Smart Playlist Idea: The Anniversary Playlist

Ever wonder what you were listening to three, four, five or even ten years ago? Or maybe you want to look back and wonder “have I really been listening to this album for that long?”.

Enter The Anniversary Playlist.

By setting two simple Date Added parameters in a Smart Playlist, you can make a self-updating playlist of all the music you were listening to a given number of years ago. It makes a great little time machine.

Here’s one to get you started: 5th Anniversary Tunes.

Anniversary Playlist
click for full size

No matter how far back you want to go, you only need the Date Added selectors and a little simple math.

First selector: Date added is in the last XX months
This criteria includes every song you’ve added to your iTunes library in a given number of months. Since we’re talking years here, we need to multiply the number years by 12 to get the number of months. 5 years = 60 months. But since we want to have a slice that’s slightly older than 5 years, we add 1. So all music that was added in the last 61 months is added to the playlist.

Second selector: Date added is not in the last (XX – 1) months
But we don’t really want our playlist to include all the music that’s been added in the past 61 months, so we use this criteria to exclude everything that’s newer than 5 years old. This leaves us looking at a window of exactly one month from 5 years ago. As each day passes, the window moves and older songs drop away and are replaced with the more recently added.

Looking at my library, I see a number of songs from March 2004. It seems that it’s now been five years since I discovered Elbow (which makes me wonder the aforementioned “has it really been that long?”) as well as filled out my Stereolab singles collection. Also, Tortoise needs a new album. It’s been five years since the last one.

To adjust the window, simply change the number of months back to look. One year ago would be 13 and 12 months, six would be 73 and 72, and so on.

Smart Playlist Idea: My Favorite Nostalgia

I’ve been having so much fun with a new iTunes Smart Playlist for the past month that I’ve just got to share it. The basic premise is to relive my entire musical history in rough chronological segments, with the goal of drifting through the highlights of the various eras of my musical life. Contemporaneous songs are grouped and played near each other, creating a nostalgic soundtrack to your life.

It’s proving to be a fun trip down memory lane as I associate particular songs with particular moments, like that 10th Grade state science fair trip (powered by grunge supergroup Mad Season), Christmas vacations, the first mp3 I ever downloaded, that first year of college (where my early pop-rock leanings begin to mix with my discovery of electronic music), that first Stereolab track and other sundry milestones.

As I’ve been working my way through the playlist for about a month, each day ha brought great tunes and great memories.

Before we get going, some initial statements about the playlist though:

  • For best effect, you should have a fairly significant musical history. Mine stretches back seventeen years and just going through “the best” songs it’s taken me about a month to listen through the first six of them. The slowness is part of the journey for me though.
  • Chances are, if you have a long music history, you also have a rather large library. Part of the fun that I’m having with this project is the anticipation as I wonder what song will be played next. So, while a large library isn’t necessary for this project, it will be more fun if you have a large pool to draw from.
  • I keep bringing it up, but yes, this works best when the songs in your iTunes Library have the proper Date Added: the date you actually acquired the music, not just the date you added it to your iTunes Library. It’s the backbone of the playlist, really. If you’ve been building your iTunes Library since it came out in 2001, you should be good. If you’ve been collecting music longer than iTunes has been around, see how to back-date your songs. It’s tedious, but worth it.
  • A considerable portion of the songs in your library should be rated. The goal of this playlist is not to listen to every song in your library, but only your favorites from past to present. The star rating is how we filter all the best tunes.

That all said, how do we create this wondrous playlist? It’s actually a very simple couple of selectors.

Making the Smart Playlist

Start a new Smart Playlist and add the following criteria:

nostalgia smart playlist selectors
click to enlarge

My Rating: 5 stars
This makes sure only your favorite songs enter the playlist.

Last Played is Before {today’s date}
This selector initializes the playlist. Any song played before this date is eligible for inclusion. And songs are automatically removed from the playlist after you listen to them.

