How To Create iTunes Smart Playlists with Implied Criteria

If you’re not using Smart Playlists in iTunes, you should be. Whether you want to create simple query-backed playlists like “1920s Jazz” or “Funk and Soul”, Smart Playlists give you the ability to treat your iTunes music collection like an actual database. The beauty part is that Smart Playlists update themselves in real time as conditions change in your iTunes database.

A common/favorite Smart Playlist is the invaluable “Unplayed” list which lets you make sure you’ve heard everything in your collection at least once. To create an Unplayed list, just use the criteria “Plays is less than 1”:


In my case, I’m also excluding all Podcasts and Voice Memos – I’m interested in Music here.

But it gets more interesting (and more fun) than that.
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Tiny Album Art

As I go through this massive CD and LP digitization project, I don’t want to add cover art to any album that’s smaller than 800px. For those albums that don’t have their cover art retrieved automatically, I search Google images for it.

Incredibly frustrated that it’s so rare to find artwork at a reasonable resolution. The vast majority is at 400px or smaller, and I consider myself lucky to find anything at even 640px. Which forces me to put those discs into the “scan” pile, where I’ll generate 1000px album covers (and yes, I’ll share them with the intertubes later).

The question is, why?

Surely, everyone out there scanning or photographing LP or CD art isn’t scanning the originals that small. And hopefully they’re not adding them to their collections or putting them on web sites that small. Is there some kind of blocking going on that I should know about? This seems crazy.

CD Resale Value Plummeting as Record Stores Breathe Last Breath

Nearing the end of this massive, multi-person music digitization process, starting to return vast collections of amazing music to friends, and came across my own boxes of “discards.” Painful to let go, but it’s only 10% of the collection, and I have to be honest that I haven’t stuck a CD in a slot for a very long time and probably never will again.

Lugged 400 discs down to Downhome Music, knowing that they’d appreciate a lot of them. Bummed to learn that with everyone going or having gone all-digital, CD resale value is down to $1 or $1.50/disc, and some stores now doing closer to $0.50/disc.

The buyer waved his arm at the inside of the store, which was empty on a Sunday afternoon. “This will all be gone soon” he said. There is no market left for used CDs, so they have to sell them dirt cheap, which means they can no longer pay for them.

Miles record shopping

Digitization has all but killed the newspaper. All but killed the bookstore. All but killed the record store. I blame Obama the job killer.

Was half-tempted to refuse and hold onto them for nostalgia’s sake, but realism got the better of me and I walked out with the money (didn’t even take trade-in value like I used to).

Music has become a non-physical phenomenon. That’s completely normal for the younger generations, completely weird for us oldsters. I embrace the convenience but curse the side effects, even as I’m part of the problem.

Searching for Sugar Man

New at Stuck Between Stations, my mini-review of the fantastic documentary about the life of Detroit troubador Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man.

Meanwhile, a couple bootleg copies of his records somehow made it to South Africa, where his music became the soundtrack for the young adult revolution against apartheid. “Cold Fact” and “Coming From Reality” became record collection staples of pretty much every South African. “If someone had Beatles and Stones records, they had the Rodriguez records too.” In fact, most South Africans will tell you today that Rodriguez was bigger than the Stones in their country.


1920s Banjojele

Just walked out of 5th String in Oakland with a 90+ year old instrument – a 1920s banjolele, with a wonderful nasally jazz sound. Thinking of the rooms it has played, the vibrations that have moved through this wood! Built like a tank, too. Maker unknown – lost to history. My first antique instrument.



A couple people asked for sound samples, so here you go – the first compares the banjolele to a modern Kamaka soprano, the other is just a few Velvet Underground riffs.

Crestmont 4/5 Sound Science Fair

Wonderful watching and hearing the fourth and fifth graders explain their audio science projects this morning – such a broad topic, and every kid had a completely different take. Recorded some random audio samples this morning while meandering from theremin to echolocation demo to analog amplifiers to oscilloscope to homemade stethoscope to foley demo… the variety was fantastic.

For a taste, start the audio, then start the slideshow and choose the Full Screen option.

