would be a bottleneck.

There is also the problem of genres. Having listeners retrieve a random URL gives every musician an equal chance. However, most listeners, particularly those with more obscure tastes, would not want to wade through hundreds of tunes in genres that they would have no chance of liking, in order to get something that was in a genre they liked. So it would probably be reasonable to create a system of genres enabling listeners to only listen to tunes in genres they were interested in.

However, creating a genre system while still maintaining fairness could be difficult. I don't believe that pieces of music belong to just one genre, but allowing submitted music to belong to more than one genre would give an advantage to musicians who make overly broad claims about the genres their music belongs to. Then there are questions about how the genre list would be chosen, whether it should be specific or general, hierarchical or flat, and so on.

There are also interesting questions about how tightly coupled the listeners' pages of approved songs should be to the database. Personally I'm more in favour having the listeners maintain their own pages with their own resources. That would reduce the load on the central server. On the other hand, if the pages were hosted on the same server, it would be possible to automatically prune teh dead links, and to automatically find listeners with similar tastes.

As usual, I don't have the time or resources to implement this myself. Anyone else is invited to do so, however.