(Optional) Playlist is masterPlaylist
I use a master playlist to make sure my tunes are on the up and up. It filters my library so that only songs that are properly tagged, with correct date added, etc are included in other playlists. If you don’t have or want a master playlist, you can leave this selector out.

Finally,
Limit to XX items selected by Least Recently Added
This is what really makes the Smart Playlist work. The number you use for XX really depends on the size of your library and how large a “slice of history” you want to listen to at any given moment. I keep mine between 50 (when I’m listening in iTunes) and 100 (when I’m out with my iPod for the day). The Least Recently Added selector adds the earliest songs (according to Date Added) to the playlist and automatically replaces played songs with the next earliest ones.

Using the Playlist

The most effective way to use this playlist is via iTunes’ Party Shuffle Up Next feature (Party Shuffle is no longer part of the latest versions of iTunes). What I like about this method is that as songs are removed and replaced from your nostalgia playlist, the new songs become immediately available to Upnext, allowing for some really smooth musical transitions. The downside is that you’re chained to iTunes for all your listening.

But you can take that playlist on the road via iPod (or iPhone). It works just like any other playlist. Keep in mind though, that for the true “river of time” experience, try not to listen to the entire playlist in a single sitting when mobile. This has the effect of creating a hard break in the listening by completely clearing out all the oldest unplayed tunes, then replacing them with the next batch of songs. It divides the experience into chunks rather than the “smooth river” that I find so appealing. My solution is to listen to, at most, half the playlist during any given session. That way, when go to update the playlist, the new songs are intermingled with the unplayed ones.

::

Well there it is, the most fun I’ve had with a playlist in quite a long time. Hopefully, your nostalgic adventure will be as rewarding as mine has been.

Smart Playlist Idea: Eldest Tunes (that need attention)

This is a fun little playlist.

In my last Smart Playlist example, I showed how to create a list of the most recently added songs that had not reached a certain play count. Today’s list takes the opposite tack: what are the oldest songs in the library that haven’t been played a certain number of times. I call it “Eldest Tunes” and it is a great way to give attention to songs in your library that have, for whatever reason, found themselves neglected. I’ve found it to be particularly good for reminding yourself just how much you loved those songs of yesteryear.

Before I continue though, I have to point out that if you started your music collection before July 2002, then this playlist works best if you’ve back-dated your library’s Date Added field.

Setting the playlist up is actually ridiculously easy. Here’s a screen shot of mine:

Playlist is tunequest

Songs must be in my master playlist. If you haven’t set up a master playlist, then you can leave this criterion out.

Play count is less than 4

This number is arbitrary and can be whatever you want. In my case, I want to find songs that have been played 0-3 times. When a song reaches 4 play counts, it can no longer appear on this list.

Last Played is not in the last 3 months

This is a recycling mechanism. If, like in my example above, you’ve set your threshold to 4 and then listen to a song that only has 1 play count, the count increases to 2 and the songs stays on the playlist.

When I first put this playlist together, I found that I was listening to the same songs over and over again for that reason. It was taking multiple listens to rise above the 4 threshold that I had set. So I added this rule that says once a song has been played it is “embargoed” for 3 months, giving other songs an opportunity to be heard.

Finally, the last two criteria:

This is the actual engine of the playlist. Limit your playlist to the number of songs you want, but make sure you select least recently added. That least recent part is why it’s important to have accurate info in your Date Added fields. iTunes uses the date in that field to determine which songs will go on this playlist and in what order.

In my case, the oldest songs that currently appear on my Eldest Tunes playlist are from Primus’ Pork Soda and Blind Melon’s debut. I originally bought them over the summer 1993 (backdated in iTunes), but I’ve hardly listened to them in the past few years, so their play counts are low. But now that I’ve seen that they’ve been under-appreciated for so long, I can take steps to give them them proper consideration.

As for your playlists, I wish you happy listening!

iTunes Tip: Back-date the songs in your library

I’ve mentioned before that one of my standard library organization procedures is to back-date the “Date Added” field for all the songs in my iTunes library. That is, if I originally received an album for my birthday in 1999, I make sure the Date Added field in my library is my birthday, 1999. Same goes for every CD I’ve bought or mp3 I’ve downloaded.

