iTunes Report: High Impact Artists

I’ve spent the past couple days playing around with Alex King’s iTunes Stats program. It’s written in PHP/MYSQL and requires a web server to run. With the MAMP one-click server running on my PowerBook, I had little trouble installing the program (though I did have to substantially increase the PHP timeout setting so it could handle my large library).

iTunes Stats reads XML files, one can load an entire iTunes library or export playlists for more selective examinations.

The program also comes with a number of built-in reports, such as Most Played Albums, Most Played Artists. Top Rated Albums/Artists and the option to weight by number of rated songs and play counts. The engine supports adding custom reports, so if you are motivated enough, you can create new methods of analyzing your music.

My PHPMYSQL-fu is not very strong virtually non-existent. Still, I was able to cobble together my own metric: Artist Impact.

An Artist’s Impact is measured by the total number of play counts they have received divided by the number of songs that artist has in the library. For example, Artist A has 20 songs in the library and those 20 songs have been played a total of 100 times. Thus, 100/20 = 5. That’s Artist A’s Impact. Basically, it tells you, the avergage number of times a song by that artist has been played.

This formula is a way to compensate for the bias present when some artists have significantly more tracks than others. In my case, I have 329 songs by film composer Jerry Goldsmith. He has an inherent advantage over say, The Breeders, who have 63 songs in my library. By virtue of being so prolific, Jerry is naturally going to have more play counts.

After playing around with it a bit, I’ve made some interesting observations. Firstly, the top 21 most impactful artists in my library, with one exception, have only one or two songs. In cases where an artist has a low number of songs, each play count is “worth more” in relation to other artists. A single play by an artist with only one song nets that artist a full “point,” whereas as single play by an artist with 20 songs would only gain .05 points.

Fortunately, I’m able to set a threshold for display, keeping outliers from being counted. Here’s my top ten High Impact Artists. The artist must have at least five songs in my library. Additionally, this list only takes into account “popular music” (excludes classical, live shows and film/tv scores).

Artist # of Songs Plays Impact
(avg plays / song)
1 Jet 7 73 10.4286
2 Rilo Kiley 55 512 9.3091
3 Glitter Mini 9 7 65 9.2857
4 National Skyline 10 92 9.2000
5 The Strokes 47 426 9.0638
6 String Theory 5 38 7.6000
7 Mercury Rev 34 257 7.5588
8 mouse on mars 154 1116 7.2468
9 Cex 37 264 7.1351
10 Bran Van 3000 34 228 6.7059

I’m very surprised to see Jet in the number one spot. That’s because my affinity for the band has waned to virtually nil. Still, it’s hard to argue with the dent Are You Gonna Be My Girl? made in my listening habits back in ’03. The ironic part is that overall, I didn’t care for Get Born, so I ended up deleting five of the thirteen songs on the album. Those weaker songs aren’t there to dilute Jet’s Impact by lowering the ratio of play counts to songs, so the band’s number seems artificially inflated.

Overall, I’m having quite the enjoyable time playing with iTunes Stats, even though it’s a little rough around the edges. I’m working on a couple of new reports and have even figured out how to get it to tell me which albums are missing ratings and how many ratings need to be completed.

Fun times ahead!

Deal with Paramount adds Star Trek Films to iTunes Store

During the Macworld expo keynote a week ago, Steve Jobs made the off-hand comment that Paramount Pictures had joined Disney in selling films through the iTunes Store. Of course, that deal means that all of the Star Trek motion pictures (except the Search for Spock) are now available for digital download, enabling portable viewing on a iPod or streaming to a new Apple TV.

Like all movie downloads from the store, the films cost $9.99 each, decent-enough price I you just have to have it now. For my money though, I’d much prefer the physical DVDs with all the special features and bonus materials. Still, if you don’t care about those things or already own the DVDs and don’t mind having your fair use rights sold back to you, downloading might just hit the spot. If not, I suggest you give Handbrake a shot.

Anyway, back to iTunes. At 640 pixels wide, the resolution of the pictures is adequate for most viewing situations. Compression artifacts are few, and motion is smooth and seamless. The sound was also acceptable, but I was using my PowerBook’s speakers.

Artifacting is usually very noticeable with red. Click to see this shot (PNG-24) from the First Contact trailer. It shows that the store’s compression holds up pretty well.

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Mac OS 9 mp3 Abandonware: MusicVac


Something odd happened to me the other day while listening to my iPod. I was enjoying a bootlegged version of Jerry Goldsmith’s magnum opus, the score to the first Star Trek motion picture. One of the tracks is raw recording session featuring two takes of the now-famous main title.

