It'll Never Fly

Clever… not good, but clever.

iTunes and Rating As You Play

On May 5th, 2005 by Bob
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Update: I’ve noticed that I still get a few hits a month to this entry. Everything still works as of iTunes 7.0.2, except the tip about setting upcoming songs to 0 (zero). It would appear that in version 7, Apple broke that ability and now Party Shuffle stops playing if upcoming is set to 0. I’ve sent in a bug report and suggest you do the same. For the time being, I set upcoming to 5, the next smallest number. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Update (6 Sep 2007): Eureka! It would appear that as of version 7.4, the Party Shuffle bug I mentioned above has been fixed! Yippee!

I’ve been using iTunes since 1.0. Before that, I was using SoundJam MP. I thought I had learned it all. What I’m about to say next may seem obvious to some of you, but I sure didn’t think of it until a few weeks ago.

I have several thousand songs. I also like to have all my songs rated. The problem is I still have a few thousand that aren’t rated. When Smart Playlists came out, I thought I had the perfect solution: make a live-updating smart playlist of all unrated songs (or the ones I want to rate for the time being), let it play in the background, and rate the songs as I listen to them. If you’ve tried it, you know it’s a sound idea, but it just doesn’t work. As soon as you rate it, iTunes removes it from the playlist and proceeds to stop playing the song. Another problem is if you slip up and apply the wrong rating; iTunes makes it pretty damn hard to find the song to undo it.

So I chalked it up to something that would likely never get fixed (e.g. is it even a bug that needs fixing?) and relegated myself to updating the playlist manually every so often.

Then Party Shuffle came out. I thought, “How quaint. That’ll come in handy once I finish rating all my songs,” and never used it after that except to show it off as a feature that some other players don’t have (omitting the fact that I don’t use the darn feature myself). I don’t remember what triggered the flash of inspiration, but I was talking with a co-worker, comparing music players of different platforms, saying iTunes does pretty much everything I want, but it had this one annoying behaviour that I wished they could fix.

It occurred to me that Party Shuffle can save a short list of previous played songs, as well as upcoming songs. What would happen with my Unrated smart playlist? Later that night I tried it out, and set Party Shuffle’s source to my smart playlist. Voila! That was the solution to my problems. When I rate the song, it gets removed from the smart playlist, but not from Party Shuffle, and the song continues to play. Plus I can go back a fix any misapplied ratings. It does exactly what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and it was just sitting there unused.

For maximum effect, set upcoming songs to 0. More than that and you could get duplicates once the source playlist gets small enough.

Now if only they could do the whole Ogg thing natively.

Update (22 May 2007): I just saw on The Unofficial Apple Weblog an entry about a program called AutoRate that attempts to automatically rate your songs based on how many times the song has been played and how often it’s skipped. Might be handy for those of you out there that are either too busy or too lazy to rate your songs by hand. I’d be interested to know people’s results. I still prefer my method, though (but I’ll admit it does take time).