Unfortunately, Apple for whatever reason, has decided that the Date Added field should not be user-modifiable. You can’t change it yourself, either manually or via AppleScript. And honestly, I’m tempted to think of that behavior as a bug/product defect. In this digital age, where at some point each and every iTunes user *will* have to rebuild or replace their library after some sort of data catastrophe, it seems like an obvious feature to be able to reconstruct one’s musical history chronologically. Why should users have to settle for the post-reconstruction dates for albums they’ve actually owned for years?

Well, there’s a bit of a workaround, but it is a tedious one. So make sure you regularly backup your iTunes Library file so that you don’t have to do it all over again in the event of a hard drive crash. I use my .mac/Mobile Me account to upload my library file to my iDisk every night at midnight.

How To

The secret is that iTunes relies on your computer’s system clock to assign the Date Added to songs in the library. So back-dating is as “simple” as changing your computer’s clock, dragging your music files into iTunes, then resetting the clock to the current time.

If you have hundreds of albums to do this with, the procedure can get quickly tiresome. Unfortunately, there is no way to automate it. Plus, if you are trying to fix songs that are already in your library, you have to remove them, change the system date, then re-add them. In those cases, make sure you note the play counts and star ratings, because you’ll have to re-enter those manually. Like I said, tedious.

But all that work is worth it when, in the span of five seconds, you conjure up a Smart Playlist called Best Music from High School:

Date added is in the range 8/15/1993 - 5/15/1997
My Rating is 5 Stars

That is truly awesome.

::

One warning though:

If you are using Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and you use iCal alarms, be sure to disable them in Preferences before setting your clock back. I found this out the hard way when I was suddenly flooded by couple hundred notifications for events that had already passed. It seems that iCal travels back in time with you, then when you return to the present, it feels the need to update you on all the stuff you missed.

Smart Playlist Ideas: Master List and Newest Tunes

With more than 16,000 songs to manage, there is no more essential a tool in my library than iTunes’ Smart Playlists. From building simple playlists for listening to creating complex queries for examination, Smart Playlists turn what would be a tedious burden into a trivial task. At the moment, I have more than 50 of them slicing, organizing and corralling my expansive collection of tunes into an easily navigable, self-sustaining ecosystem of music.

It seems a shame to keep all those playlists to myself when they could be benefiting other iTunes users, helping them find new ways to organize and listen to their libraries. On this first of a new tunequest segment, I’ll share some of the criteria for playlists that I’ve developed to help manage my library.

This first installment is a two-for. We’ll start with the foundation of my listening habits: the master tunequest list.

The master tunequest list was one of the earliest Smart Playlists I created. Its job is to act as a filter on the main iTunes library and determine which files are eligible for inclusion in other Smart Playlists. The premise is that only properly tagged music without any playback glitches should be included in subsequent lists.

Podcasts, audiobooks, iTunes U courses, videos and other files that are not strictly musical should be excluded from the standard rotation. But how to do it?

master tunequest smart playlist selectors

This is the actual criteria for my master list. There are multiple ways to create one, you just have to tell iTunes what to exclude. Here’s a brief description of the selections I’ve made:

Date Added is not 1/3/02.

I had a major hard drive crash on 1/2/02 which wiped out an early version of my Library. When I restored it from back up the next day, I discovered that the id3 tags for 5 years worth of mp3s had only been made on the library, not the back ups. I took the crash as an opportunity to re-evaluate my songs and make sure that all my files were “up to code” with proper tags and acceptable bitrates.

When Smart Playlists were introduced later that year, I didn’t want songs that I hadn’t checked going into my rotation. With the Date Added for all 7500 songs (my library size at the time) set to 1/3/02, I was easily able to exclude those songs that were pending evaluation. After evaluation, I re-imported my songs with the appropriate Date Added and they were automatically re-included in the master list. Today, about 200 rather obscure songs remain that I haven’t had the wherewithal to track down, so excluded they sit.