The theme was just getting going when, at the 1:26 mark, it just stopped playing. The music went silent and the time counter stopped moving. The iPod itself wasn’t frozen. I could still skip to the next track, navigate menus, play other songs, etc, but this one file would not play all the way through.

The song played fine in iTunes and Quicktime Player, but for some reason, my iPod didn’t like it.

Using my troubleshooting “shinn” I surmised that the problem was with the file itself. In the past when I encountered problem mp3 files, usually the result of trying to play Windows-created files on my Mac, I turned to a little utility called MusicVac. The program cleared all the gunk out of the file, bad headers, corrupted ID3 tags, resource forks, etc, leaving behind a fresh mpeg stream. 99% of the time, MusicVac made the unplayable playable, succeeding where countless other apps failed.

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t find the program in any of my software archives. It must have been lost in a hard drive crash or during the move from one computer to another over the years. So off to Google I went, but I wasn’t hopeful. This program was written for Mac OS 9 and I’d not heard of any updates since 1999 or so. Indeed the first few links pointed to a dead site and everything else pointed to pages that looked like they hadn’t been updated since 1998.

It took a better part of the evening and more search strings than I can remember, but I finally found a downloadable copy, link intact, on an Italian ftp server. After moving the program and the troublesome mp3 to my G4 PowerBook (had to run in Classic and Classic doesn’t work on Intel Macs), I proceeded to “vacuum” the file.

A few seconds later, I had a brand new mp3, that I’m happy to report works just fine on my iPod.

Because MusicVac was so hard to track down and development seems to have ceased, I’ve decided to host a copy of it here. As I noted above, Classic or a booted version of OS 9 is required to use it. Sorry, Intel Mac users. The feature set from the Read Me is below.

Download MusicVac b9.

MusicVac currently offers these features:

  • Removal of info window comments (saved automatically to "Saved Comments" file, just in case you need them again)
  • Removal of the resource fork (saves some space by getting rid of unnecessary information)
  • Removal of a specified PC file extension if it exists (Blah.mp3 becomes Blah)
  • Removal of leading and ending spaces in file names.
  • Automatic repair of invalid file information bits. (invalid bundle bits, custom icon bits, etc. are fixed automatically)
  • Automatic repair of invalid file creation/modification dates
  • Find and replace in file names
  • Removal of Finder label for a file
  • Removal of non-standard headers
  • Save information about your MPEG files to a text file for easy viewing.
  • Creation/modification of ID3 and ID3v2 tags.
  • Change file type and creator. (Hold down the option key when dragging files to MusicVac to bring up the "Quick Change" dialog to temporarily switch file types.)

Other Notes:

  • Under VERY rare circumstances MusicVac can damage a file when removing a header – usually if the header is corrupt. If this happens, you can try to recover the file by dragging it to MusicVac while holding the command and control keys. You will most likely never need to do this.
  • ID3 editing works like this – MusicVac assumes the filename for the song title. If an ID3 tag already exists, it’s values are inserted into the fields automatically. If you click the "Recall Previous Entries" button (command-R), it will insert the artist and album you last entered. If you click "Skip", no ID3 information will be changed/added to this file. If you option-click "Skip", no ID3 information will be asked the rest of the current MusicVac session.

They went Chattaway! –> The Caretaker’s Hoedown

Voyager Banjo Player

Well, for some reason, almost all of my Star Trek music got pushed toward the end of the tunequest, and believe me, I have nearly all of the Star Trek music except for the unreleased promo soundtrack to the Starfleet Academy video game. If anyone can point towards that, I’ll send you a digital high five or something, so the waters around here will be thick with Trekkin for a bit.

Today’s little nugget of musical trekdom comes from Jay Chattaway, a veteran composer of the post-Next Generation era with music credits on a total of 182 episodes of the franchise (second only to Dennis McCarthy’s 258). Chattaway has been actively writing music for Star Trek since The Next Generation’s 3rd season episode Tin Man, which has been cited by many Trek fans as one of his best contributions to the show’s musical heritage.

By the time Voyager’s first episode began production, he had seven combined seasons worth of titles under his belt (from both TNG and DS9), so it was natural that the show’s producers asked him to score the premiere though the show’s main theme was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who won an Emmy for his efforts. In general, Chattaway’s scores rely heavily on synthesizers and Caretaker is no different, much to its detriment. There’s some good music here, but most of it’s lost in a fog of artificial tones, chords and hums. I’m sure it’s effective on screen, but as stand-alone music, there’s not much that stands out. While listening to it, I couldn’t help but imagine it being performed by a larger, fuller orchestra for a more rewarding experience.

