Blog Post

iTunes Tip: Remembering to Rate Your iTunes Music

My life is busy (and yes, if you’re wondering, it is all about me), and frequently I tend to rip or download music without taking the time to apply ratings to it. Since ratings are one of the best methods for determining the usefulness of your playlists, neglecting to add that information to your tracks can really handicap the power iTunes offers.

Some pondering of the issue (and a putrid burning smell) led me to come up with a Do It Yourself kind of solution that everyone can institute without spending anything more than a little time. If this sounds like something useful to you, feel free to follow along at home.

Data Dips

First, what kind of information do we want to leverage? For my purposes, there are three scenarios that I like to use to properly keep up with my iTunes library. The resulting Smart Playlists look as follows.

Rate Me
In this case, I’ve added music within the last n amount of time which has yet to be given any rating.

Might Like This
Here I’m reminding myself of recently added music that I may want to rate highly, based on the play count.

Still 5 Stars?
We have all added a song to iTunes at one point, thinking it was the greatest song ever and rated it an enthusiastic 5 stars. Some time later, we may have gotten tired of that song, or just moved on to a new, more refined taste in music. This set of songs have been in the library for a while and have 5 star ratings applied.

Using these smart playlists, we can fairly successfully identify music that most likely needs some attention in the ratings department. In fact, we could marry the Rate Me and Might Like This playlists to give us an even more targeted selection of tracks. For me it’s more complete to use the two lists separately from one another.

On the Still 5 Stars playlist, since it’s pulling randomly from the library, I prefer to mark the songs I’ve reviewed so they don’t repeatedly come up in the randomized playlist. To do this, I’m adding ‘automator’ to the comment category, as it’s sort of a ‘taggable’ field.


If the above seems too manual for your tastes, let’s use Automator to do the work for us. (Otto is the name of the robot on the Automator icon, just in case you didn’t know.) Downloading this file will give you a starting point in Automator that looks like the screenshot below. This workflow file will locate songs in your iTunes library that have been played more than 4 times in the past 2 months. Once it has done so, it applies a 4 star rating and adds the tag ‘automator’ to the comments of each song file affected (for easier review later, if you like). Tweak the parameters as best fits your listening and rating practices.

In Play

So now we have some smart playlists and an also an auto-rating workflow — what to do now? Well let’s handle the workflow first.

From the ‘File’ menu, choose ‘Save as Plug-in’. On the next save dialog screen, name it something helpful, like Auto-Rate and then from the drop down menu, choose iCal Alarm. Switching to iCal, you’ll find a new Automator calendar has been created, and you can schedule your Auto-Rate to run on some recurring basis such as every month. Now you can sit back and let your Mac do the music ratings for you!

Ok, now for the playlists. I wrestled with Automator for a while to try to make a useful solution for popping them up as reminders. Nothing worked to my liking. So I fell back on simply scheduling a regularly recurring item in iCal with a double alarm which pops the name of the event as an on screen message and also opens iTunes. It’s not perfect, but it does get it in front of you.

Last Thoughts

The smart playlist solutions still rely on you to do the legwork, they’re only pulling the relevant songs for your review. The Auto-Rate solution takes your personal time investment out of the equation and does the work for you, which is sort of brilliant. But while the parameters you choose to automatically apply should be right most of the time, there will still be some that you disagree with. A semi-regular spot check can help keep this reigned-in. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to institute one more smart playlist – one that pulls 4 star songs with the comment “automator.”

These practices aren’t going to solve world hunger, or bring the economy back (immediately at least), but they should help you get a better handle on your iTunes music library. At least if you’re as poor at keeping up with it as I tend to be.

11 Responses to “iTunes Tip: Remembering to Rate Your iTunes Music”

  1. @Gazoobee: “There are many local colleges that offer night classes on writing skills and style.”

    Sadly, there are very few which offer classes on tactfulness and grace.

  2. By the way, my apologies if the article was confusing. I think the intent was clear enough – Smart playlists are only as smart as the metadata they are built on. If you neglect to give your songs ratings (whether you don’t want to, or forget to, as I do), it reduces the options you have for narrowing your music down to what you really want to hear. Hence the article’s ideas for helping you to remember to rate your iTunes music.

  3. @Mette – there are several ways to skin the proverbial cat – Thanks for sharing yours! I think everyone should have a good idea of what their rating scale looks like and how it applies – this kind of planning will help quite a bit as the database in question grows.

    @Flowrush – great catch. So the edit in Automator would be to add that additional parameter to look something like ‘Rating is not 5 stars’.

    @Gazoobee – If you don’t use ratings (and don’t have the desire), then this post probably isn’t best suited for you. Rest assured that it was helpful for someone. But thanks for taking the time to share your insightful comments. (By the way, spell check can come in handy – it’s ‘offense’ with an ‘s’. See you in night school…) ;)

  4. No offence, but this is a really, really, dumb article.

    The title indicates that for some reason we should not forget to rate our iTunes music and the first paragraph elaborates so:

    “Since ratings are one of the BEST METHODS FOR DETERMINING THE USEFULNESS of your playlists, neglecting to add that information to your tracks can really handicap the power iTunes offers.”

    Aside from the grammatical mangling, (what does this sentence even mean?), it’s just wrong. The body of the article is basically about how if you *chose* to rate your songs (and then rate them in a specific way), that the creation of smart playlists based on those ratings is then easier. Well, duhhhh.

    The article should probably have been titled something like: “How to Use Ratings and Smart Playlists in iTunes.” Instead we have this poorly worded alert to the reader that forgetting to use ratings is somehow “wrong” or will create problems later? WTF?

    If you use ratings (you may have guessed I don’t), then this is good advice on how to use them efficiently, but the title is “off” and the whole first paragraph is misleading and confusing at the same time.

    There are many local colleges that offer night classes on writing skills and style.

  5. Nice Tip!

    Just one thing. In automator shouldn’t you add a rule that lets automator check if the song doesn’t already have a 5star rating ?? In the example above, automator checks any song played more than 4 times and applies a 4star rating, but what about the songs with a 5 star rating ? Will they be given a 4 star rating or will automator still let them be 5’ers ?


  6. Going at this from a different perspective, I use the Date Added column in iTunes to select the most recent additions, use a Get Info on all the items, and assign a default 4 stars to the group. After all, if I went to the bother of acquiring these tracks, I probably like them somewhat.

    I then modify the default rating as I listen to the music. I have playlists set for my favorite genre with ratings of at least 4 stars, with further settings for everything not played in the past 3 months. That way I make sure I eventually hear all my music, but I can drop any tracks I don’t care for by giving them lower ratings. I use one star for probably never again, two stars for stuff that would require a lot of familiarity to ever like, and three stars for OK but not great. Five stars obviously moves the tracks into smart lists of all-time favorites.

  7. TicTacCode

    A bit off topic, But one thing i find extremely annoying is that my ipod won’t let me add songs to on the go playlists from shuffle mode. Seems like such an easy feature considering. If I’m an idiot and ther is a way to do this, please advise.