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iTunes 9 Genius: It’s in the Mix

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iTunes IconHaving spent a day with iTunes 9 and OS 3.1 on an iPhone and iPod touch, I find that I am completely smitten with a feature I pretty much completely ignored before yesterday. I’m referring to Genius, which hadn’t lived up to its name until this latest retooling.

Since upgrading to iTunes 9, I’ve used Genius Mixes exclusively on both my computer and my portable devices. Contrast this to the two or three times I ever used a Genius playlist since their introduction in iTunes 8.

Get Your Mix On

First, in case you’re like me, it’s possible you need a little help in getting your Genius Mixes set up in the first place. The key is that once you upgrade your iTunes installation, there’s one more step to take before they appear. Go to your “Store” menus, and click on “Update Genius.” Once Apple (s aapl) delivers your results, your new Mixes will appear in the source menu in the left-hand side of the iTunes window, right under the Genius atom icon.

Update GeniusClicking on it should reveal 12 squares with album cover composite images that show artists representative of the content found in each mix. I say should because I’m not sure if iTunes will necessarily generate all 12 for smaller library sizes, but you should at least have a few to choose from so long as you have more than a couple artists in your collection.

My Mixes

Individual mixes are named so as to give you an idea of what genre of music they contain. For example, some of my mixes are as follows:

  • Indie Mix — Based on: Death Cab For Cutie, Rilo Kiley, The Most Serene Republic, and others.
  • Hip Hop Mix — Based on: Kanye West, Common, The Fugees, and others.
  • Pop Mix — Based on: Ray LaMontagne, Rocky Votolato, Adele, and others.
  • Punk Mix — Based on: Rancid, Rise Against, Brand New, and others.
  • Country Mix — Based on Wilco, Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, and others.

Genius MixesMost of my mixes look like those above. Smart, clearly defined, and pretty much how I would’ve divvied up my library if I ever bothered to arrange tracks into genre groupings. A few seem like collections of assorted odds and ends Apple couldn’t quite fit into the other categories. All are admittedly interesting, and most importantly, useful ways of sub-dividing my music collection, though.

How Well Does it Work?

Playing through these mixes, I found that Apple has indeed improved their Genius engine, since the results were much more impressive than they’ve ever been using Genius playlists based on a single song. My collection is diverse enough that I don’t always want to just turn on iTunes DJ, but a Genius Mix sets the mood perfectly for parties, for work, for working out, or just for relaxing.

Apple still needs to make some improvements before I’m completely sold, though. As of right now, you can only view your mixes in Grid mode, and only the track currently playing is visible. To see what’s coming up next, you actually have to fast forward to the next song. While it’s kind of exciting not knowing what’s in store, I’d much rather be able to see a playlist like in iTunes DJ or in classic Genius mode.

I also don’t like how you have to specifically select the playlists in your Audio settings and sync your iPhone or iPod in order to get Genius Mixes on your device. Genius should be able to analyze the content you already have on your iPhone or iPod and create Genius Mixes specific to the device. Maybe this doesn’t affect people whose libraries match on both, but my computer-based music collections far exceed the capacities of my mobile devices.


As for Genius recommendations, I do find that they’re much better than they were when they were first introduced. Of course, Apple’s had a year to collect data from millions of users to make things better, so it would be more remarkable if there wasn’t any noticeable difference in the returned results. Also, Genius will always be a subjective thing, so it’s hard to determine the efficacy of results beyond just the size of the catalog of artists available.

How are you finding your experience with Genius Mixes? Is Apple’s recommendation and organization engine finally worthy of its moniker?

95 Responses to “iTunes 9 Genius: It’s in the Mix”

  1. Marci

    I personally find Genius Mixes to be absolutely terrible. Roughly three-quarters of my library is classic rock (AC/DC, Led Zepplin, ect.), alternative rock (Breaking Benjamin, Green Day) or metal (Within Temptation, Drowning Pool). So, it stands to reason that I would have many rock or metal playlists, correct?

    Well, with over 1000 songs, my 9 mixes are as follows:

    Punk Pop Mix
    Teen Pop Mix
    Teen Pop Mix 2
    Pop Mix
    Urban Crossover Mix
    Classic Pop Punk Mix
    Children’s Mix (Really? What?)
    Alt. Metal Mix
    Classic Rock Mix

    None of the mixes make sense. The pop mixes are all repetitive mixes of the ~100 pop songs that I have in my library, and in the other mixes, there is a confused jumble of unrelated songs. (Since when is The Bloodhound Gang a Metal band?) I have carefully tagged the genres of every song in my library, so this distribution is extremely confusing to me.

