Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Music Nerds Are Nerds Too!

Long before I was ever a "gaymer," I was a music nerd; band geek, choir kid, and, perhaps most weirdly, a music chart enthusiast.

In fifth grade, I was given my first alto saxophone. In sixth grade, I sang a solo during the school Christmas play as the character of the "Christmas Bunny" (complete with home-sewn pink Bunny costume). That year I was also selected as one of four from Blennerhassett Elementary School to be in the West Virginia All-State Children's Chorus (during which my voice decided it was time to change). In junior high, I played alto sax in both concert and jazz bands, and created quite the school "controversy" when I skipped a state competition in protest of the band teacher's perceived tyrannical teaching methods (for which I received detention). In high school, I was a member of concert choir, chamber choir, and concert choir, and was the section leader of the alto saxophone section in marching band. (Yes, Zach, I had to attend every high school football game for two straight years). I decorated my saxophone accordingly for various holiday parades (tinsel, ornaments, stickers, etc.), pretended that
the cape on my band uniform was a real cape (which was amazing during our field performance of Phantom of the Opera), reveled in every second of the amazing experience that was week-long summer band camp, ate lunch every day with the choir teacher in the choir room, performed with fellow choir members in a choreographed (and costumed) rendition of a Sister Act music medley for the high school talent show, and traveled to Toronto and various West Virginia towns for an assortment of competitions and performances. The summer after graduation, seven friends and I formed an octet singing group called Messa D'Voce, and we sang at various functions around town on the weekends (sometimes for money!). And during my first year of college, I was a member of the WVU Choir.


Okay, now on to what I really want to talk about: my inexplicable love for musical categorization, organization, and pop knowledge.

The year was 1997. I was thirteen years old, living in Washington, West Virginia, and was woefully closeted. Given these then present realities, I spent a lot of time lost in thought/my own fantasy world. I've never liked total silence, which is probably somehow anxiety related, and I existed perpetually in a space in which music was playing in the background. Then, as now, I went through phases in which I would latch onto a particular decade or genre and absorb all there was to absorb. My earliest years were strongly influenced by '50s and '60s doo-wop, late '60s British Invasion/Hippie pop, and Motown girl groups. As I transitioned into my teen years, I "discovered" the '80s, and hence New Wave.

And then, in 1997, as Lilith Fair female folk rock was blowing up on the radio, I discovered VH1 (which apparently loved this genre). This was also around the time that my house "got" the internet, and I soon stumbled across this strange land of online music charts as I was looking for stuff by whom I can only now assume was Sarah McLachlan or Paula Cole. Inexplicably, I was instantly jealous. I wanted my own online music chart. And so I made one. Embarrassingly, the best that my thirteen-year-old self could come up with was Luke Sounds.

It started out as a pen-and-paper chart that I would sit down and compile once a week. In its initial incarnation, it was a weekly top 10 that included few rules regarding which songs were eligible to chart. But as the chart aged, I imposed certain qualifications: namely, only proper single releases could chart (since that's how Billboard was doing it at the time), and no songs that had been released more than a year prior could enter the chart as a "debut" (unless of course the song had been re-released by the artist or label). I kept accurate records for every pen-and-paper chart, and compiled year-end lists based on the points that each song received per year: each week, the #1 song would receive 20 points, the #2 would receive 19 points, the #20 song would receive 1 point, etc. Once the chart went online, this became much easier to keep track of, and I started compiling records based on artists, years, and even all-time rankings. I kept the chart updated, every week, for twelve years until it unofficially died on May 20, 2009 -- not coincidentally, at around the same time that I was bouncing around from coast to coast trying to figure out what to do with my life. I guess Alex trumped charting!

BUT IT DOESN'T END THERE. Now that my passion for music charting has decidedly died, a different obsessive-compulsive music disorder has taken over. I have an incessant need to create itunes playlists, organized by genre, decade, artist, general "feeling" (e.g. Sugar Sweet Happiness) year, favorites by decade, favorites by genre, all-time favorites . . . it goes on. I can't help myself. And worse, I've become a quality snob about the music that I have stored. I love pirating music, and will now only accept songs that have a bitrate of 320 (maximum quality).

Confession time: since Alex started school in January, I've spent almost every single night organizing my music as per the method above. I'm sick, and I need help. The good news, however, is that I have tons of amazing stuff. I just made an '80s/'90s House playlist this weekend, and I'm working on finishing up '90s Groove and DON'T BE TARDY FOR DA PARTY (which is, obviously, my hip-hop and rap playlist, and, more hilariously, was already started for me when I bought the ipod used at a record shop).

So now you all know. I used to be embarrassed about this odd hobby, but I've come to accept it as just another facet to my increasingly nerdy life. Thank you, blogosphere! Finally, it's happened to me. Right in front of my face and I just cannot hide it.


  1. I've discovered that the only way for me to satisfactorily categorize music is by feeling. Past playlists include Melancholy, Happy Day, and Angry Ass-Kick.

  2. My standards for bit rate are woeful, and my ears pay the price.