I stand (well, sit, slightly reclining to be more accurate) before you a broken man. But I laugh in the face of addiction and say to you all now I will fight this blight and become, once again, the man I once was. My name is Alex, and I am a scrobble-aholic!
It all started so innocently, I mean, what self respecting music fan wouldn’t jump at a service that logs all the music you listen to? We refer to this filthy habit as ‘scrobbling’ and it has the potential to take over your life.
I began my ascent into scrobble addiction on the 22nd January 2007 with just a few scrobbles, just to see what it was about and to feel part of the crowd. It took a while for the addiction to really take hold, but within 6 months, I was logging in daily, often several times a day to satisfy my cravings.
The scrobble addiction is a pernicious beast. My music is important to me, and what I listen to on a daily basis is an expression of this. Keeping a log of what I listen to, over time, is like keeping a diary – a little expression of my inner self, and a document of my moods and tastes. To have this for myself is a wonderful thing, but my last.fm playlist is public, and that’s where the trouble starts. The concept of someone knowing exactly what I’ve been listening to and appraising it is an uncomfortable one for me. I pride my self (rightly or wrongly) as being open minded and having a diverse music taste. I’m happy with this conviction/delusion and the last thing I want is for someone to barge in and scupper my self-satisfactory conceit. But my playlist is out there, and public, so that’s exactly what could happen.
You can see the levels of paranoia that this foul addiction has driven me to? Is there really an elite of musically diverse fanatics out there queuing up to take their shot? These people certainly exist (I am one of them), but could they give a badger’s testicle about me? I think not. But the paranoia persists. For this reason I don’t friend people on last.fm, I attempt to remain on a happy island – an island like the Galapagos, diverse and special and protected. Stay of my land!
So at this point, my addiction and the accompanying neuroses were under control. I had a manageable addiction that wasn’t affecting my daily life, but like all addictions it developed and spiralled. Here we come to the second stage of scrobble addiction: taste distortion.
While opportunistically lingering around the various widgets and stats generators that gravitate round last.fm, looking for a stronger fix, I happened across a nasty concept called AEP. The Anti-Exponential Profile is an unsophisticated statistical algorithm that propounds to calculate your musical taste’s diversity. This uses your all time top 50 bands and the number of listens that they have, and give you an indication of skew – are you a fanboy for a particular band, or do you tend to spread it around a bit? This is a number between 1 and 5, where 5 is really diverse (the mythical state of having listened to everything an equal amount of times) and 1 (or below) means that you’ve listened to a few artists loads and not much else. In the AEP world of musical snobbery, 5 is ultimately virtuous, and 1 or less is slovenly, narrow minded, low-brow and reprehensible.
I ranked at something like 3.5, which is unacceptable. Utterly and totally. Un-accept-able.
The scene of the crime
Part of the problem was that, at that time, I’d spent rather a lot of time listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s latest album Ire Works, which has quite a lot of short songs and bears repeated listens. It had totally skewed by AEP! So I banned myself from listening to TDEP entirely until I’d got to at least and AEP 4. Why 4? Not just because it’s a nice round number, but once I achieved this number, I could join the last.fm group called “We don’t have exponential profiles” which is limited only to that elite of folks that have AEP’s of 4 or higher. I had to be a member of this group, not doing so, as soon as possible, would constitute absolute and total failure.
Soon I was policing the very music I was listening to. “Hmmm, feels like an Opeth moment” I would think to myself, but then, “hold on, no, listened to too much Opeth lately, it’s starting to skew my list, need to listen to something further down”. On other occasions: “Why is my AEP not moving? I know, if I listen to the stuff at the bottom of the list, then that should help even things out a bit, and by bottom end will be nearer to my top”.
Crises would occur frequently. Accidentally not syncing my iPod before listening to something on iTunes (and thus negating my ability to scrobble the tracks recently listened to on the iPod) would leave me in a seething rage. On occasion, I would accidentally leave my iPod playing over night. Once, right from the beginning, so my iPod thought I was on an AC/DC binge. This posed a horrible dilemma – do I sync the iPod and have my profile skewed towards AC/DC (clearly not what I’m into at the moment!) and see my AEP plummet, or do I not sync, and lose the ability to scrobble all the other tracks that I really did listen to before? No choice really, the AEP is paramount.
I finally achieve AEP 4 and hastily joined the elite group of anti-expontialers. Heaven. But was my appetite sated? No!
The next escalation came when I discovered a tool that calculated my “long tail”. Basically, the percentage of your overall scrobbles that were generated by bands not in the top 50. This is a further indication of musical diversity, and thus overall righteousness. Subsequent to finding out that my long tail was less than 50% (unthinkable!) I largely stopped listening to anything in my top 50 (still at around AEP 4), basically all my favourite bands.
This didn’t seem like utter madness to me until I started to have anxiety about Opeth (now way out front on my scrobble count), TDEP, Radiohead or anyone in my top 10 bands releasing new albums. Should I listen to these and run the risk of liking them, thus skewing my AEP?
Every recovering addict has a moment of self realisation – the pure moment where cold, hard reality floods in on you – and this was mine. This had to stop!
So here I am today. My last.fm account is still alive, but I have resolved to stop looking at it. Is this enough to break the cycle? Maybe not, after all I’m still scrobbling. Baby steps, and over time I’ll conquer this. I feel a sense of relief, but the urge to take a peep is sometimes overwhelming.
But has this changed me permanently? What exactly is my taste in music? How will I know if the stuff that thought I liked was not just a product of my addiction? Only time will tell I guess…
This has been very hard for me to write, but at the same time cleansing and cathartic. I hope others reading this who have suffered as I have are able to take some strength from my words – brothers and sisters, we can fight this together.