Inside the My Life Soundtrack project

Inside the My Life Soundtrack project

Why I'm building and sharing a huge database of every single song that has impacted my life


Hello. I’m Robert J. Ballantyne and this is my life soundtrack.

Since January 7, 1990, I’ve kept a weekly top 10 chart of my favourite popular music. In recent years, I’ve been wondering what to do with this multi-decade database.

The depth of this project no doubt reveals how integral music is to my life. The title “My Life Soundtrack” alludes to how music underscores our lives like a movie from celebrations, workouts and even our heartbreaks. At times music has been my only friend, a wise and loving parent, and more than a few times, has helped me find my way when lost in moments of deep despair.

As I unpack my music library and categorize each song’s numerous meta tags onto the internet, I also unpacked many memories, and made new realizations about myself. My hope is that this ever-evolving collection inspires you, too.

My Life Soundtrack’s mission is to help others discover new music, to inspire people to critically examine the impact of music in their lives, and to create a digital space where all can passionately share music-related thoughts and memories.


How the My Life Soundtrack chart works

Similar to popular music charts like Billboard and the UK Singles Chart, I keep a weekly record of my top 10 most-played songs. The number one song is the most played, and others fall below it in play count as a top 10 hit.

I do not record chart placements within the top 10, mostly to reduce my workload, but also because the additional math took the joy out of making these charts and creating year-end and artist rankings.

Estimating play counts

My mother often played Madonna in the car, and I formed fond associations with her music as a result.

From 1990 to 1999, my play counts were estimated from the amount of times that I played various albums and singles that I owned, and secondarily, songs I heard on the radio and the music videos I watched on television. Madonna dominated this era of mostly physical music ownership, taking up a majority of my allotted allowance and discretionary spending on cassettes and CDs at local music shops.

Kylie Minogue’s “Spinning Around” (2000) may have been her first chart hit here, but her career began back in 1987.

In 2000, with my first at-home high-speed internet connection, Napster became a gateway to new musical worlds along with physical media. I no longer had to import singles from Australia and the UK, but could download them near-instantaneously. This era is notable for introducing me to the pop delights of Kylie Minogue. As a result of these peer-to-peer (P2P) downloads, digital music plays quickly dominated what became a “hit” on my weekly charts — and increased the diversity and number of songs to reach the top 10.

The introduction of legal download services like PureTracks and iTunes in 2004 also had an impact. Difficult to find remixes were now available to purchase. Audio quality from legal downloads were also consistent when compared to the wild west of P2P downloads. In my mind, a purchased song soon counted more than a P2P download, so usually a number one song would have to be purchased to be an official part of my life soundtrack.

Physical media died a long lingering death; the last CD I purchased was Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree in 2008.

Amidst music’s digital revolution, Rihanna reigned In 2016, Apple Music and Spotify opened the floodgates further for my life soundtrack. The notion of “owning” music was no longer significant to the chart, and really, anything that could be heard on a listening device counted towards plays and chart placement.


Distinguishing between #1s, top 10s, playlisted, recurrent and vault tracks

There are five classes of songs in the database:

A #1 song is the week’s most-played song in my life soundtrack. It’s almost always a song that recently became commercially available or was promoted to DJs.

A top 10 song is among the week’s most-played songs in my life soundtrack. Chart placements from 2-10 are not officially documented. It’s almost always a song that recently became commercially available or was promoted to DJs.

Songs that fell outside the top 10, or that I missed upon their initial release, but later became part of the soundtrack of my life

Recurrent songs were all released prior to 1990, and include a wide variety of commercial singles and album tracks.

Club-oriented songs that are part of setlists for DJ mixshows.

Songs in the vault are played during special occasions like Halloween or Christmas.


How songs are playlisted: A to F

Inspired by radio stations, I categorize each song by letter grades — descending from A to F — which prioritizes how often I play a song and how often a song appears in other playlists. An A-list song is played more often than a B-list song, and so on.

While I don’t keep fastidious statistics on play counts, these graded playlists ensure I only listen to songs I love — and it has the added benefit of making it easier to create on-the-fly playlists that I’ll enjoy, too.

These rankings can change over time, with tracks rising and falling in personal appreciation and prominence. For example, Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” was a number one hit for five weeks and a former A-list song (now it’s an F-list song).

Here is what each letter grade indicates:

An evergreen song. I may or may not play these songs all the time, but their quality and emotional significance transcends all other playlists.

High rotation song. I play songs from this playlist all the time, from a few times a day to a few times a week.

Medium-high rotation song. I play songs from this playlist at least once or twice a week.

Medium rotation song. I play songs from this playlists at least once a week.

Low rotation song. I play songs from this playlist at least once a month.

Songs from this playlist are only occasionally played.

OMG. Why did I ever like this? Songs from this playlist are rarely played.


File and category conventions

My Life Soundtrack makes a best effort to coordinate similar and disparate file naming conventions of WordPress, iTunes Music and YouTube.

Here are the common categories and tags for My Life Soundtrack:

  • Filename: Lead Artist – Title Title (A Cappella/Dub/Edit/Instrumental/Remix/Version) (feat. Featured Artist, Featured Artist)
  • Artist: Lead Artists, Lead Artists
  • Title: Title (A Cappella/Dub/Edit/Instrumental/Remix/Version) (feat. Featured Artist, Featured Artist)
  • Grouping: A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List, E-List, F-List, A-Playlisted, B-Playlisted, C-Playlisted, D-Playlisted, E-Playlisted, F-Playlisted, A-Vault, B-Vault, C-Vault, D-Vault, E-Vault, F-Vault, LIFE, CAN, UK, US, Moods, Peak-04-29-2020
  • Comments: 8A/10A (Camelot System)
  • BPM: 99
  • Genres: A Cappella, AC (Adult Contemporary), Avant-Garde, Chiptune & MIDI, Classical & Jazz, Comedy, Country, Dance, Hip-Hop & Rap, Holiday, Musical-Opera, Pop, R&B, Rock, Spoken Word
  • Album: Album Title (Lead Artist, Lead Artist Album/Compilation Year/EP/Single)
  • Composer: Artist (songwriter/producer/lead artist/featured artist)
  • Conductor: Camelot System – Keys

Custom categories and tags:

  • Chart placings: 17-LIFE#1, 16-LIFE#1, 15-LIFE#1, 14-LIFE#1, 12-LIFE#1, 11-LIFE#1, 10-LIFE#1, 09-LIFE#1, 08-LIFE#1, 07-LIFE#1, 06-LIFE#1, 05-LIFE#1, 04-LIFE#1, 03-LIFE#1, 02-LIFE#1, 01-LIFE#1, LIFE10, CAN#1, CAN10, CAN40, US#1, US10, US40, UK#1, UK10, UK40, Peak
  • Tempo: Very Slow (75 BPM or less), Slow (76-107 BPM), Moderate (108-119 BPM), Fast (120-155 BPM), Very Fast (156+ BPM)
  • Mood: Agent 007, Alternate, Arcade, Awful, Beastmode, BRIT, Canadian, Celebration, Christmas, Cooldown, Desire, Disco, DJ, Downtempo, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Electro House, Essential, Extended, Français, Gifted, Grammy, Halloween, Heartbreak, Iconic, Indigenous, Inspire, Instrumental, Juno, London, Mashup, Melancholy, Multilingual, NYC, Office, Oscar, Profound, Rebel, Roadtrip, Runway, Stage & Screen, Study, Sunshine, Tastemaker, Top 100, Trance, Valentine’s, Vegas, Viral, Voxpop, Workout, 
  • Occasion: Temporary category for moods
  • Quality: Notes whether file was properly tagged

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