Date Added is a powerful tool for segmenting your library based on time period. You can set it to before, after or between dates to isolate just those songs, like a “Songs of Summer 2005” playlist (Date Added is in the range 6/1/05 and 9/1/05).

My Rating is not 1 Star

Rating a song 1 star is my arbitrary way of taking a song out of circulation. If I notice a song has glitches or that its tags have errors, I’ll mark it as 1 star until such time as I can fix it.

Podcast is false

Keeps podcasts out.

Playlist is not SpokenAudio

I have several playlists of just spoken audio that isn’t an iTunes Audiobook: iTunes U courses, comedy albums and other spoken word pieces. These playlists are kept in a sidebar folder called “SpokenAudio,” which iTunes treats as a single unified playlist for the purposes of Smart selecting.

You can create some complex hierarchies and conditional listening schemes using nested folders and playlists.

Kind does not contain video

Keeps all video content off the list. Movies, TV shows and video podcasts are not welcome here.

Playlist is not Audiobooks

Keeps files from iTunes’ Audiobooks sidebar from mixing with music. iTunes offers similar selectors for Movies and TV Shows as another way to exclude video content.

Genre is not Podcast

Another method to exclude podcasts from everyday listening.

Playlist is not xmas

I have a playlist dedicated to Christmas and other holiday tunes. This selector keeps it out of the way for ~330 days of the year. I remove it on or around Thanksgiving and replace at after New Year’s.

::

Now that we’ve cordoned off our healthy files, we can slice and sub-slice it to fit as many different listening schemes as we have whims. This is a relatively recent playlist I’ve been using to handle new music.

Newest Tunes

Some music falls through the cracks around here. Some albums get overshadowed and as time marches on, they don’t get the attention they deserve, receiving only cursory glances before being supplanted by newer music. This playlist is meant to allow all new acquisitions to have an full opportunity for listening.

It takes 4 parts:

Playlist is master list

The master list ensures that only “safe” music is eligible for inclusion.

Play Count is less than 4

I generally feel that 3 plays per song is enough to consider a new album adequately vetted. You can adjust it to suit your tastes.

Limit to 150 songs selected by Most Recently Added

This limiter means that the 150 most recently added songs that have been played 0-3 times (and are on the master list) will be included in the playlist. When one song on the list reaches 4 plays, it disappears from the list and is replaced by an older song that meets the criteria. When new songs are added to the library, they automatically appear on this playlist, pushing off older songs.

Since I implemented this playlist, I’ve been able to keep a handle on the inflow of new music into my library. Enjoy.

Nine Inch Nails[remixed]

young trent reznor presents a remix

For nearly as long as there’s been an Internet, fans have been contributing to the nine inch nails experience. There’s something about the music that seems to inspire a devotional following (probably has to do with expressions of angst, contempt and alienation wrapped appealing pop sensibilities). Youthful rebelliousness and antiestablishmentism runs deep through both camps.

Indeed, the rise of nin and the net seems to have coincided perfectly with each other. There were discussions on Usenet about Pretty Hate Machine being one of the best albums of the year in 1989 and the earliest mention of a nine inch nails web site that I could find is dated Nov 1, 1994, shortly after the net was opened to the public.

1994, of course, was the year the The Downward Spiral took the world by storm, reaching #2 on the Billboard Charts and exposing nin to the mainstream. Long story short: Reznor took five years to release another album and while lost in the wilderness, the steadfast fanbase incubated around the Internet. Fansites came and went, trading bootlegs and rumors and tracking the handful of singles and soundtrack songs released in the interim.

By the time 1999’s The Fragile release cycle began, Internet culture had matured quiet a bit. MP3’s and broadband were just starting to be mentioned in mainstream, but the leading-edge nails fans had already adopted them. I downloaded my first fan remixes sometime in the 99-00 winter and some of them were really good (like The Day The World Went Away (peppy by ignorantLOSER). download it). On the official front, Trent made several remixes and exclusive tracks available at the nine inch nails website. There was even a remix contest held for the song The Big Come Down (the winner can be found here).