    Also, some technical glitch seems to have replaced the cover art of some of my albums with the graphics of my mixes… Has anyone else experienced this?

    Suffice to say that I am sorely disappointed with Genius Mixes. I can only hope that an editing feature is added in the near future for all of our sakes.

  2. Maxine

    umm, with my Genius, i can only get one mix, which is UrbanCrossOver, and although most of my music is Urban, (because im a teenager) i still have other Genres of music.. why wont it make new mixes? even tho i updated Genius?

  3. I realize this is an older post, so you may have figured the following out by now. You can actually view the songs that are going to play next by clicking on the Genius icon to the right of the title. Here’s a screenshot:
    Now, I have over 65,000 songs in my library. I can’t see this being a reason I would be able to do the above, and not those with smaller libraries!
    Also, in case any of you don’t know, you can right click on a song, and click “Start Genius”. This will automatically take you to a Genius page. Basically, this allows you to do the same thing that you would do with Pandora (except it allows you to view all the songs at once… but Pandora most likely has a larger selection of music than all of us put together…!).

    • Thanks for your reply Kristian. I did solve the problem. It seemed obvious once I had done it, but there was no direction anywhere about this. All of the songs have to be checked off in order for Genius to work properly. I am sure that there must be someone else out there who had this happen to them!

  4. I cannot create Genius Playlists or Genius Mixes to work on my computer. They work perfectly on my iPhone.
    I have turned off then on and Updated, still nothing.
    Is there anyone out there who has any ideas?

  5. Joseph

    I am sold.
    My beef with the original Genius mixes was that the choices would hover too close to the five or six “people also purchased” artists that you would find linked to an album in the itunes store.
    These new Genius mixes are extremely on-point.
    I should add, however, that I have a very large collection, I have a lot of music that’s come onto the scene since the inception of the iTunes store, and I have a lot of releases that stick in and around certain genres.

    I think there are different kinds of music listeners that hear different reasons for bands to be “similar.” For me similarity comes from bands having similar sonic elements, similar influences, similar philosophies, and similar cities or origin (i.e. the Chicago ‘Thrill Jockey Records’ sound––lots of divergence in styles and genres, but similar aesthetics due to the weather and feel of Chicago).
    I feel like these are the types of delineations that Genius playlists never had the knack for but Genius Mixes excel at.

    iTunes gave me Electronica, Indie Rock, Art & Experimental Rock, Punk, Post-Modern Rock, Hip Hop / Rap, Alternative Pop/Rock, Progressive House, Metal, Brit-Pop/Rock, Alt. Singer/Songwriter and Americana.

    They are all pretty diverse. In the progressive house mix, for instance, the usual suspects like Daft Punk, Deadmau5 Vitalic, John Tejada and Audion were there, but iTunes threw some Squarepusher and DJ Assault in the mix as well. Which is interesting because those artists aren’t necessarily ‘progressive house,’ but share some similar aesthetic elements.

    Life is good.

  6. I have around 170 songs in my iTunes, yet I only have one Genius Mix, my Punk Mix. Is this normal, and is this or something similar happening to anyone else, b/c I can’t find out how to find/make different mixes.

    • Valerie

      I have just one Genius Mix, a Pop Mix, for my library of 132 songs. You would probably need a larger library to get more mixes. Because iTunes manages the Genius Mixes, there’s no way to create or edit them. For me even my one Genius Mix has been useful since I have some meditative music on my iPod that I wouldn’t want to listen to while driving. I can turn on my Pop Mix and be confident that the meditative music won’t come up.

  7. James Burke

    iTunes 9 Genius is a pretty cool feature. I have 12 mixes. Americana, Classic Rock, Brit Pop, Adult Alternative, Alternative Rock, Jam Bands, Singer Songwriter, New Wave, & Indie Rock Mixes + Others. After the genius update, it made the mixes automatically. One thing I don’t understand, is why Bob Dylan’s 30th Concert Celebration, is in the Punk Rock category ;)

    It would be nice to be able to edit the categories to your taste, since music is a personal thing. It would also be great if genius would be able to analyze the content I only have on my iPhone or iPod, and create separate Genius Mixes specific to the device. I also have a music library that doesn’t fit completely on my device, so I just have a knew and not recently played mix sent to it. Unless this is Apples way to tempt one into purchasing a device with more GB.

