Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Rating Scheme: Qualifiers

What makes music good? What makes it interesting, pleasing to listen to, enjoyable? The question, actually, is impossible to answer. Not everyone enjoys the same songs, bands, or even genres. Some people despise country, other people loathe hip hop. The fact of the matter is that 'good music' means something different to everyone. People's tastes develop as they mature, and they often reflect that person's life and experiences. Any given song will offer up something just a little different to every listener.

In turn, I've decided to change the format that I use for album ratings. My initial posts (which I will re-rate) used a simplistic '5/5' rating scheme, which actually wasn't a scheme at all; just a random number out of 5 that I felt reflected my opinion of the album. After some consideration, I realized that I could better explain my ratings, and my reasoning behind them. Thus, I have created 9 qualifiers, each qualifier also being rated out of 10. The total of all qualifiers adds up to 90, which means I could give each album a possible score from 0 to 90, and then an average can be taken from the final number. Obviously, these are simply some of the basic traits that I look for in a song or album. You may not agree, and that's perfectly okay. After all, differences are what make the world go 'round.


1: Lyrics
2: Significance
3: Music
4: Freshness
5: Production Quality
6: Composition
7: Dynamic Range
8: Humanity
9: Cohesiveness

Lyrics: They tend to be the very core of most modern music. Whether good or bad, lyrics generally display the intent of the song, the point the artist is attempting to get across. A low score in the lyrics category probably means that the lyrics were shallow or poorly written.

Significance: An album doesn't have to be filled with politics or opinions to be significant. It just has to be real. An album should feel like it has a purpose, and a reason that it was made. If an album feels like it was made solely to make money, without any other purpose behind it, it makes the album feel insignificant to me. A low score in the significance category probably means that the album felt shallow to me, or that it was pushed out by the great commercial music machine for one purpose: to bring in cash.

Music: This section takes into account the precision of the music, the arrangement, and the talent behind the instruments. This category is mainly of a technical consideration (which of course in and of itself does not make music good or bad, but it should be considered). A low score in the music category likely means that the album was made by somewhat unskilled musicians, or is filled with obvious technical errors. It could also mean that the musical arrangement was poorly put together, or bland sounding.

Freshness: Just what it sounds like, freshness is how unique an album or piece of music feels. Of course, there isn't much left these days that is unique, but some bands/artists can pull it off better than others. A low score in the freshness category means that a particular album sounds tired, overdone, repetitive, and uninspired.

Production Quality: Production quality, in this instance, refers to the quality of the audio itself. Is the audio clear? Is it mixed well? A low score here likely means that the album sounds muddy, dirty, or undefined.

Composition: Composition takes into account the harmonies, and the melodies of the music. It also takes into account the relation of verse to chorus, etc. Composition is about the formula (or lack of) that is put to use in the music. A low score here means I found the album to be devoid of melody and harmony (of course I have a sliding scale built into my brain when it comes to things like rap and hip-hop), and the musical formula used feels worn a little too thin.

Dynamic Range: Dynamic range refers to differences in volume. I believe dynamic range is important in music, but unfortunately most albums released today have very little dynamic range. Instead, most music released today has been 'normalized', meaning that there is little difference between loud sounds and quiet sounds. Think back to albums like Crime of the Century by Supertramp, (or anything by a classical composer), and you'll discover that a ton of emotion and feeling can come from simply allowing differences in volume. A quiet piano followed by a blaring horn section. If you're unfamiliar with dynamic range in music, do a google search on the 'loudness war' currently taking place. A low score here means that the album has been squashed, that every sound on the album is roughly at the same volume level.

Humanity: Humanity can come into play as the opponent to precision. Humans are fallible. We make mistakes. Sometimes leaving mistakes in a recording brings a feeling of humanity to the music. Humanity also means that nobody 'cheated', digitally or electronically, to make the album sound good (ie., autotune). Sometimes autotune can be difficult to spot (hear) but I will do my best to find out if autotune was used during production of a particular album. Personally, I would rather hear an imperfect vocal recording than perfect vocals that got that way through dishonest means. A low score here means that the audio/vocals were tampered with after recording to correct pitch, or instrumental discrepancies. (I am aware that nearly every album produced has some form of correction, so this will mainly apply to autotune, or other such cheats.)

Cohesiveness: Cohesiveness is all about the flow and momentum of the album. Were the tracks laid out poorly on the album? Could the tracks have been rearranged to form a more pleasing listening experience? At times, albums can become bogged down in their own depression or sad state of mind. Sometimes, listening to too many slow, sad songs in a row can really hamper your mood. As well, some songs just don't flow into each other very well. Sometimes a contrast between songs is better than a similarity, and sometimes it's the other way around. A low score here simply means that I found the album didn't flow very well, or that it included songs that didn't feel cohesive with the rest of the album.

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