iPod Nirvana in 4 Steps

I don’t know anyone who has set up his/her iPod in a more “customized to owner” way than I have. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t met them yet. Here are some of the principles I’ve followed, playlists I’ve created, and ways I use the iPod and iTunes to create my customized iPod experience.

1. Be a critical gatekeeper: only include songs on your iPod that you would not want to always skip over. In other words, don’t let one song get onto your iPod if it’s a song you don’t like, or a song you would never want to hear if you were to play your iTunes library randomly. When I put my 500-CD collection onto my iBook G4 in November/December 2004, and then onto my iPod, I did not download entire CDs. I only downloaded songs that passed the above test. Since then, I have downloaded every song that I do not own that I like enough NOT to skip over (about 400 songs purchased). As a result, my iPod is a collection of every single song that I like that is available to me. My iPod yells out to me to push “play” because there is never the possibility that a “blah” song will come on. (Yes, I do skip over songs from time to time, but it’s not because it’s a song I don’t like, just because I don’t want to hear it at that moment.)

A key to creating a perfectly customized music library is to FORGET about what other people might think about you for liking a particular song or artist – if you like Barry Manilow or Cyndi Lauper, get their songs on your iPod! (My library includes 12 Manilow tunes, and 6 Lauper tunes. Damn the critics of my music taste! It’s my iPod!)

2. Rate your songs, then set up smart playlists that reference your ratings. All my songs are rated with either 3, 4, or 5 stars. (If it’s a 2-star song, it doesn’t make it onto my iPod.) The playlists I have set up that use my ratings are: a) 5-star songs. b) 4-star songs. c) 5-star songs played 1 or 0 times. d) 5 and 4-star songs played 1 or 0 times. e) 5 and 4-star country songs.

You might think I would listen to my 5-star playlist most often, but I have found that I am more attracted to my 4-star playlist, and my 4 and 5-star playlist, because there is the promise of greater variety and therefore more surprises. (I have about 350 5-star songs, and 1,650 4-star songs.) My 5-star songs are songs that will always be my all-time favorites, but it also means I have heard them many times already. My 5-star playlist is the one I play when I’m providing the music for a party or social gathering of some kind. Only the best for my guests, and if someone’s going to comment on the music (with compliments or criticism), I want it to be only my precious favorites.

3. Create smart playlists that group songs by playcount. The most played song on my iPod has been played 96 times. (Accidentally In Love, by Counting Crows – my children’s #1 most requested song.) My tenth most-played songs have been played 41 times (Take Me Home, Country Roads, by John Denver – another popular request of my kids – is tied with I’m Comin’ Home, by Robert Earl Keen). My 100th most played: 13 songs tied at 15 times played. My 500th most played: 115 songs tied at 4 times played. My 1,000th most played: 305 songs tied at 3 times played.

I have found that sometimes I want to hear my most played group (top-100), sometimes I want to hear the next tier of most-played (top-101-300), sometimes the next tier (played 3-4 times), and sometimes I want to hear songs hardly ever (or never) played. The playlists I have set up to make this work are: a) 1-100 most-played songs. b) Top-600 most-played songs. c) 101-350 most played songs. d) 350-600 most-played songs. e) 600-1,000 most played songs. f) Top-1,000 most-played songs. g) Songs played 0-1 times.

4. Dig up buried treasure: search iTunes for alternate versions of your 5-star songs, and download those that make you say “Wow!” I have probably downloaded 60 songs that are alternate or live versions – or covers – of my favorite songs. And many of these have become card-carrying members of my 5-star song club! Think about it – if you love a song enough to give it 5 stars, there are probably many musicians out there who have loved it enough to cover it. And often, there’s a live version you never knew existed. Now, most of the alternate/cover/live versions I’ve sampled on iTunes are not good enough to download. But perhaps one out of five is excellent – and then I’ve found buried treasure for my iPod!

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