  8. Catherine McCollum

    Derek and All – Are you saying it’s all in the tags? I don’t know what those are, so I’m not sure how to fix this. Here’s my latest problem – I downloaded “Hey Ya” by Outkast from the iTunes store. I paid for it, the download says it’s protected….however, it says Genius doesn’t recognize this song. HUH?

    I have no problem with roughly 80% of the music I have (about 1500 songs – nearly ALL bought from iTunes store) but around 20% (ALL bought from iTunes store) are “unrecognized”.

    Am I being pedantic? Am I caught up in thinking that if I just paid iTunes for some music they SHOULD recognize it?

    • NightFlight

      I agree that the more music you have (30,000 @ 320GB) the better genius works; however, it tends to produce the same playlists. I am currently trying to find a way to do a REAL refresh of the list. I am hoping that iTunes 9.1.1 will do the trick.

  9. Genius mixes are…interesting. I have thousands of songs in an admittedly few genres, but still it only gives me 4 mixes: Rock, Thrash & Hardcore, Alternate Metal, and Emo.

    Emo is the one that really confuses me, i have probably four “Emo” bands, it has everything from Blessthefall (i guess is emo) to Christmas songs, i even got an acoustic worship song in their once. It just seems to throw everything into this mix.

    Also it puts the one true alt-metal band that i have into the Hardcore mix. And puts several Thrash metal bands in the rock mix.

    idk, maybe my library is just funny, but i dont think genius is very good for non-diverse libraries. Though it has gotten better, the first time it just gave me one mix, which is kind of useless dont u think? ;)

  10. So I just turned on Genius, I’ve got about 5000 songs, and whenever I click on a song and the Genius button, I get that it’s unavailable for the song. This has happened upwards of 100 times, all with popular songs. The genius mixes also don’t work. It shows me the genres, but nothing happens when I double click. I’ve updated Genius and uninstalled and reinstalled iTunes, still nothing. Any ideas?

    • Catherine McCollum

      Exact same problem. Seriously, my selections are fairly middle-of-the-road popular songs. I posted the question above yours last month. Still no answer. I also sent apple a direct question the same day and still have gotten no reply. This really doesn’t speak well for Apple or the Genius. Hope your question gets a reply!

    • My guess is that your stuff is either missing some meta tags, OR it is tagged slightly differently than the iTunes Store expects it to be. Find a popular song that Genius doesn’t recognize in your collection, and download just that song from the iTunes Store. Then try to run Genius on it. If it works, that’s your problem.

  11. Catherine McCollum

    I just bought a song from itunes – why can’t I make a genius list from it? I have over a thousand songs, and have been able to make lists from most. although I get the “Genius can’t identify this song” error message for a good number of them, even after updating genius!

    Why can’t the “genius” feature recognize the song the iTunes store just sold me?

  12. Joseph Blowseph

    So what does Apple have against classical music? I mean isn’t Mac the oracle of the effete tea and tweed set? I have a THOUSAND quality classical tracks (complete CDs I have purchased – big composers, big conductors for the most part – not obscure by any means).

    But every time I click on a classical track (O’ Fortuna, Carmina Burana by Orff or Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem) I get “cannot create a Genius mix from this track”. Same with anything from the Baroque, Thomas Tallis Medieval era stuff, Gregorian, or even Aaron Copeland!

    So needless to say, I’d say Genius pretty much sucks at this point since much of my 5000 track collection is in fact tracks that Genius has never heard of! But gee if I want to play baggin pants “yo wussup” crap, I’d have list after list, wouldn’t I….

  13. used to have 9 mixes – now down to 2. Despite having updated Genius. (Oh and I have 5605 songs at 55.60Gb, all legal). irritating, as it was quite good with 9 mixes reflecting the eclectic nature of my music library (Motorhead to Dolly Parton to Albinoni and everything in between)

  14. They really need to give us the ability to limit genius mixes size wise. With over 70 gig of (legal) music in my library, these mixes get carried away quite frequently, and there’s no way to see how much space they take up individually, or to edit them.

    The idea is good, but they get way too carried away on larger libraries.

  15. I am having a problem with Genius Mixes. When I play one of the 9 mixes on my iPhone created by Genius, if I then go back to a playlist I have created or a downloaded album I cannot turn off shuffle. Can anyone help!!!