Fast forward another five years. The Internet and computer technology had advanced quite a bit further. The album With Teeth was released in the spring of 2005 and a month later, Trent posted the source files to the first single The Hand That Feeds to his website in Apple’s Garageband format, officially sanctioning home-brewed remixes of the song. Websites sprang up immediately to catalog and share the fan-created materials.

Which brings me to today. One of the predominant trends on the Internet is, to be sure, social networking and inter-site integration (some call it “web 2.0”). What happens when you mix web 2.0 with the nine inch nails online ethos?

This: remix.nin.com

Taking the home remix concept a step further, Trent Reznor has put together a site where anyone can sign up, listen to, vote on, make comments about and download nine inch nails remixes, both official (as in previously-released on CD) and fan made. It’s freakin huge. The more industrious fans can download master tracks and make their own remixes for community evaluation and sharing.

The site combines the nine inch nails community and do-it-yourself artistry with a heavy dose of modern social media technology. The entire site is built in Flash and follows the graphic spirit typical of a nine inch nails presentation. Music can be selected from a playlist showing the latest top rated songs or you can search or browse for a particular piece. When browsing, you can create your own custom playlists. I started to put together a complete instrumental version of Year Zero before I realized that Trent had already done it for me. Other available playlists include Top Rated Fan Mixes, Most Commented, Newest, and Most Listened to, among others.

remix.nin.com attributes

Once a song is selected, it begins playing in the browser and the song’s curriculum vitae is displayed along with it. If you enjoy what you hear, there’s a “download mp3” button next to the rating number. Users can also assign attributes to songs based on various continua such mellow vs aggressive or dense vs sparse.

Playlists as well as individual remixes can be shared. Playlists via RSS feed so you can publish your favorite tracks or keep tails on a favorite remixer. Individual songs can be shared via URL. Here is a decent remix of The Beginning of the End. The only thing that’s missing is embedable player, a la YouTube, for putting the mixes on your own site.

There is one thing I can’t help but grumble about (but good-naturedly): all those rare and unreleased songs for the downloadin’. Being the nails fan that I am, I’ve spent more a decade keeping up with all the loose-ended ephemera of the catalog. Imports, promos, versions, bootlegs and anything else rare and obscure. After all the work and effort, to my (light-hearted) chagrin, I come to find that a lot of it is now free for the taking. It took me six and a half years to find a copy of the Aphrodite remix of The Perfect Drug, but you can have it just by clicking on this link.

But hey, the fact that it’s available at all is pretty freakin cool.

Thoughts on an iPod Shuffle

Orange iPod Shuffle in Dock (photo by tunequest)
Thinking of an iPod Shuffle? Find one on Amazon.

Birthday season is in effect around the tunequest compound and themodernista kicked off the festivities by presenting me with my long-desired orange iPod Shuffle (2G) (which I have dubbed “Shuffleupagus”). I had been struck by the orange model since they were announced this past January, but despite its relative inexpensiveness, I could never justify purchasing one; I’m a fairly austere guy when it comes to material goods and all my iPod needs have been handled quite nicely by my 5G. Still, the gift is not unappreciated, though I am somewhat abashed to admit that it makes the seventh iPod in six years for a family of two.

After palling around with the device for couple days, I’ve made some observations. Overall, the iPod Shuffle is pretty sweet and the vibrant orange casing is quite the eye-catcher. Straightforward and easy to use, it provides no-thinking audio entertainment. I love my 5G-pod, but its daily use often involves effort, whether its assessing new music, adding star ratings, absorbing dense material such as audiobooks and podcasts or just plain searching for something I’m in the mood to hear. The Shuffle, with a suitable playlist, provides a worry-free, effortless and enjoyable experience and the one gigabyte capacity provides ample music for daily jaunts, commutes and errands.

That experience, however, does come with some caveats.

