A Case Against a SongFight! Archive Rating System
by Spud

A system of rating the songs in the SongFight! archive has been proposed by some. The mechanism would involve a panel (yes, dr., a panel), who would rate the songs on a numeric scale, and the average scores would be posted somewhere. It has been been suggested that the archive is daunting, and this would give people some sort of a guide as to which are the songs more worth their time.

I find this proposal problematic for the following reasons:

1. It is redundant. There is already a voting system in place. Not only is the winner posted, but for the fights in the modern era (post-narbotic), the voting is posted as well, so that anyone can see how many votes were received by each entry.

2. It is changing the rules after the game has already been played. When people entered these songs, they anticipated voting and reviews, but not ratings. It is possible that this is taken into account by the entrants, not only as they are writing and recording their songs, but when deciding to submit them. If they want ratings, they can always submit them to somesongs.

3. It is not in the nature of SongFight!, which is very much "of the moment". The songs written for SongFight! are written in a week, and exist within a very specific temporal context. This context includes the mix of competitors who have been submitting recently, the reviewers who have been reviewing recently, and the pattern of voting which has taken place recently. It is likely that these factors have a bearing on the songs that get submitted, which would tend to be overlooked in an after-the-fact rating.

4. It is regressive. Rating yesterday's songs by today's standards makes little sense to me. The archive goes back five years. The musical context was different back then, as was the technical context, equipment availability, almost everyone's (including both the contemporary reviewers and the modern-day raters) expectations, and of course the community that these early entrants were writing into, as discussed above.

5. It is elitist. No matter how the panel is composed, it cannot possibly represent all points of view, and will tend to favor some particular criteria, be it production skills, lyrical content, musicianship, genre, or whatnot. The listener who is supposed to be enlightened by perusing the ratings may or may not agree with them, nor the criteria upon which they are based.

This last item is the most troubling to me. This rating system is supposed to let people know which songs in the archive are the "good" ones, in order to make the archive more accessible. The trouble, of course, is that this flies in the face of the "all comers" nature of songfight. The listener who chooses which songs to listen to based on the ratings is likely to miss out on a wide variety of approaches, genres, ideas, techniques, jokes, and other attributes that make SongFight! what it is.

The question of whether this system is "official" or not would seem to be a red herring. If it is to be of any use to anyone, people have to know about it. It is likely, therefore, that a thread will be created to call attention to these ratings, etc. This will make them at least semi-official. The "panel" members that I have heard about are all respected members of the SongFight! community, lending to the credibility of the system. If, on the the other hand, the ratings are not well-publicised so that newcomers can easily find them, then why bother?

This idea flies in the face of what so many of us claim to love about songfight, and to hate about the music industry. We complain that we are force-fed only what they want us to hear (and buy), and the musicians with less broad appeal get short shrift. SongFight! is one of those unique places where the crap gets served up right along with the gems, and we let the user filter them for themselves. It is not the mechanism of the rating system that bothers me. I don't care who is on the panel, how long they serve, or whether the scale is 0-1 or 1-100, it is the goal which disturbs me, that of filtering the archive to protect the unwary. I say let them fend for themselves.

If on the other hand, the goal is to call attention to the archive, and to the wide variety of material available there, another mechanism can be found. In fact, I have a plan for doing so, and am implementing the first phase this week..