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The iTunes Guy Looks at Chronological Playlists, Surround Sound Playback Problems and More

itunesguy-thum-100004188-gallery.jpgOne of the best things about iTunes is the ability to make smart playlists to group content according to simple conditions. In this week’s column, I look at two questions about smart playlists: one about listening to different podcasts in chronological order, and another about the Category condition. I also look at how to redownload previous purchases, and how to fix in issue where the Apple TV won’t play surround sound from ripped DVDs.

Read more in this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy column.

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iTunes Tip: See and Edit Upcoming Songs in Genius Mixes

003.pngI’ve never been a fan of iTunes’ Genius mixes. They’re opaque, limited, and you can’t create your own. Genius Mixes are “perpetual playlists” that iTunes creates when you turn on Genius (Store > Turn On Genius). iTunes makes up to 12 such playlists, and puts them in the Playlists list, or in the sidebar, if that’s visible.

What I don’t like about Genius Mixes is that you can’t see what music they contain. Unlike Genius playlists, which you can edit manually, Genius Mixes are the lazy way of setting up genre-based random playlists. (And, yes, I do miss iTunes DJ.)

004.pngBut, you can see what’s coming up in a Genius Mix in iTunes 11. You can also remove tracks from the mix, or change the order of upcoming tracks. All you need to do is us Up Next.

To the right is a Genius Mix on my Mac. If I hover my cursor over the album art, I see controls, and I get an idea of which artists the mix will contain. But I can’t see any more information about the mix. However, if I use Up Next, and check its queue, I can see what’s coming up in the future.

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If you want to delete any tracks from the Genius Mix (this time around; I don’t think this applies permanently), just hover your cursor over a track, then click the X button to the left of its artwork. If you want to re-order tracks, just click on one and drag it to a new location in the list.

005.pngIn the screenshot above, I’m doing this from the iTunes MiniPlayer, but you can also see this by clicking the Up Next icon in the iTunes LCD. This displays a drop-down list similar to the one that the MiniPlayer shows.

I’m still not convinced by Genius Mixes, because there are no parameters; I can’t choose, say, songs with specific ratings, or exclude certain artists, or even choose which Genius Mixes I want. iTunes creates them based on the content of your library.

But this does make them a bit more usable.

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iTunes Radio More Popular than Spotify in US

Only six month after it was introduced, figures from Staista suggest that iTunes Radio is the third most popular music streaming service in the United States, ahead of Spotify. Pandora leads with a comfortable 31%, then comes iHeartRadio (which I’d never heard of before) with 9%, then iTunes Radio with 8%. Spotify, in spite of heavy marketing in the US, has only 6% of the market.

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It’s important to note that many users listen to music from more than one service; one study suggests that as many as 92% of iTunes Radio listeners also use Pandora. (Note that the above only shows how many people listened to each service, not how much. The real numbers are the number of songs streamed, or the number of hours listened.)

What’s interesting is that Pandora is limited to North America, and there’s no suggestion that they will expand, whereas iTunes Radio will be adding a number of countries in the near future; for now, it’s available in the US and Australia. As for Spotify, it’s available in many countries, with the US being one of its latest territories, so it’s hard to tell which service has momentum.

iTunes Radio, of course, can lose money without Apple batting an eyelash. The service’s goal is more to steer listeners to the iTunes Store to buy music than to provide a true streaming service. This could change, of course, in the future, if Apple sees that streaming is overtaking sales; it wouldn’t be complicated (other than accords with record labels) for Apple to turn the entire iTunes Store’s music offering into a streaming library.

But for now, in spite of iTunes Radio’s limited choices in content, it seems to be moving up quickly. Apple has managed to get lots of iTunes and iOS users to try it out, and the true litmus test of success will be in the future, when it’s not a novelty any more.

