Dan (Feb. 2016)
How time flies! Six months ago, in the middle of the July heat, we brainstormed the idea of a Billboard-based summer mixtape fantasy draft. One month, thirty songs, and 12,000 words later, we sent our mixtapes out to judges for assessment. Another two months later, we had our data collected and ready for perusal. The problem was that Labor Day had come and gone, and our attention had turned elsewhere.
But I think it’s time to finally time to look at the results and draw some conclusions. I’ve shared with you the polling results, and we have quite a bit to discuss.
Before I dive in, let me just remind you the backgrounds of our judges:
Eight people volunteered to evaluate our mixtapes, all friends or acquaintances of ours. Their ages ranged from 18 to 28. (I attempted to recruit some elders who would have experienced “Shout” and UB40 in their prime, not in retrospect, but had no luck.) The judges claimed varying levels of expertise of and passion towards pop music.
Each judge gave our mixtapes scores out of five in five areas — energy, singalongability, relistenability, variety, summer-ness. They also awarded each mixtape an overall rating out of five and selected a winner of the draft, along with a margin of victory (“a little bit” or “a lot”).
The result is a lot of data for us to slice and dice and pick apart. In aggregate, though, a few conclusions jump out.
First, the big one…
There’s no reasonable way for me to dispute that you won the overall vote, though it’s definitely close. In the “overall winner” debate, you received six votes, where I received two votes. Your “overall rating” average, 3.6, is slightly higher than mine, 3.4. Your total number of judge points in the five categories, 142, just barely edges my total of 141.
My next-biggest observation: Neither of us scored worse than average in any category! For all of our debate of our strengths and weaknesses as we drafted songs, it was ultimately a matter of shades.
I have a few more specific thoughts based on my detailed analysis of the adjudication, but I need to know: What’s your reaction to the final scorecard?
Hello again, my friend!
You know, as a scientist with an agenda, I feel that I could spin the data two different ways. On the face of it, the final scores are so close that it’s easy to think the margin of victory is smaller than what we’d call the “systematic error,” i.e., we have a decent chance of getting a different winner if we do the whole thing over again with a different but similar set of judges. Yet there were so many songs picked, so many ways to order them, and so many criteria scored that the result actually might be what we’d call “robust.”
Of course, as an unfettered braggart, there’s only one way for me to sum it up:
[pullquote]”Ha!” – Colton, on winning[/pullquote]
It was a hard-fought battle, but in the end, I’m the one going to Disney World! This win took teamwork, and me, myself and I really put in the hours. We did the research, we made the tough calls, and we dealt with adverse conditions to come out on top. We’d like to dedicate this triumph to trusting the process.
For real, though, think about how tight this was. On a 5-point scale, we were only separated by half a point in two of the five categories. You won singalongability 4.1–3.6, which probably means I beat the spread, considering that your strategy placed much more weight on this aspect than mine did. I won summer-ness 4.0–3.1, though, and that might be telling of the overall outcome. In the game of “Best Summer Mixtape,” six out of eight judges scored me higher than you on summer-ness, while another gave us both a 5.
Those seem like the most salient tidbits to me. Are there any brighter insights to be gained from extended navel gazing?
Cheers, and congrats on the win! Just know that the Spike in me is now super-eager to do another competition so I have another shot to take the belt.
Based on the ratings and the comments, I think I’d agree with you — your edge in your strong categories trumped my smaller edge in my strong categories, and that sealed your victory.
We discussed the nature of sequencing and failed to come to a consensus. Those who commented upon the order of the tracks were similarly divided.
Judge Katy S. noted your playlist “gets weaker after a few songs,” while Alex L. quipped that Strawberry Summer Salad “goes from hype summer energy to depressing breakup songs; this is a road trip to a funeral.” As I worried on your behalf, that dull stretch in the tail end of your mix falls off an energy/singalongability cliff from “Alone” onwards.
Judges also noted my approach of trying to avoid any stretch of two or more songs with duds — both positively and negatively. Amilie N. observed that In the Fast Lane “feels more like a mix than the other,” but also said “I’d rather listen to a few similar songs and then switch gears, rather than mixing it up like In the Fast Lane” when she cast her vote for you. I also couldn’t entirely avoid the back-half blackhole myself, as Grant and Alex both dissed my second half.
Another striking result that legitimately surprised me were the voting results of two contested categories: energy and variety. I thought those were going to blowouts — energy in my favor, variety in yours. But I was wrong in both accounts, as we both pulled (what are in my mind) upsets.
Something else that amused me was that no fewer than three judges complained about your selection, or at least your sequencing, of “I Swear.” It was the first ballad taken at #11 (unless you count “Waterfalls”), and one I whined about not landing. I guess it just shows that, when it comes to summer highway jams, people prefer mediocre upbeat numbers to strong ballads.
Another interesting comment was a format tweak suggested by Jordan. He proposed that we “possibly could have made better playlists by drafting years, then choosing any one song out of that year’s Top 10” to generate our playlists. In other words, we still would have had 30 songs and 30 years, but wouldn’t have been bound to #1 on each list. This wasn’t one of the formats we discussed before beginning the draft, and it certainly might have resulted in less dreck on our playlists.
Then again, the schadenfreude of watching each struggle to decide what turds to take late in the draft was definitely part of the fun.
Lastly, I want to point out that Earn This co-founder Grant was not shy about his feelings towards “Blurred Lines.” He called the 2013 hit “one of the most wretched and unappealing mixtures of noises ever created and disseminated by humankind.” Solid burn, Grant.
On that note, I think I’ve hit all the points I wanted to. Any parting thoughts? What did you learn from this exercise?
Jordan H.’s idea would have led to better mixtapes but a worse competition. Imagine the information overload, first listening to 300 songs to pick favorites and then re-evaluating which song to take from each year as our draft progresses and we determine our stylistic needs. It would be all but impossible for any audience to follow. Even if it meant trading UB40 for Tag Team, I don’t think it’d be worth it.
Other comments from judges run the gamut. Some mirrored our thoughts exactly, as Brad S. giving me his vote because “‘Roll with it’ takes the cake.” You highlighted some votes and comments that flew in the face of our reasoning. And, of course, different judges contradicted each other completely: Alex L. called my mixtape “super varied” while Daniel E. said “it feels a little onenote.”
I would love to hear more opinions in the comments!
While I’m happy with the victory, I think we can enhance our next contest with lessons from this one. As in the Olympics, the judges matter when scoring is subjective. To keep anyone from feeling swindled, we might try to source a large number of anonymous judges from the internet, or else agree on a few hand-selected judges before we begin.
It’s guaranteed that there will be a next time. Let me take a moment to ponder, though. Should I allow the challenger to pick the format? Or, since you conceived this draft, should I defy tradition and lay down the rules of our next battle myself? Whatever the rematch, I’m sure you’ll be ready to roll with it.