The iPod Shuffle’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness: the lack of a screen. The same brain-dead simplicity that allows for simple recreation also can be a hindrance in some situations. On my 5G, whenever I run into a track that might be corrupted or otherwise malformed, I mark it with two stars as a way to pull it out of rotation and set it aside for reevaluation at a later date. On the Shuffle, that’s just not possible. And of course, when I can’t quite place the name/artist/album of the song I’m listening to, I’m just out of luck trying to identify it.

Also, the unit provides no visual indicator for volume. It’s hard to know exactly how loud the Shuffle is set without any visual feedback. I had it plugged into the tape adapter in my car and nearly blew out the speakers when a quiet classical piece transitioned to some bombastic Primus bass. Gave me quite the jolt too. In iTunes, however, you can set a maximum volume with a volume limiting slider.

Also, there’s no internal clock. The vast majority of my listening habits rely on the heavy use of iTunes’ Last Played Date. As a condition on my Smart Playlists, I use it to automatically refresh my listening selections, rotating recently played songs for those that haven’t been played in a while. The first-generation Shuffle was noted for its lack of a clock and, unfortunately, its successor is no different. Without a clock, the Shuffle has no way to know when you’ve finished playing a song and thus can’t update iTunes the next time you sync up. Instead, iTunes sets the Last Played Date to the time at which you perform the sync. While not quite as precise as I’d prefer, I tend to update my Pods frequently enough that it shouldn’t disrupt my schemes significantly.

Then there’s the size again. The thing is wicked small and keeping track of its whereabouts has proven bit elusive. A couple times already, I thought I had misplaced it or lost it under some paperwork when it was actually still clipped to my pocket. That’s definitely a behavioral change that I’ll have to adjust to.

Despite these minor inconveniences, and that’s really what they are, inconveniences, the iPod Shuffle is a solid product. In the few days I’ve had it, I’ve already found myself reaching for it more often than my 5G when I want to sit back and relax. In fact, once I get going, I find myself hesitant to turn it off. The only thing I need to figure out now is how to shuffle-by-album (if that’s even possible) rather than default shuffle-by-song.

8 Ways to Improve the iPod (and could be done with a firmware update)

The iPod is supposed to be “iTunes to go” but as the little music player has advanced over the years, it still lags behind in some relatively basic features, features that have been a part of the desktop program for some time. iTunes’ capabilities seem to be constantly improved and refined; its portable counterpart’s behavior has remained relative unchanged, even as it has gained photo and video support.

Forget touchscreens and Bluetooth, FLAC and DivX; here, I present a list of the iPod’s more troublesome foibles, all of which could be overcome with a firmware update, making it an even better music player.

Toggle display of the Composer tag

This is something I’ve wanted since Apple added the Composer field to iTunes five years ago: A display of the composer when listening to classical music. The 5G iPods have more than enough screen real estate to accommodate an extra line of text. It makes no sense that after all this time and after adding a way to browse and select by composer, Apple still doesn’t allow a way to view it while playing. Classical music aficionados have to either do without or devise elaborate tagging systems to see who the composer of a piece is.

Of course, not everyone has need for composer display. There certainly are people who don’t appreciate Prokofiev. Also, the field is often populated with junk from Gracenote/CBBD. A simple toggle in the iPod settings would fix that. Those of us who want to see the composer can turn it on and those who don’t can leave it off.

no composer visible
At a glance, there’s no telling who the composer is. One hack, though, would be to embed the composer name in the album artwork.

Support for the Album Artist field

iTunes 7 introduced a new data field to the song info dialogue box: Album Artist. Apple says it’s for assigning a primary artist to an album with multiple artists. It signifies a way to separate the artists producing the work from the artists performing it.

It’s a great idea for classical works that have a featured soloist in addition to the orchestra or when one artist is a featured guest on someone else’s song, eg, William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins. In this case, William Shatner is the primary artist and would be to sole “Album Artist” while “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins” are the performing artists.

The tag works well in iTunes, keeping song listing nicely and tidily organized. The iPod, however, still separates “William Shatner” from “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins,” leading to a cluttered interface that is difficult to use. Most of my music listening is done via iPod, so Album Artist remains under-utilized.