    • Here’s how to turn off shuffle and repeat after listening to a Genius Mix:

      1. Start playing a song.
      2. Hold the iPhone/iPod Touch upright so that it ISN’T in Cover Flow view. You’ll see the album cover of the currently playing track as well as some buttons.
      3. Tap once anywhere on the album cover, NOT on a button. Wait for a second.
      4. Another little group of buttons should appear, the button on the left is ‘repeat’ and the button on the right is ‘shuffle’. If they are blue, they are ‘on’. To turn them off, just tap them.

  16. I can’t make any Genius Mixes. I made one before, but it was with songs I didn’t like. Are the songs based on genres, or how does it work, I CAN”T MAKE A GENIUS MIX FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!

  17. Same issue here with a few oddball songs in an otherwise good mix. With the old genius lists, you could see the songs in the mix, and delete out any that don’t belong. It’s very good – out of 100 songs, I might delete 3. Ta-da! Nearly perfect mix becomes perfect mix.

    But with the new Genius Mixes, you can’t see what’s been selected for the mix, and can’t take a specific song out (at least I can’t figure out how). At least it’s not mixing Comedy with Rock, but I have some christmas music with the genre “Holiday” and it keeps mixing that in with jazz. Kind of annoying. If anyone can figure out how to exclude a particular song or genre from the Genius, please post it.

  18. I actually really like the mixes, because it lets me listen to just one genre that I want. I have…
    Alternative & Punk Mix
    Alternative & Punk Mix 2
    Alternative & Punk Mix 3
    Alternative & Punk Mix 4
    Alternative Mix
    Rock Mix
    Pop Mix
    Pop Mix 2
    Pop Mix 3
    Hip Hop/ Rap Mix
    R&B Mix
    Folk Mix

    However, I do wonder why some songs get grouped in different sections. My mother and I share iTunes with our different music (we just download are own playlists onto our iPods) and her music is mostly folk and R&B. Now say, my Beyonce is technically according to iTunes under the R&B genre, why is it put under the Pop Mix? And if Bright Eyes is technically listed as Alternative & Punk in iTunes, why is it put in the Pop Mix? I have A Day To Remember listed as Alternative & Punk, so why does it appear in the Rock Mix? It’s mostly things I actually agree with! I just wonder the Red Hot Chili Peppers are grouped with Cobra Starship and not the Smashing Pumpkins, for instance.

  19. I really like the genius mixes but I have listened to one of them a few times and I want to get a new mix. When I updated genius it didn’t change my 12 mixes. I want a way to just re-mix the library.

  20. Genius sucks. I have ITunes 9, turned on Genius & allowed it to generate a playlist. From what I have ready this playlist is supposed to be based on Genre. Well my playlist mixed Hard-Rock songs with POP songs??

    Also the Genius Mix “feature” only created 1 4-song mix that I could NOT update, and I could NOT create a new one.

    Apple needs a clue, not all users want to be lead around like sheep!!!!

  21. I love the idea of Genius mixes and was really looking forward to it. I have my entire library very well organized with every album having album art, every artist and album sorted properly, and every genre correct (at least in my opinion). However, being a ska fan, I find Genius unable to recognize or work with a lot of my music. It simply doesn’t have enough information. So my Genius mixes are essentially worthless. The most random and clearly incorrect songs are chosen for most of my mixes. Ska punk mix 2, for example, is based on Eddie Money, A.F.I., and You, Me and Everyone We Know. Eddie Money and A.F.I. are in my library because there are a couple of songs I like and occasionally listen to, but none of those bands are ska, punk, or ska punk. And as that’s the genre I listen to most often, having Genius not incorporate those songs into the mix at all makes it completely useless to me. After skipping through 50 tracks it played everything from AC/DC to The Strokes, Blues Traveler to Semisonic, and Smashing Pumpkins to Richard Cheese. Only one ska artist ever came up.

    I think a significant improvement would be to be able to delete a mix entirely, define your own artists from which to create a mix, or even (like Pandora), give each track a yes or no so that it can improve the mix each time.

    • I have the same issue. I really like underground (“indie”) hip-hop, and it created an “Indie Hip-Hop” playlist that is filled with Moby, Crystal Method and largely instrumental stuff. I mean it’s a decent electronic mix, but definitely what it should be.

      I find the regular Genius feature to be *awesome* but these Genius Mixes are straight poop.

  22. Christopher

    Overall, I like the mixes song selection, but I’m really annoyed that I can’t do anything with the currently playing song without finding it in my library first. I’d like to be able to rate it, add it to a playlist, etc. One of the reasons I use generated mixes and random play is that I have a large library and like to be able to find surprise songs for playlists, especially running playlists.