Experiment 1: Favorites

Be a part of an experiment with me. Think about your favorite songs. Don't kill yourself, but spend a minute wrestling with it. Pick five or so. Write them down. This is important. Don't skip this step. I want you to see them in front of you.

Mine are:

Moss Icon - "Gravity"
Gang of Four - "Damaged Goods"
La Dispute - "The Last Lost Continent"
Ben E. King - "Stand By Me"
Sonic Youth - "Stones"

I'll wait for yours.



Figure 1: Songs with over 100 plays in my iTunes library

Now, go to your iTunes library and view your library by play count (see figure 1). Write down the top five songs. Compare this list with your declared top five. Mine had a grand total of zero overlap. Not a single song. In the above screenshot I included every song with over a hundred plays in my iTunes library.

Obviously there are a few unaccounted for variables in my rather rudimentary experiment. Some of you probably utilize another medium (e.g. CD, LP, Pandora, etc) that does not track play count. Your figures will be skewed.  Another concern: the songs we listen to on our laptop might not be indicative of our regular listening habits. For instance, I'm less inclined to put on a metal or rap record on my laptop on account of the bassless and meek speakers on my MacBook Pro. However, I use Apple's iTunes Match service that tracks all of my plays from my computer (streamed to my hi-fi system over an airport express) and my iPhone which constitutes the bulk of my musical intake. For me, the iTunes playlist count is a fairly accurate representation of my current listening habits.

While this experiment has its flaws, it, nonetheless, is revealing. My declared favorites share no coincidence with the tracks I return to* most often. Is Aristotle right when he declares that we are our habits, we are what we do most often? What do we mean by favorite? Can the term be captured objectively? Is it more than a play count? Or is there something ephemeral and personal about the term?

I've seen Dumb and Dumber hundreds of times more than I've seen The Shawshank Redemption, which I intellectually consider to be a superior film. My declared favorites are born of my head. They are the ones I want to write on a list and show girls I'm trying to sleep with. They are carefully chosen to represent the kind of man I want to be. My Play Count favorites, however, are the loves of my heart. It turns out I love Hour of the Fucking Wolf, and all the other bands those dudes are in.

Do I love my declared favorites? Of course. They're great fucking songs. I'm in love with them. But the cleavage between them and my play counts is tough to ignore. When I'm alone with my playlists, away from the prying eyes and judgments of others, my playlists become less pretentious, less heady. At my core, I'm a  kid who loves listening to punk rock, who loves to drum on the steering wheel and play air guitar.

Surely it's not restricted to music: movies, books, and--fuck--people. Next time someone asks me for my top five, I'll try and be more honest. I'll try and tell them who I really am and not who I'd rather be. 

*Phrase borrowed from Ryan Stark.

Note - What did your favorites say about you? Feel free to include your lists in the comments section. Maybe some of you are more honest with yourselves than I am. But trust me, don't look at your play counts first. Don't cheat.

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