Genius Review — iTunes Automagic Playlist Generator

It's like Pandora, but with music you already know you like.
It's like Pandora, but with music you already know you like.

Having recently purchased an Apple Macbook, I thought I’d give iTunes another shot. The last time I had used iTunes was about three years ago following my first iPod purchase. Beholding the shinyness that all the cool kids had been using for years, I poked around, marveled at the quick downloads of podcasts and music, and generally enjoyed the experience. There are, of course, some things about iTunes that absolutely infuriate me (DRM, poor file management, duplication of tracks, etc.), but it’s obvious that this product demands you drink the Kool-Aid, and if you do, it’ll be a wonderful, magical ride.

Part of my impetus for purchasing an Apple computer was because I want an iPhone sometime in the future, and if I’m going to drop that much cash on a portable device/phone, I want to get all the functionality I can out of it. Therefore, I transferred my 12+ gb of music to the Macbook and imported it into iTunes to see how it worked, as well as to prepare for iPhone syncage when that glorious day comes.

Immediately following import, I decided I wanted all the cover art for my discs, so I told it to pull those down. Of course, iTunes demanded I register an account with the iTunes store (requiring my address, credit card number, and a vial of blood from our first born), but then happily opened its vault of artwork to me. It then asked me if I’d like to turn Genius on.

Genius is a relatively new feature in iTunes that looks at your music collection and compares it to the collections and playlists of other people. This means that you have to send information about your music library to Apple, which made me a little nervous (though I do not pirate music, or anything else as a general rule), but I went ahead and agreed to the ToS so I could find out what this thing does. Like any proper geek, my curiousity grabbed me by the throat and drug me along.

Overall, it’s been an extremely pleasant experience. When listening to a song, you can hit the Genius button (located in the track information pane at the top or at the bottom right of iTunes) and iTunes will instantly generate a playlist for you of songs similar to the one you were listening to when you hit the button. These playlists are usually about an hour and a half; I’m not sure if that’s because there’s a preference somewhere that dictates the length of the list or because I don’t have much music, but it’s sufficient for my purposes. If you like the playlist Genius produces, you can listen away, or you can run it again and again to generate slightly different lists.

Mix, match, and re-arrange, and you can also save these as permanent playlists. Of course, Apple also displays the Genius sidebar with recommendations of other albums similar to those you’re currently listening to in a bid to get you to buy some music. But it’s not really in my face, doesn’t pop out or anything, and all-in-all, I’m liking Genius. It’s like Pandora, but with only music I already know I like.

Genius doesn’t supplant Pandora, and I don’t view them as being in competition. Pandora allows me to listen to a lot of bands I either haven’t heard of or wouldn’t otherwise hear, and I’ve bought a few albums through Pandora of bands I just fell in love with after hearing a few of their songs. But Genius is a wonderful compliment to Pandora, and the fact that it’s local (requiring no Internet connection) and isn’t streaming (so there’s no buffering) is really nice.

No, iTunes isn’t the greatest music player ever (it’s probably not even in the top 5-10), but Genius is a great feature that will keep me opening it time after time.

4 thoughts on “Genius Review — iTunes Automagic Playlist Generator

  1. Your RSS feed isn’t updating for me in Google Reader lately (a bug on their end, I believe), so I missed this the first time around. A few quick notes and tips about Genius:

    You can change the length of Genius playlists in iTunes’s preferences window ( ‘, command’ is probably my most used shortcut); mine is currently set to pull in 100 songs, and my second tip explains why.

    Depending on how good your metadata is, you can leverage smart playlists to do additional Genius filtering. Genius pulls music from the entirety of your collection, which is nice and all, since at 50-some GBs of music I tend to lose and forget about music (Amazon MP3 and the daily deals are a wonderful thing). However, I run it conditionally through a couple smart playlists with the following rules:

    – playlist is Genius
    – rating is greater than 3 stars
    OR
    – last played is within the last 30 days
    – skip count is less than 5

    Interestingly, I personally wish iTunes 8 had put more focus on redoing their file structure and resource management to support larger libraries. My collection is mid-sized on a reasonably powerful iMac, and it’s sluggish; I’ve encountered folks who have substantially larger collections and can barely access anything. I suppose I’ll hold out hope for Snow Leopard to remedy some of those problems…

  2. Re: Kate

    Is your RSS subscription pointed at my local feed or a FeedBurner address? Either should work, but I use the latter myself (to make sure that the feed is still working).

    Thanks for the tips. Now I just need to go through and rate all of my songs (only around 12gb, though somehow it ended up as just over 7gb on my iPod).

  3. That’s probably ’cause your iPod is set to automatically convert higher bitrate songs to 128 kbps aac when syncing to your iPod. You should probably disable that if you’re at all an audiophile.

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