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Genius or Shuffle?

October 31, 2009

As I was working around the kitchen this morning I found myself in a dilemma. I was searching for the soundtrack for my morning on my iPhone. I believe I am not alone in the occasional quest for just the right music to suit my mood or change my mood. The iPod and other devices like it promise us the world and devise all sorts of ways to help us in this quest for control.

I tried Pandora first, looking through my varied radio ‘stations’ to find one I thought was perfect. For those unfamiliar with the way Pandora and Apples iTunes Genius work, the easiest way to describe it is that they look at the DNA of the music – artist, genre, tempos, tone, etc. to match songs for you. For instance, I have a ‘station’ on Pandora for Benedictine Monks. When you type that in, you pretty much know what you’re going to hear – everything that plays on that virtual ‘station’ sounds pretty similar. The promise of Pandora and the others is that you have control over what you hear, like you own the radio station and don’t have to put up with lousy songs that make you want to change the station.

This morning I began listening to a station based on The Fray, listened a while, and decided it wasn’t working for me. So I went further back in time to see what a Gin Blossoms radio would sound like. I had some vague sense that it would be a little less angst-ridden and melancholy than the Fray and whatever music-mates Pandora would deliver. I’d have to say Gin Blossoms radio was a little more upbeat, but still a little to down for me today. I guessed wrong on what would be the key musical DNA to change my mood.

Was I in the mood for Genius – letting me set my mood and seeing if the miracle of technology would find the right tone? Or was I better off with Shuffle – a musical world that is far more broad, eclectic, and not at all driven by some pre-determined mood I was trying to reach? I love to play random shuffle on my iPod – my tastes in music are very broad and I often laugh or am surprised by the songs that play back-to-back. It could be Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” followed by Chris Tomlin singing “Famous One”. I love to consider those juxtapositions – not as if they are controlled somehow by God to tell me something (though they could be if He wanted) – but I tend to be a person who loves the discovery of things, serendipity.

I confess that, in the end, I’m more of a shuffle guy – seeking to discover the story of seemingly random things – than a genius guy – knowing exactly what I want and enjoying that measure of control.

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