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The iTunes Guy Looks at Getting Old Apps, Excluding Tracks from Shuffle Mode and More

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In this week’s column, I look at some interesting questions about getting apps for iOS devices that aren’t using iOS 7, about viewing album art in playlists on iTunes, and about keeping certain tracks from rearing their heads when you’re listening in shuffle mode. I also explain how to set up smart playlists to sort your music by the first letter of artists’ names.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy column on Macworld.

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iTunes Tip: Use the Hidden iTunes Store Power Search

Searching the iTunes Store can be difficult. There are many types of content, and you can get hundreds of results for some searches.

The iTunes Store used to have a Power Search link in its page footers. You could choose to search specific types of content, and enter search terms in appropriate fields, such as Artist for music; Author for books; Actor for movies; etc. With iTunes 11, this link disappeared, but there’s still a way to get to it.

This link first opens in your default browser, which redirects the link to the iTunes app and the Power Search interface in the iTunes Store.

iTunes Power Search

As you can see above, when searching for movies, you can limit your searches by Movie Title, Actor, Year, Genre, Rating, and even search only for movies available to rent, or with closed captioning. With music, you can search by Artist, Composer, Song, Album and Genre.

I don’t know whether this Power Search interface will be around for a long time, but if you find searching the iTunes Store to be a chore, try using the iTunes Store Power Search.

Update: Doug Adams shows how to do this with an AppleScript directly from iTunes. His solution is much easier.

Also: Thanks to Marcus who pointed out in the comments that using itms instead of http bypasses the web browser. This makes the search a step quicker.

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Why Do Classical Record Labels Overprice their Wares on the iTunes Store?

There’s one thing I don’t get about classical record labels and digital sales. Here’s an example: The Belcea Quartet’s complete Beethoven string quartets, on Zig-Zag Territoires, a French label.

On the iTunes Store:

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And on Amazon.com:

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What’s the logic behind that? This is just one example of many. To be fair, this is less common with single discs, but the prices of most box sets are much lower on plastic.

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Is iTunes’ Genius Getting Dumber?

iTunes’ Genius feature is designed to help you find music that “sound(s) great together.” For example, if you find a song you like, and want to make a playlist with other songs that should “work” with that song, you can do so. Select the song, right-click, then choose Create Genius Playlist.

As far as I can determine – Apple has never publicly explained how Genius works – Apple looks at the music libraries of millions of users to determine which songs “sound great” with others. So, if lots of people have a certain song, Genius will look at the crowd-sourced library of all other songs they have, then compare them with your library to give you a playlist of songs that fit.

But it seems that Genius is changing; getting dumber. When I last updated my ebook Take Control of iTunes 11: The FAQ, I took the following screen shot to illustrate creating a Genius playlist:

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I’m working on an update to the book now, and I’m checking a number of things as I go through it. If I choose the same song – The Clash’s London Calling – today, here’s what I see:

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iTunes no longer has any Genius suggestions for this track, which is far from being obscure. I’ve been noticing this recently, in fact, on my iPhone. When walking, if I don’t know what I want to listen to, I’ll start playing my music in shuffle mode, then create a Genius playlist from a song that sounds right for my mood. I’ve found many cases when iTunes no longer is able to create a Genius playlist.

(Some other artists whose music doesn’t show Genius suggestions include Talking Heads, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run; seriously…), The Doors (the song L. A. Woman), the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, and much more. I’ve confirmed this on two different computers, so it’s not just a question of my Genius database being corrupted on one Mac.)

What about you? If you use Genius, have you noticed an increase in the number of songs where iTunes has no Genius suggestions?

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Is iTunes Match Right for You?

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iTunes Match has been around for a while now, but it’s not for everyone. In a Macworld article, I look at whether iTunes Match is right for you, for the way you listen to music, and, more importantly, the way you access data.

Read some other articles I’ve written about iTunes Match:

iTunes Match Still Kinda Sucks

iTunes Match and Mastered for iTunes: Which Tracks Do You Get When Matching CDs?

Update: Bad Tracks from iTunes Match: Who Do You Complain To?

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