During the past few months I’ve grown a little bored with my music. Even my favorite tracks have become routine. So to inject some life into my iTunes library I’ve been getting my hands on a monthly playlist of Indie Rock tracks (from completely legal and […]

During the past few months I’ve grown a little bored with my music. Even my favorite tracks have become routine. So to inject some life into my iTunes library I’ve been getting my hands on a monthly playlist of Indie Rock tracks (from completely legal and reputable sources, of course). But as I’ve been listening to these lists of 100-200 songs I have run into a new problem — how to rate them.

Of course my favorite songs, the ones I would listen to over and over again, get a 4 or 5-star rating. But the rest of the tracks invariably end up getting a 3-star rating. I tend not to use the 1 or 2-star rating because in my mind if a song is rated that low then it’s not worth keeping.

And then there are other problems with the star rating system. For example, what about holiday songs? Sure, that Relient K Christmas album might get a 4-star rating, but I don’t really want it picked up in my “highest rated” smart playlist unless it’s actually Christmas. And if I begin to exclude every “exception” then my smart playlist ends up with 35 rules.

The rating system is such a powerful tool since it’s one of the few ways to actually “tag” your music on the go and I didn’t want to abandon it altogether. So, in an attempt to learn how to use iTunes star rating system to the fullest, I have asked friends, colleagues, and the internet for ideas on how to harness the star to create perfect playlists.

1-star as Punishment

This idea helps identify which tracks you definitely don’t like. In fact, these are the tracks you hate so much you don’t even want them any more. Which is handy when you’re in the car or at work listening to your iPod where you don’t have the ability to delete the song you’re listening to. Instead, simply give the song a 1-star rating. Then create a smart playlist which collects all the 1-star songs and delete. But be sure to follow the advice on how to permanently delete songs from playlists otherwise the songs will remain in your library.

Stars as Intensity

If you’re not a huge fan of the “genre” tag or want a broader way to categorize your music, you can use the star rating system to assign each song to an intensity or beat level. All slow-dance songs from middle school, for example, would get a 1-star rating. Likewise, the latest club music might get 5 stars. This method also helps in identifying which songs are best to work out to — just create a smart playlist where the rating is equal or greater than 4 stars and you’ll have the perfect workout mix!

Wait and See

This method requires the use of a smart playlist to identify the songs with 2 stars that haven’t been listened to for X-number of days. The thinking is that songs with 2 stars are candidates for deletion, but if you come back to listen to it then perhaps it’s worth keeping.

2-Star = Unique

As I mentioned before, sometimes you have songs (or podcasts or videos) that you really only need once a year. Christmas music is my favorite example. Instead of editing your smart playlists to exclude the “holiday” genre AND the “christmas video” genre, etc. you can simply assign those “unique” tracks 2 stars. That way you can simply add one argument to each smart playlist that excludes all tracks with a rating equal or less than 2 stars.

Does rating your music library take time? Of course. But in my opinion the star rating system can be a powerful ally in getting your music library under control.

In what ways do you use the iTunes rating system?

  1. I’m using the 3-to-5-star (for how much i like each track) method combining with genres. I tend to be quite specific with genres (it’s not “pop”, it’s “mainstram pop” or “britpop” or “twee pop” or “chamber pop” or whatever), so I just do smart playlists from that. Besides, I’m thinking about using “disc number” as an intensity factor. I rarely use this tag, since I prefer to tag disc 1 like tracks 1 to n and then disc 2 as tracks n+1 to whatever.

  2. Uncheck Holiday songs (or any other “novelty” songs you only play at specific times) and exclude unchecked items from your master playlist.

  3. I use 5 stars for a song I’d want to hear at any time, i.e. ones I never skip; 4 stars I use for songs that are the best few tracks from a given album, but that I’m not always in the mood for.

    Then I have shuffled 5-star and 4-star playlists, depending on whether I wanta mix of songs I like a lot, or a wider variety of good songs that I don’t necessarily listen to really often.