Album Artist would be a very useful tag. It would even solve my dilemma for tagging remix/dj albums. But without iPod support, the tag is DOA.

two shatners
Despite having the same Album Artist, these listings are still displayed by regular Artist.

Full Support for Sort fields. (accomplished)

UPDATE 3/19/08: Firmware version 1.3 for the Fifth Generation iPod adds support adds support for Sort Album and Sort Composer.

Other options recently introduced into iTunes but not into the iPod are customizable Sort Fields, which let you control how iTunes alphabetizes your artist and album listings.

By default, the iPod is smart enough to ignore “A,” “An” and “The” at the beginning of artist names. The Chemical Brothers are sorted with the C’s, for example. Starting with iTunes 7.1, you can customize the Sort name for Artists, Albums, Songs, Album Artists, Composers and TV Shows.

If you want Fiona Apple to appear with the A’s rather than the F’s, just set the Sort Artist to “Apple, Fiona” and you’ll soon see Fiona next to Aphex Twin.

It’s pretty cool, but…… on the iPod, it only works with Artists. You can customize all the albums and composers in your library and Gustav Mahler will still be chillin’ with the G’s and The Colour and The Shape will still be sorted with the T’s.

the thes
The “thes” like to hang out together in album view.

Browsable playlists

Music libraries get larger every day it seems. And the iPod’s hard drive does its best to keep up. At 80 GB, the device can hold a month or so of continuous music. For myself and others with large libraries, it’s effortless to create Smart Playlists that contain hundreds or thousands of songs based on specific criteria. Navigating those playlists can be nearly impossible as they show naught but a long list of song titles.

In my library, creating a Smart Playlist of Ambient music from between 1990 to 2000 returns 305 songs from 44 albums by 11 artists. Viewing the playlist on my iPod is a jumble of songs. I would love the option to sort and browse the artists and albums in a playlist.

Perhaps, when you select a playlist, the iPod displays an entry at the top of the song list: “Browse this playlist.”

Full-screen album art

When in full screen mode, I want the iPod to display album art as large as it can, no margins, no scaling. Just like when browsing photos, I want the image to take up the entire screen. This, the iPod can already sort of do…… if you plug it into an iPod HiFi, Apple’s own speaker system. I would like it to be standard. For more, read this recent rant.

Bonus Wishlist

I’m not annoyed by these missing features, but if they were real, I’d find them useful:

iPod Party Shuffle

A more limited version of iTunes’ Party Shuffle. When you’re shuffling, this would let you see a handful of upcoming songs. You could skip ones you don’t want to hear.

Profiles/Pre-sets

My listening preferences are different depending on whether I’m at work, in the car, at the gym, or moseying around the house. At the gym, I like to shuffle by song while at work I like to shuffle by album. When listening to ear buds, I like to use the bass booster EQ, but the bass response in my car is a little heavy, so I like to turn on the bass reducer.

It would be convenient to save different settings configurations for easy switching.

Grouping behavior that makes sense

“Grouping” is the red-headed stepchild of ID3 fields. No one *really* knows what it’s for or how to use it. Ostensibly, it’s for creating “groups” or subsets of related songs within an album. But it wasn’t until iTunes 7 that you could do anything with it (you can shuffle by Grouping).

It seems to me that an effective behavior for songs with the same Grouping to be “always keep these songs together.” For example, Mouse on Mars’ Varcharz has one song, One Day Not Today, that is broken into 12 tracks. Give all 12 tracks the same Grouping, “One Day Not Today” and the iPod would know to start at the first track and play through all of them sequentially, even when shuffling.

::

Hopefully, one day, these wishes will come true. I still love my iPod, but I’m looking for reasons to love it more.

Speeding Up Podcasts part 3: Make Yourself an Audiobook

Part of the Faster Podcasts Series

  1. Speeding up podcasts:
    Listen to more, faster – Part 1
  2. Speeding up Podcasts part 2:
    Using Audacity to speed up MP3s
  3. Speeding Up Podcasts part 3: Make Yourself an Audiobook

faster podcast

This instructional is nearly two months late. Sorry folks. I know you’ve been dying to find out the quick and dirty way to add acceleration to your podcast listening. Onward, then.

