DRM Smart Playlist in iTunes

With the announcement yesterday that all music on the iTunes Store will become DRM-free, I decided I wanted to track the progress to see which music files in my library haven’t been updated to 256kbps DRM-free AAC files yet (compared to the old 128kbps DRM’d AAC files). So I created a Smart Playlist to accomplish this!

  1. Make sure you have the latest version of iTunes (version 8.0.2 as of this writing).
  2. Go to File –> New Smart Playlist
  3. Under Match the Following Rule, do the following and then click OK.
    Screenshot of DRM Smart Playlist window
  4. So what is this Smart Playlist doing? When you buy a DRM song from the iTunes Store, the Kind tag is set to “Protected AAC audio file.” So all this playlist does is look for any file who’s Kind tag contains “protected” and is part of the Music playlist (meaning, the music section of your iTunes library).
  5. Once done, click on that newly created playlist and you will automatically see all music in your iTunes library that is still has DRM. As Apple rolls out the music that is available to be upgraded to DRM-free, you can upgrade your music and this playlist should shrink as a result. The goal of course is to have 0 songs on this playlist real soon (assuming you purchase the upgrades). Supposedly that will happen by the end of March 2009 when all songs become DRM-free on the iTunes Store.

On a sidenote, you can go through the same process to create a playlist that contains all of your iTunes Store music that is DRM-free. Just change (or create a new playlist) that searches for music with the Kind tag containing Purchased. That is all you have to change! The smart playlist will now contain all of your 256kbps AAC files purchased from the iTunes Store.

I did notice that if you changed any of the tags on your iTunes purchases, the iTunes Plus upgrades may not overwrite the old entry in iTunes. You may have to manually delete any duplicates.

Some recent albums I recommend

Here a couple recent albums I really recommend to all of you. Recently I have only been buying music from iTunes Plus or Amazon.com MP3 Store, so I will include direct links to these albums for your purchase whenever possible so you can enjoy high quality DRM-free music the way it is supposed to be.

  • Foo Fighters: Echos, Silence, Patience & Grace – A really good album that is good from start to finish. I find myself listening to it often on the way to/from work, as it is a great cruising in the car album. I think it is their most complete album in the 21st century so far.
    DRM Free: CD
  • Thrice: The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II Fire & Water – I have a weak spot for concept albums, especially those done really well. Few bands can pull off what Thrice has done here…going from straight out balls to the wall hardcore punk for 6 songs then to some type of watery electronica-type sound for the next 6 songs. Fantastic album.
    DRM Free: Amazon MP3 Store
  • Jimmy Eat World: Chase This Light – I have only listened to this album once, but it is classic Jimmy Eat World and I cannot recommend it enough. Better then their last album for sure.
    DRM Free: Amazon MP3 Store

Goodbye DRM

So Apple now has high quality DRM-free music on iTunes (for just EMI labels at the moment, but that should change quickly). I went right away to see what songs I had purchased are eligible to be upgraded for $0.30 apiece.

Only 4 songs (and 2 of those are songs Katie bought that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to) were eligible. So I upgraded those songs and then purchased an album I have wanted, but never got around to buying (Coldplay’s Parachutes). The whole process is painless and now I have an extremely high quality copy that is DRM-free.

I am almost decided that future album purchases will be on iTunes (if the iTunes Plus version of the album is offered). I don’t remember the last time I played a physical CD since I instantly rip CD’s these days and store them afterwards. Why deal with that hassle anymore? As Mark Cuban wrote a few days ago, we aren’t too far away from CD’s becoming extinct.

Now I just have to get an off-site backup strategy together.

iTunes New Music Tuesday is missing on Tuesday

Anyone else notice that there has been no iTunes New Music Tuesday today? Meaning no free single of the week and no new albums on the iTunes Music Store?

Makes you really wonder if sometime this week (I’m guessing tomorrow) that DRM-free music is released on iTunes. Apple did say that DRM-free music would be on iTunes by the end of May and the end of May is Thursday. Due to Memorial Day, you can make the case that Wednesday is the new “Tuesday” this week.

How I handle playlists with my iPod

I have a huge collection of music, closing in on 30 GB (encoded at 256kbps AAC). How do I get this music to fit onto my 8GB iPod nano?

