Advanced iTunes: Smart Playlists and multiple libraries

Multiple libraries on a single machine, the best uses for Smart Playlists, getting true CD-quality rips from your CD, and tips for getting perfect album art. It's all here in our latest collection of advanced iTunes tips

Continuing our sporadically added-to series of iTunes guides , here's a collection of four more-than-just-the-basics tips for getting more out of the software -- multiple libraries on a single machine, the best uses for Smart Playlists, getting true CD-quality rips from your CD, and tips for getting perfect album art.

For reference, we're using iTunes 8.2 on both Mac and PC, unless otherwise stated.

You didn't, but we assumed you might ask: "How can I have multiple iTunes libraries on my PC?"

Your kids, perhaps, have an iPod each, want their own iTunes libraries, but have to share the family PC with you and your iPod. This means you need three or more separate libraries. It's actually really, really easy, despite what you may've heard.

We're assuming you've already got one iTunes library. We'll call that 'Library 1', and work on creating 'Library 2'. First, close iTunes completely. Then go to the Start Menu and find the iTunes entry. Hold the right-hand shift key and keep it held down as you click to open iTunes, and keep holding it afterwards.

In a couple of seconds a box will pop up allowing you to either 'Choose Library...' or 'Create Library...'. Obviously, in future, you'll use the choose library option to select one of your many libraries, but for now click to create a library.

Now just give your new library a name and save it somewhere you'll remember in future. And that's it! You can repeat this process for each new library you need, each of which can have its own iPod synced to it. Just use the choose library option to pick your own library whenever you load iTunes.

Next: Smart Playlists...

There is no 'best' way to eat a Cadbury's Creme Egg, and there's no 'best' way to use Smart Playlists. For anyone not familiar with them, Smart Playlists automatically build playlists based on criteria you pre-define, such as the date a song was last played, what star rating you've given it, or what genre it belongs to.

Let's make an advanced Smart Playlist, which will give us a ten-song playlist of metal songs we clearly used to like, but haven't heard for ages.

First click File, then 'New Smart Playlist...'. Tell the box that pops up to match all of the following rules, and choose Genre > Contains > and then type 'metal'. Then click the plus sign to the right to bring up another rule creator.

Then choose Last Played > Is before > and then choose a date suitably far back in the past. In our example we chose a date over a year ago. This so far tells iTunes to build a playlist of metal songs you haven't heard for a year, but if you have a large library you may have loads of songs that match this rule, so we're going to be more specific. Click the plus icon to add a third rule.

Choose Play Count > Is greater than > and then a number large enough to indicate that you've listened to a song a few times. We chose five in our example, which at least to us suggests we liked the song a reasonable amount.

Now tell iTunes to limit to however many items you want in your playlist and tell it to select them at random, then click okay. We chose 10. Lo and behold, we have a ten-song playlist of metal songs we listened to regularly back in the day.

The key here is experimentation. Play with adding rules and see what results you get.

Next: Finding the perfect album art... 

This feature is free to use, and was introduced in iTunes 7. First, make sure you're logged into your iTunes Store account (this won't cost you anything, don't worry). Then pick the album from your library that's missing its cover art, right-click on any of its tracks and choose 'Get Album Artwork'.

That's actually all there is to it -- your cover art will be downloaded and inserted into each track in that album. You should be aware of a couple of things if you experience problems. Firstly, iTunes pulls art from the iTunes Store by matching song titles in your library with those it lists for sale in the store. If iTunes isn't downloading art, or isn't downloading the correct art, search for the album in the store and make sure it's listed. If it is, make sure artist, album and song titles match those in your library.

If all else fails and iTunes doesn't sell your weird and unknown album, it's Google Image Search time for you.

Next: Using Apple Lossless... 

Probably not, no. That is unless you're playing your music through a decent hi-fi or a decent pair of headphones, in which case you might want to consider using it. We've covered the benefits of lossless audio at length, and you can read that here . In a nutshell, it copies your CDs bit-for-bit, without a single piece of audio getting discarded for the sake of lower file size, as opposed to AAC and MP3, which does.

To enable Apple Lossless ripping on a PC, open iTunes, click Edit, then Preferences. In the box that appears, click Import Settings under the General tab, then choose Apple Lossless Encoder under the Import Using pull-down menu, then click OK.

Now your CDs will rip in Apple Lossless, which offers identical ripping properties as FLAC or WAV. But bear in mind your files will be larger, so you'll be able to fit less music on your iPod.

I want even more amazing iTunes guides. Please be giving them to me!

Alright, alright, don't get your knickers in a mess. Below are some recent articles similar to this one.

iTunes Plus: Everything you need to know
iTunes Store without the iPod: A how-to guide
Make MP3s from iTunes downloads: Your how-to guide

 

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