Flickr Set

Listen to Your Home iTunes Collection from Work

It’s a well-known bummer that the iTunes “Share” feature only works over your local LAN. You may have no intention of sharing your music collection with the world, or of running your own little public radio station from home, but you simply can’t connect to an iTunes library from another network. It’s a feature, not a bug.


Of course, iTunes Match is meant to solve exactly this problem, but Match has a fatal flaw that makes it unusable by the people who need it the most – its 25,000 song limit. For those of us with legit collections of 50k or 75k tracks, Match isn’t an option. Shame, too – I’d happily pay 2x or 3x the subscription price to get Match working. It’s the answer to my prayers, but off-limits. Apple won’t take my money to solve this problem.

So what if you just want to be able to listen to music on a Mac at home from work? It is possible, but it’ll take some setup work, and 60 bucks (which is one-time fee, and money you won’t have to pay to Apple, Pandora, rdio, MOG or Spotify). And, in my experience, those streaming services only have about half the music in my collection – if I want to listen to my music from work, this is the only option.

The setup works like this:

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shacker’s Jam Odyssey encourages users to post one new track per week, with embedded video. I wasn’t religious about keeping up with in 2012, but did manage to post about half the time. The end-of-year twist is that they can (on request) produce a compilation of snippets for the entire year, as a “Jam Odyssey.” Pretty cool idea. Here’s mine:

shacker’s Jam Odyssey

Full-Screen Album Art in iTunes

If there’s one thing that bums me out, it’s an MP3 without big beautiful cover art. Like all y’all old-school LP guys, having high-quality album cover art on full display is part of the listening experience.  I’ve just spent the past couple years digitizing my entire LP and CD collections, then tracking down the best-possible cover art for every single one of the 5,000+ albums I ended up with — even if it meant photographing or scanning covers by hand.

With all that work done, I wanted to find a good way to display cover art on the Mac as cleanly as possible, without the clutter of other app windows in the way, and ideally without turning to 3rd-party software.

At first, I thought CoverFlow would be the One True Way, but  in practice, CoverFlow can’t be trusted. I find it constantly gets stuck on a cover, and no amount of toggling the “Now Playing / Selected” widget or switching between List View and CoverFlow view will coax it out of its rut.

Here’s the recipe I came up with – let me know if you have a better one:

0) Make sure all of your music has the highest-quality album art possible :) CoverScout is an awesome tool if you want to automate/simplify the process somewhat.

1) Make sure the Now Playing / Selected preview window is showing by clicking the disclosure triangle at the bottom left.

2) Double-click on the album cover to open it in a new, detached window (never knew you could do that, amiright?)

3) Use Mission Control to move that window to a new desktop. If you’re not already using multiple desktops, just drag the detached cover art window to a blank space near the top of Mission Control.

4) Switch to the new desktop and maximize the Now Playing window.

Now, to see your full-screen album art quickly, just switch to the other desktop. There are several ways to do this quickly in OS X, but I prefer either the three-finger sideswipe (if you have a laptop or trackpad) or Ctrl+Arrow[Left/Right].

Yes, there’s a small bit of setup, but since Mountain Lion restores all windows to their previous state after a reboot, you never have to do it again.

BTW, the cover art display isn’t just pretty – it’s functional too. Hover over the art and a controller will appear, giving you full scrub / skip / pause control, and letting you see the name of the current track and album.

Bonus: Remote Control
The really bad-ass thing is that you don’t have to do this from the Mac where the iTunes library lives – if you have a media server Mac that’s separate from the one you do your work on, you can run it all on a  by remote control, via iTunes Home Sharing.  I do my work on a MacBook Pro from the living room, which talks to iTunes on a Mac Mini server in the office which houses the music collection. The MacBook’s instance of iTunes in turn sends its output via AirPlay to an AirPort Express connected to the stereo across the living room from me. It’s a big crazy triangle, but the experience is completely smooth and user friendly (much nicer than the old VNC solution I used to use). If you would prefer to use a VNC client, I can’t recommend Jolly’s highly enough – the elastic screen feature is trippy, but does an amazing job of compensating for the fact that you might be controlling a huge monitor from a small one.