In the end though, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Fortunately, the soundtrack has a saving grace other than the Goldsmith theme. It features the complete banjo performance that was used in part of the episode. It’s pretty catchy and is probably the most unique two minutes in Star Trek’s musical repertoire. The Caretaker’s Howdown:

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Jerry Goldsmith’s genius: The Russia House

The Russia House - Jerry Goldsmith

Always the maestro; always the master. The track is Introductions from The Russia House. Jazzy and smooth, Goldsmith plays it cool for you. I generally find the timbre of a solo saxophone rather grating. Plus, it’s usually too “adult contemporary/smooth jazz” *ahem-kennyG-ahem* for my tastes. But that melody that starts around 2:11 is addictive as all get out. Pure genius.

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Derivatives: A Tale of Two Joels, part 1

This past week I listened to two soundtracks that were spin offs from successful motion pictures. However, neither one was for a motion picture sequel.

The first was Joel Goldsmith’s score to the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1, the long-running TV show. Joel, of course, is the son of legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, and is a composer in his own right.

I have to give him credit for this score. While it’s not terribly inventive, it does an excellent job of continuing David Arnold’s themes and motifs from the original film. Rather than re-invent the wheel, the SG-1 score is a nearly seamless transition to the small screen which keeps the Stargate universe cohesive. The re-use of the original cues also gives the score a much larger sound than is typically found on television program, where budgets for music are limited.

SG-1 assumes that the viewer knows the premise of the show. Thus, the show spends less time than the film did unraveling a mystery and concentrates more on action and spectacle. The TV score reflects that, providing 50 minutes of compelling music.

Dennis McCarthy – Deep Space Nine: Emissary: An Unexpected Treat

In the pantheon of composers who have worked on Star Trek, none are more prolific than Dennis McCarthy, who has been working with the franchise since the debut episode of The Next Generation to the final episode of Enterprise. Of course, whether you think that's a good thing or bad depends on your opinion of his music.

With the rather large caveat that Mr. McCarthy's composing abilities were limited by the franchise’s producers and production capabilities, who placed less emphasis on bold thematic music in favor of reusable "mood" and "atmospheric" cues, I must admit that, on the whole, I've not been impressed. I know it's not the composer's fault, and that I'm probably unfairly comparing his work to the more grandiose Star Trek film scores, but it's hard to wrap my head around the largely ambient, mood-setting scoring. a similar complaint I have regarding the bulk of Christopher Franke's Babylon 5 music. Maybe it's just a general limitation of writing music for television.

However, I recently listened to McCarthy's score for the premiere episode of Deep Space Nine (Emissary) and was quite surprised at its musical complexity. Though I've never been a big fan of the lumbering syncopation of the show's main title, I can’t help but get caught up in its a magnificent crescendo. It’s a perfect segue into each episode.

While McCarthy's music for the Borg Battle at Wolf 359 is not nearly as menacing or action-packed as Ron Jones' from The Best of Both Worlds, it too ends on a dramatic note that works, both by itself and on screen as we see Sisko's escape pod leave the Saratoga just before its destruction.

The score, from there, delves into the backdrop zone until the track Cucumbers in Space, an oddly-named piece of futuristic head-bopping source music. The score reaches a highlight on Into the Wormhole which evokes Jerry Goldsmith's exquisite V'Ger flyover music from the first motion picture. Later, during Reconciliation there's a cue that's reminiscent of one of my favorite passages from the third movement of Mahler's sixth symphony.

All in all, I found the score to Emissary to be an unexpected treat.

First Contact Complete: Jerry Goldsmith is da man

I'm continuing the tunequest at work, listening to the bonus tracks portion of the Star Trek First Contact score by the ever-illustrious Jerry Goldsmith, whose talents and I don't really need to say this are legendary. I found this bootleg online about 3 years ago, around the same time a lot of other of his Star Trek "complete scores" bootlegs were making some rounds on the internet.

At just shy of 2 hours long, the bootleg nearly doubles the amount of music from the official 1996 album. In addition to the complete score, the bootleg contains 13 bonus tracks, such as alternate takes and cues that were not used in the published version. The best part however, is the final bonus track. It's a raw recording session of the First Contact overture, complete with orchestral chattering and warm up. I enjoy this piece because of its lack of polish; it's a straight-up live performance. and it *sounds* great. the extra ambient noise and talking give it a real you-are-there feel.