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“Unclassifiable”

May 2, 2008

In the nature of Internet Music Piracy, you’re downloading other people’s music.  And it comes configured in all it’s little settings by … other people.

I have one little foible that pretty much gets the offending track deleted before I listen to it, or as soon as I note the issue is present.  It shows up under the “genre” tag, and it’s when some idiot has labelled the particular track or artist as “Unclassifiable.”  It’s not.  First off; by merely labeling it as “Unclassifiable”, you’re classifying it.  It’s a self-defeating descriptor.  Secondly, there is not piece of music that doesn’t fit into some box – regardless of whether or not it’s a tidy fit, it counts.  Most music these days could be counted as multi-genre, just pick one, or put ’em all.

Mainly, this happens with two particular genres; that is, world music that could count as around 1/4 punk; and anything that should be ska but has just enough of something else in there to blur the distinction.  Sometimes I see this in similarly borderline barely-metal, but I don’t listen to much barely-metal, so I guess part of it is underexposure.  I’d like to throw a little theory out there; I think this is linked to people who identify strongly with “their” music, and are willing to admit that whatever it is doesn’t really count as their majority taste, but, for instance, the punk fan just can’t quite bring themselves to admit they have “world” music.  In the same vein, someone else unwilling to admit to themselves they have and enjoy ska.

Primus, for instance, gets labelled as “Unclassifiable” all the time.  It’s not; for a while they had their own ID3 genre tag, but really, they’re best described as experimental ska.  But they’re pretty weird, so loads of people try and pretend that they’re something they’re not, and call them “Unclassifiable.”

This whole … rant, I guess, segues really well into something else that bothers me.  Your (Yes.  YOU, personally, whoever happens to be reading this.) musical taste is not unique.  There are approximately 21,000,000 last.fm users spread out over 200 countries.  This total number is just over 6% of the total population of Canada & the US, and within three months of use, last.fm can find you people with similar tastes.  If the prime music-listening demographic is, say, 15 – 40, there are 121,000,000 people, approximately, who share that demographic in the Canada & the US.  If last.fm can find people with similar taste within a sample that represents just under 1/6th of that demographic in North America, it is statistically certain that there are people, likely a pretty significant quantity, who have similar or identical taste in music to you; any discrepancies in their musical selection from yours are merely the result of exposure to different acts (It is this statistical truth that last.fm bases their premise on, and it certainly seems to work.)

Edit: Trying to dig up an old study I ready that found that something in the order of 60%+ of the people surveyed regarding musical taste used “unique” among the top 3 single-word classifications of their personal taste.  The study’s not coming, so I have no citable proof, but…  Cut the number in half, even, for reasonable caution, and you’ll get what I’m saying.

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