Get the Most Out of iTunes

Create More Space

Convert MusicThe iPhone comes with a good amount of storage space, but you can run out quickly. Try putting too many movies on your device and installing some big apps, and you may have to start sacrificing some of your music to make room. Hopefully, with the release of the latest version of iTunes, this problem will be relegated to the past. Starting with iTunes (9.2 is now available), Apple added a feature that lets you reduce the size of the music files on your iPod or iPhone by converting the bit rate to 128 kbps. Audiophiles may complain about the sacrifice in quality, but most people won't notice any difference.

Create more space on your device by converting your music to 128 kbps AAC.

The process is simple; here's what you need to do.

  1. Make sure the latest version of iTunes is installed on your computer.
  2. Connect your device to your computer and open iTunes.

  3. Select your device from the "Devices" list in the left hand column.

  4. Go to the bottom of the Summary tab screen and check the box labeled "Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC."

  5. Begin your sync.

The sync may take a bit longer than usual, but you will be well rewarded for the wait. Your iPhone or iPod will now be able to hold up to twice as many songs as before. Note that this does not change the original music files. They will still have the same quality they had prior to the conversion/synchronization of your songs.

Monitor your media

ITunes Usage BarConnect your iPhone, iPod, or iPad into your computer, open iTunes, and select it in the Devices menu. At the bottom of the Summary tab you'll see a bar graph that shows how much space is being used by each of the different types of media on your device.

If you click on that bar, it will switch from showing you the size of each block of media in megabytes to the number of files of each type. Click it again and it displays the number of hours or days it would take to play all of the content in each media type.

Use Smart Playlists 
to keep your music fresh

Smart ListI have a lot of music on my iPhone, but until I discovered the power of the iTunes "Smart Playlists" feature, I stuck to familiar artists and music. Smart Playlists lets you create playlists based on criteria you select. Smart Playlists are one of iTunes most powerful and overlooked features. There are three fields that you can manipulate to create rules for your lists. The first is a drop down menu that contains about 40 different options like Genre, Size, Album, and Play Count. The second field is another dropdown menu that contains qualifiers like "is", "is not", and "starts with". The options in the second field will vary depending on what you select in the first. The third field is sometimes a text box and other times a drop down menu depending on your choice in the first field. Sometimes there will also be a fourth field to configure. All this might sound a bit confusing, but once you get started you'll see it's really quite simple. To get started, click on file and then New Smart Playlist…. There are thousands of possible Smart Playlist combinations, and using it can be a bit daunting if you've never done it before. To help get you going, here are some of the top Smart Playlists from our staff and around the web.

A quick note before we begin with the lists: by clicking on the button after the plus sign (it's in the upper right and has it has three periods on it), you can create two sets of filters for your playlist. The first set can have the "Match" rule set to "any" and the other with the "Match" rule set to "all." You will see an example of this in the Holliday/Seasonal Music list.

1. Only Music

Only MusicThe most basic list is one that selects only music and excludes all other forms of media like podcasts, videos, PDF's, voice memos, and audio books from the rotation. Set the first field to "media kind", the second to "is only" and the third to "music", and you're ready to go. This is also a good playlist to use as a filter for other lists that you will create.

2. Best of the Year

Best of the YearYou can create your very own yearly hits playlist with the right Smart Playlist criteria. Set your filters to specify the Date Added range as anywhere from January 1st to December 31st of the year in question, and set the Play Count to be larger than, say, 20. (Tweak that number to your liking to narrow down or expand the length of the list.) And there you have it—an instant list of your personal hits of that year.

3. Neglected Tunes

Funny thing about Party Shuffle—it'll serve up songs you've heard five times in the last month and neglect others with a sad Play Count of 0. Dig deep into your iTunes library and make sure you've heard everything with a Smart Playlist rule that reads "Play Count-is-0". Combine this with a filter using your Only Music Smart Playlist and you'll get to hear all the music you never knew you had.

4. Holiday/Seasonal Music

By setting your filters to choose music with the words "Holiday" and specific names of holidays (i.e., "Christmas"), you can create a great playlist for specific times of the year. Just match your holiday themed words against the track name, album name, genre, or description. (Make sure you change "Match" rule to "any," not "all.") This same trick works well for Broadway musicals as well: usually the "Artist name-is-Original Broadway Cast" so "Artist-contains-Broadway" works in that scenario.

You can also use this playlist to filter out holiday music when you don't want it in the mix. Just set a filter for "Playlist-is not-Holiday/Seasonal Music" and you're good to go.

5. Not in the Last Week

Keep your tunes rotation fresh with a simple Smart Playlist rule that says "don't play anything I've heard already in the last week." I use this one in conjunction with Party Shuffle all the time—just set a filter for "Last Played-is not in the last-1-weeks."

6. Books Only

iTunes can store more than just music and video files—it can also handle PDF documents, eBooks, Audio Books, Podcasts, and Voice Memos. If you're organizing your eBooks in iTunes, it's easy to create a Smart Playlist to separate your library from your other media files. Just set a filter for "Media Kind-is-Book."

7. Not in This Folder

FoldersOne of the lesser-known playlist features in newer versions of iTunes is the ability to create folders of playlists. Once you create your folders, you can use them with your filters in the same way as other Smart Playlists. One great way to use this feature is to create personal genres—like "College Favorites" or "Summer Vacation ‘09." Then, when you create Smart Playlists, you can grab or exclude music from the folder itself. For example, a playlist called "Adulthood" might exclude tracks from your "High School" and "College Favorites" folders.

8. No "Skippies"

The rating system is great, but many people don't spend the time to rate each song in their library. Chances are though, if you started to hear a song you didn't like, you skipped it. Use the Skip Count criteria to avoid songs you've avoided in the past. If you do rate your songs, try using the Skip Count and Ratings criteria to re-rate songs you thought you liked, but skipped anyway.

9. No "Shorties"

If you've acquired music from less than reputable sources over the years, chances are you've got a few cut-off tracks in your library, or maybe you've got a few short intros and outros. To weed out the songs that have been cut off or other short tracks, create a Smart Playlist with a rule that reads "time-is greater than-1:00". Combine this with your Only Music playlist to make sure you're only hearing full length songs.

10. "Tag" Your Tracks with Keywords in the Comments Field

When the single "Genre" field just doesn't go far enough to describe a track for you, add keywords to a song's Comments field that you can use later to make a Smart Playlist. For example, add the words "gym," "yoga," "hiking," "good morning," or "dance party" or any combination of those to a song's Comments field. Then, create a Smart Playlist that matches those "tags." Voila—instant playlist for your morning yoga.

There are so many great possibilities using Smart Playlists, and it's so much easier and faster than going through and picking tracks individually. Using these few Smart Playlists will really help you get the most out of your music library. Got a favorite that we missed here? Let us know at

Create more space and find your favorite content
Sept/Oct 2010
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