I have several playlists to accomplish this:

  • iPod Playlist – A smart playlist has every song rated three stars or higher that hasn’t been played in the past three weeks. This usually gets me a playlist that with about 6 GB (~800 songs) of music. Perfect for shuffle play and guarenteed to have fresh music, since no song has been played in the last three weeks.
  • Listen List – I usually throw the latest albums I have bought onto this playlist, or albums I haven’t listen to in awhile that I want to revisit. Usually has about 4-5 albums.
  • Unrated Songs – A smart playlist listing songs I haven’t rated yet. I limit this to 50 songs so it fit on my iPod.
  • Relaxing Music – A custom playlist of music (usually acoustic) that is nice to listen to when trying to relax. Right now weighs around 500 MB.
  • Podcasts – I sync the 10 most recent podcast episodes to my iPod.

Every morning before I leave for work, I plug in my iPod to make sure it has any podcasts that downloaded overnight. I usually listen to a mix of music and podcasts (depending on my mood) on the way to work. At work, depending on how busy it is I may have my iPod playing at a low volume inbetween calls.

When I get home from work, the first thing I do is sync my iPod again so the latest song ratings, last played information, and so on are uploaded. At the same time, my Last.fm page is updated with what my iPod has played that day.

I still don’t understand how people claim drag/dropping music onto their music players is faster then this approach. I spend probably 2 minutes (and that is pushing it) managing my music each day. The initial effort of rating songs took work, but the flexibility and speed I gain via smart playlists are WELL worth it. iTunes is absolutely fantastic with playlist management and options, especially since iTunes 7 since it is real easy to update which playlists sync with my iPod.

Thoughts on the Apple & EMI DRM deal

As most people who follow tech news know, Apple did something extremely important yesterday with the help of a ‘Big 4’ record company, EMI. The two companies struck a deal to release EMI’s entire catalog onto iTunes DRM-free and at a much higher sound quality starting in May 2007. Singles will cost $1.29 apiece, while albums will maintain their current pricing ($9.99 to $12.99, although I have seen CD’s for as cheap as $7.99).

Why is this important? Why are many people talking about this?

For the first time thanks to this deal, legal digital music has a real chance at working like it is supposed to. All of that potential that the original Napster unlocked for a year or two is finally being realized. I am not talking about the peer-to-peer file sharing piece of Napster. I am talking about the ability of someone to easily discover music, pay a cheap fee for it, and get high quality copy that works just like any Compact Disc…except a lot easier.

How is this better then going down to the store and picking up the latest CD?

  • Apple has established a new precedent: if a new higher quality version is released, you can upgrade for a cheap fee ($0.30 per song in this case). No longer do you have to pay thousands of dollars to upgrade your old LP or cassette collection to CD. Once you buy an iTunes song, you will have some security to know that you can access future versions without giving up your first born.
  • No DRM brings back the best part of music, the social aspect. I can once again easily share a song or even an album with a friend. Word of mouth and flexibility has always been proven to drive record sales…it has taken the record industry only 50 years to figure this out.
  • Higher sound quality can actually replace CD’s for most people. Most people (probably 90%) cannot tell the difference between a 256kbps AAC file and a CD. Considering the fact that I never actually listen to the physical CD anymore (I rip it then put it in storage), what am I losing buying singles/albums on iTunes? I can easily burn backups, burn an audio CD if I ever got the urge, and can even play on a non-Apple player that supports the AAC format. For the first time, the instant gratification factor of iTunes outweighs minor negatives (not a “perfect” CD copy in my procession). Heck even most iTunes albums these days come with digital booklets to replicate those old jewel case inserts.
  • Freedom to use any music player: I am a huge iPod fan…there is no denying it. But it is comforting to know that in the future, 100% of my music can be moved onto any music player that supports the open standard AAC format. For the first time in history, music buyers will know that their music will be playable in the future without worrying about DRM or a physical device being outdated. Just like everyone in 10-15 years should be able to play MP3’s still, AAC’s will be support.
  • I am not even getting into iTunes features like Complete My Album that will make digital music a blast. Singles will become even more important as labels try to drive album sales…a kick ass single or two or three will result in many people paying the extra $9.01 (or $8.00, or $6.99…or…) to get an album, since their investment in the single isn’t wasted.

I personally cannot wait for May to come around. I know that for now on, if an artist is available on iTunes DRM free with the high bitrate files, I will definitely buy via iTunes instead of taking a car trip to buy the CD.

The music industry as we know it is dead come May.

iTunes Plugin – iConcertCal

Check out this really neat iTunes plugin called iConcertCal. It basically scans your iTunes library for bands, compares the list to a couple of sites that contain concert info, then displays on a calendar inside of iTunes what bands have shows coming up in your area.

I already noticed a couple shows I didn’t know about! Really neat stuff. There is OS X and Windows versions.

Only suggestion I have has more to do with their web site then the plugin. Their site really needs a RSS feed for updates, so people will know when a new version comes out.