Wednesday, 4 July 2012

When is a 4-star rating better than a 5-star?

Before I got my first iPod, I had a small generic mp3 player, back when 1GB was considered pretty good. Prior to that I had a CD player in my car, and I remember on more than one occasion I was almost late for work because I was in my basement browsing through my CD collection to decide which discs to take in the car that day. When I got my first iPod (a 30GB click-wheel model) it was in June, and I spent most of that summer ripping my hundreds of CDs and putting them on my computer and my iPod. I was able to carry my complete CD collection with me at all times. This made me very happy. I currently have a 64 GB iPod Touch which I use primarily as a music player. Most of the apps I want to use are on my iPhone (with its Retina display). When people ask why I have both I tell them my 32GB iPhone won't hold all the apps I want plus all my music, so I still need the iPod for music.

As you probably figured out by now if you've read my first 3 posts, I like a pretty wide variety of music. There are times when I'm in the mood for something light, and times when I feel like something heavier. Having access to my complete collection lets me choose whatever I want at any given moment. iTunes has become very good at helping out when I'm not quite sure what I'm in the mood for, not just with the shuffle feature, but the more impressive genius feature. Play a song you are in the mood for, hit the genius button on your iPod, and it will select more songs that are similar to that one and put them all in a playlist which continues immediately after your initial song finishes. How do they do that? While I'm not 100% sure of the details behind it, I know it has something to do with genre, year of publication, and the number of times songs appear together in other user-generated playlists. I like this feature, and have used it many times. My iPod has 5476 songs on it as of today so the genius feature always manages to find some good stuff. Your mileage may vary.

With over 5000 songs on my iPod, it's easy for my simple human brain to lose track of stuff that I like but haven't listened to in a while. That's where the star rating system and playlists come into play. Let's talk stars first. Whenever I buy a new album and play it for the first time, I always rate each song. iTunes and your iPod let you do this any time, and I've gotten in the routine of doing it the first time I play it. If I'm not enjoying a song at all (not every track on an album is gold, right?) I will assign it a 1-star rating. These songs get removed from my iPod next chance I get, though I keep everything in iTunes on my computer. If I'm not enjoying the song much, but it's not awful, 2-star. Songs I like, the "average" song gets the 3-star (currently 3001 songs out of the 5476). Songs I really like a lot and want to hear more often get 4-star ratings (currently 462 songs). This is my preferred setting, and when I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for I will open up a playlist I made which includes all my songs rated with 4 stars and hit shuffle. I am guaranteed to like whatever comes up.

The rating of 5 stars is reserved for songs I really like that meet one of two criteria. 1.) They need a bit more attention and I don't like playing them as background music or 2.) I don't want to overplay them. I listen to my 5-star songs less than I do my 4-star songs. There are currently 44 songs in my 5-star playlist, and honestly I need to update and move a few of them to 4-stars. I'll do that today.

Playlists are easy to make in iTunes, and my favourite are the smart playlists which follow a set of rules instead of just dumping a bunch of songs in there yourself. I created a playlist where the rule is that the number of times the song has been played equals zero. When I really don't know what else to listen to, I'll open that list, since it contains songs on my iPod I've never played. There's not much in there now, just a few Beethoven symphonies I haven't gotten around to (I have a CD set with all nine symphonies), an album I received from a friend recently which I'll probably play this week, and an album we bought on iTunes for my daughter. Total is 37 songs unplayed out of my 5476 total. Not bad.

That's it for me today. I don't want these blog posts to get too long and I've covered my iPod setup. I'll probably do another blog very soon, since I want to talk about some of the songs I like the most, and explain why certain songs get that enigmatic 5-star rating.

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