itunes

More Fun with iTunes Smart Playlists

I’ve been systematically working my way through my library rating songs. As a result, my playlists are getting better and better. Since my last post, I’ve had several people ask what my stars mean. I use the following criteria for stars.

1 Star

Rubbish. I actively want to avoid this song. (I don’t delete 1 stars because I find it really hard to do so and other people in my family may disagree.)

2 Stars

I don’t hate it but it isn’t something I get very excited about either.

3 Stars

Good track. Not something that changes my world but still something I enjoy listening to.

4 Stars

Great track. This is for music that draws me in or just makes me smile.

5 Stars

Excellent track. This is for music that can set me right.

I’ve got a lot of genres and music of all these ratings in every one. Most of my playlists are smart playlists combining a genre with a star rating. For instance, this is my cool jazz smart playlist.

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Anything in the cool jazz genre with 4 or 5 stars makes it on this list. It syncs over to my iPhone just fine and pressing the “Download All” button gets my favorite cool jazz into my iPhone with one tap.

I’m not just a jazz nerd. I also like punk rock. I’m rediscovering it lately as I approach middle age and am  looking for more ways to stick it to the man. My punk collection isn’t nearly so deep as my cool jazz collection though so for this list I’m taking songs three stars or better.

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If my punk library continues to grow, at some point I’ll alter it to four stars or better.

You can also combine these smart playlists. For instance, I had a playlist that just included all of my jazz related playlists. I use the past tense because that list would not show up on my iPhone. It appears smart playlists that reference other smart playlists don’t make it through the iTunes Match pipeworks. It is the iTunes equivalent of crossing the streams. So instead I made a smart playlists that uses multiple conditionals.

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To do this, hold down option key in the Smart Playlist creation box and the little plus sign on the right turns into little ellipses. Tap on that and iTunes gives you multiple conditionals. This way I could build the playlist looking at multiple possible genres and star ratings. Notice how I have one condition that the genre contains Jazz. This grabs multiple genres in my library. This one synced over just fine to my iPhone.

Since I’ve got so much jazz rated three stars and don’t want to listen to just my four and five star jazz, I made another smart playlist called “Good Jazz” that pulls together a list of three star jazz that I haven’t listed to in awhile. This list is limited to 100 tracks and live updates. Sometimes listening to this playlist I may re-rate a song up or down.

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I’ve also got playlists that include all four and five star songs. It’s an eclectic mix and it all makes me happy. This playlist is also a great place to start when re-loading my iPhone.

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In order for this all to work, I have to be the only person in my shared iTunes library using ratings. That isn’t a problem for me. My wife and kids actually have lives and are not nearly so fiddly as I am about these things.

If you are going to do this, start slow. Just pick an album you like and rate the songs as you listen to them. Don't jump ahead no matter how tempted you are unless you are prepared to sink about five hours into a metadata binge. Also, I don't rate every track in our library. There are huge swaths of Carpenters, old Wiggles tracks, and other music that I'll never play. Indeed, It helps me (a lot) to pretend those song don’t exist in our library.

 

Rating iTunes Music with an Unrated Smart Playlist

I’m increasingly relying on ratings for my iTunes playlists. Setting up smart playlists that just include four and five star music make it really easy to get your favorite music on an iTunes Match enabled iOS device. The trouble is I don’t have time to go hunting down unrated albums and when I do, I tend to spend way too much time fiddling with iTunes. Instead, I’ve created an “Unrated Jazz” smart playlist that looks like this.

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I’ve got several Jazz Genres including Cool, Bebop, Classic, Contemporary, Vocal, and more. They all have the word “Jazz” in their genre so this smart playlist pulls from them all.

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I’ll load this up in iTunes and then open the I Love Stars app that puts a rating doo-dad in my menu bar. I can start playing this smart playlist then and rate the songs as I work. Once I rate a song, it dissapears from the list and stops playing. I’ve then got to hit the play button on my keyboard or in I Love Stars to get the next song started.

I’ve been doing this for about a month and it is working. I’m getting through my jazz library without spending a lot of time fiddling. Moreover my other smart playlists built on ratings are getting a little better every day. Once this is done I am going to alter the list to attack some of my other favorite genres.

 

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iTunes Screencasts from the Cutting Room Floor

At one point during development of the 60 Tips book, I had a chapter on iTunes tips but I was never really happy with it. When Apple announced they were re-jiggering iTunes last month, it gave me the excuse I needed to pull the iTunes chapter from the book. I did, however, have some screencasts already completed. I'm not sure if they'll still be relevant when the new iTunes ships but here they are anyway.

Service Sunday - Text to iTunes Audio

One of my very favorite web services is Instapaper. It allows you to clip any webpage for later reading. The trouble is, Instapaper makes it so easy to mark articles for later reading that I tend to mark many more articles than I can possibly find time to read. In effort to keep up with the deluge, I decided to start converting some of the articles to audio tracks.

Before digging in, let’s talk about what this service will do. You can highlight any selection of text, including an Instapaper article, and right click into a service that will grab the text, convert it to an audio file, rename it, and dump it into an iTunes playlist. This is remarkably easy. You just need Snow Leopard 10.6, a little patience, and about 15 minutes. So load up Automator and let’s get started.

The Automator Script

If you’ve never used Automator before, you’re going to love it. Automator lets you program your Mac without knowing how to program.

When you first load up Automator, you will be prompted to choose your workflow. For this project, choose to make a Service. This lets you to activate it contextually (right clicky). So click on Service and move along.

This service will accept text from any application. I normally use it in Safari, but it will work with Pages documents, long e-mails, RSS readers, and any other place that you have lots of text.

So Automator is kind of like programming tinker toys. You get one piece and connect it to the next. The first piece, called “Text to Audio,” converts accepts text and spits out an AIFF file. The easiest way to find it is typing “text to audio” in the search window.

Drag the action over and your screen should look like this.

This first step is the most important. It grabs text and converts it into an audio file. I save the audio file to the desktop with a temporary name “T2A”. The workflow will trash the file later.

Next, the workflow renames it with the “Rename Finder Items” action. By enabling the “Show this action when the workflow runs” option, you can type in a name when the service runs.

Next, the service imports the file to iTunes with the “Import Audio Files” action. Ticking the box, “Delete source files after encoding” cleans up your desktop for you.

Finally, the service adds the audio file to an existing playlist. I created one called, “Fascinating Text.” Here is the whole workflow.

For bonus points, set up a Smart playlist in iTunes that grabs all unplayed files from the Fascinating Text playlist and sync it to your iPhone/iPad/iPod and you are set. Wherever you go, great listening materials are a click away.

In Action

Just highlight some text and activate the service. I usually do it from the Readability view in Safari. For long articles, this can take several minutes.

Then give it a name.

Then Automator does the rest. If its a large file, this also can take awhile. Open iTunes and play.

The articles I most often convert to audio are non-techy long form pieces. So often, reading Mac and Legal stuff results in new OmniFocus tasks for me so I prefer to put in text like New Yorker or New Republic articles. Literature would work but the voice isn’t natural enough. I tried “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but listening to Alex recite Atticus Finch made me want to push an icepick in my ear.