    I also have smart playlists that take 4- and 5-star songs from a genre (e.g. hip-hop), so that I can have two solid mixes on hand for music I want separated out by genre.

  4. I rate songs according to replayability rather than quality. My main playlist is a 3+ star playlist. If I hear a song and I think that I would want to hear it again at some point, I give it 3 stars. Songs with 4 stars have higher replayability, and 5 stars are songs that I could put on random when I want to listen to a lot of really familiar songs that I rarely get tired of.

    As a subset of the 3+ star playlist, I have genre specific 3+ star playlists. Just more smart playlists that are limited by genre (I use very broad genre categories).

  5. I rate tracks according to their highest chart position on the Top 100.
    1-10 = 5 stars
    11-40 = 4-1/2 stars
    41-100 = 4 stars

    Tracks that chart on other charts, or overseas, get four stars.
    Better than average album tracks are 3-1/2 stars.
    Average album tracks are 3 stars
    Lower than average album tracks are 2 stars
    Utter crap, like remixes get 1 star :)

  6. When it comes to organising by beat intensity/BPM, I’d definitely recommend Tangerine as an option. One can set the BPM as a new field for each track, freeing up the star system for some other use!

  7. I’ve been using almost the exact same strategy for rating my music for the past year with decent success. Yes, rating an entire library can tale time and be a little daunting, but doing a little at a time over a long period of time makes a huge difference. I have a smart playlist named “Unrated” that I play on my commute (by bus in S.F.) which helps me rate only the tracks I haven’t rated yet.

    5: love it
    4: like it
    3: like it enough that I’d wouldn’t be embarrassed if it came up on shuffle and someone heard it
    2: keep it for certain occasions (e.g., holidays) but don’t normally play it
    1: never want to hear it again

  8. I’d recommend against abusing ratings or other fields for BPM/intensity/whatever. And it doesn’t make sense to make two stars magic by rating all your holiday music like that.

    What I’d recommend is that you create one playlist for each kind of music you don’t want in your ordinary listening. One for kid’s music, spooky Halloween music, one for Christmas music, and one to hold that one song they play at New Year’s.

    Then you make a main smart playlist with the conditions:
    Playlist is not: Kid stuff
    Playlist is not: Halloween
    Playlist is not: Christmas
    Playlist is not: That one damn song

    And use that to listen to. This makes it crystal clear what’s what, and you can easily shuffle through the Halloween playlist when October rolls around.

  9. I rate every song in my libary as follows:

    5: Superb songs only: Almost never skip these
    4: Still awesome but might skip from time to time (i.e. a really good slow song might get skipped when I’m jamming out in the car)
    3: Have to be in the right mood to listen to these songs
    2: Don’t really want to listen to but they could come in handy some day (so why delete them?)
    1: Not for general listening: Holidays, audiobooks, etc.

    To avoid having to constantly re-evaluate my ratings, I try and pick an appropriate rating from the get go. For example, “So What” by P!nk gets 3 stars. Sure it’s hot right now, and it’s a pretty cool song to listen to in the car, but it’s not (in my book) a classic that’s going to stand the test of the time, and in a year I probably won’t be listening to it anymore.

    So to accomodate the songs like this that are cool right now I create a smart playlist that pulls anything 3+ stars from the last 3 months and call it “Currently Popular”. Although I don’t normally listen to 3 star songs on a regular basis, there must’ve been some reason I downloaded a 3 star song and if it’s in the last couple of months that’s probably because it’s one of those “passing fad”-type songs.

    Then where space is limited (iPhone, iPod) I sync my 5-star playlist, my “Currently Popular” playlist, and another “Popular 365″ list that includes 3+ stars reaching back up to a year in the past. This way I’m not carrying a bunch of garbage around with me and have more space for podcasts, games, etc.

  10. What about half a star? I don’t remember how I did it, but I installed a modification wich allows you to add or subtract half a star in iTunes. So, I can mark my songs in 10 different categories.
    And, what about tagging an album? It produces hollow stars in songs… Smart lists can recognise theese, but, can anyone explain how iTunes considers theese songs?


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