A note before we begin, these instructions are for Mac users only, as they require the use of an AppleScript to modify audio files from within iTunes. Windows folks, however, can try a variation on this method.

So without further ado, here’s part three of the series:

By converting your podcasts into iTunes-flavored audiobook files, you can save yourself some time and listen to more, faster by accelerating the speed at which they play on-the-fly using your iPod.

In the previous two articles in this series, I described how to listen to podcasts (or any sound file really) faster by

  1. using Quicktime to adjust the playback speed
  2. using Audacity to process the mp3s

Method 1 is handy for quick adjustments if you happen to listen to podcasts while sitting at a computer. Method 2 gives you fine grain control over playback speed and allows you to put the faster files on MP3 players other than an iPod.

But what if you want to be able to listen to faster audio on the go, without having to wait for Audacity to process it? Then you let your iPod do the work on-the-fly. Starting with the 4th generation model, all iPods (and iPod nanos) are capable of playing audio back at a rate 25% faster than normal. To do this though, the audio file must be in a specific format, either an Audible.com audiobook (.aa) or a bookmarkable AAC (.m4b).

Not to worry, turning your podcast mp3s into a bookmarkable is a very simple and very fast process with the help of an AppleScript: Quick Convert. Download it and install per its directions.

But before we can use that script to do any converting, we need to do some setting up and organizing. Converting podcasts this way will make iTunes treat them as audiobooks. The files will be removed from the nifty Podcast manager and appear, instead, as a jumble under the Audiobooks tab. The new files will not be accessible through the iPod’s Podcast menu.

We’ll need to set up some Smart Playlists to ensure that our converted files end up on the road with us and are easy to find. To do so, hold down the option key and watch the plus sign turn into a widget. itunes widgets Click the New Playlist button. In the window that pops up, we can specify our criteria so that our bookmarkable podcasts appear in this playlist.

It only takes two selectors:

  1. Album is <<name of podcast>>
  2. Kind does not contain MPEG


Click for full size. This example features The Sound of Young America, which you really should be listening to.

Do this for each podcast subscription you have.

When you convert podcast episodes, the ID3 tags on the new files will be exactly the same as the original, but the type of file will have changed from MPEG to AAC audio. Therefore, whenever you convert a new podcast to audiobook form, it will automatically be added to the appropriate playlist.

If you’re not sure about the podcast title to put the Album selector, get info on an episode in iTunes’ Podcast pane and copy from there.

Once those playlists are ready to go, we can do the fun part, the actual conversion. For this we use the Quick Convert AppleScript. The script allows you convert to different audio formats without having to change settings in iTunes’ preferences.


Click for full size.

So let’s get going:

  1. Select all the episodes you want to convert to bookmarkable/accelerate-able format. From the Scripts menu in the menu bar script menu, which should be visible if you’ve installed at least one AppleScript, select Quick Convert.
  2. From the window that pops up, select AAC converter.
  3. You’ll be asked if you want to make it bookmarkable. Say Yes.
  4. Then you’ll be asked if you want to add it to a playlist. If you’ve set up your Smart Playlists above, it’s unnecessary, so say no.
  5. Finally, you’ll be asked if you
    1. want to delete the original file
    2. remove it from the library
    3. do nothing
      Personally, I usually have no use for the original once converted, so I choose delete. Select your own preference.

With all the options set, iTunes will begin converting the file. Your mileage will vary of course, but iTunes’ AAC encoder is generally speedy. My G4 PowerBook processes at around 8X speed while my Intel iMac clocks in at roughly 30X.

The next time you update/sync your iPod,your new playlists containing the converted files will appear in the Playlist menu. Podcasts can be accessed under the Audiobooks menu as well. When listening to these files, use the center Select button to adjust the playback speed. It comes in three flavors: Slower, Normal and Faster.

There you have it, an easy way to adjust the play rate on an iPod. Now get listening.