Possibly due to my joint roles as a Technical Director at WFVR-LP and a DJ/presenter, I am often asked how I manage my iTunes library, and how I keep track of the music I have played on the air, as well as the music I must not ever play on the air. This post on ratings is the first of what I hope will be a collection of instructional articles.
This is how I manage my iTunes library when it comes to rating songs using iTunes’ 0-5 star (★) system, and my opinion that ratings don’t have to be a harsh criticism of a song, but can also used as an organizing tool. Reminder that this method is how I manage my weekly radio show, and is meant to provide flexibility and ease to large iTunes libraries. The comments will be open for a period of time after the post is live, so please share your tips.
When it comes to managing my weekly radio show, I often create Smart Playlists with a series of rules to help provide the spark in the creative process or manage a decided theme. Adding the stars also helps in the long run; meaning the data use improves with age. Stars are just one part, but they one of the few times where you get to decide what you like or don’t like. While one can use add-on scripts (and I do recommend some of these!) to change the play count for a song, or change the last played date, but for the most part iTunes takes care of much of the data management.
In my rating system a single star mostly means that I have listened to the song enough to give it thought. I may binge listening to some new material in the library, and rate the songs as they play. A song receiving a single star has been marked as not grabbing me but that I am not willing to give up on just yet. Songs with a single star will often find their way into Smart Playlists looking for hidden gems. Something like: Between 0 and ★ | < 5 Plays | Indie Rock. I give my Smart Playlist very specific names as you can see.
To me two stars can be a lower rating than a single star. Two is nearly the kiss of death in my library. A song is more likely to be dropped from the rotation if it is a two than if it is one or nil. Two stars means that I have listened to the song and there is something of which I am not fond, or even something that is overly familiar (read: overplayed). In the back of my mind, I know one line in a Smart playlist will exclude anything with only ★★ from my eyes and ears for a while. It is the rating equivalent of Purgatory.
Three stars is what I consider very listenable, and should appeal to myself and others. Pop music from the ages resides in three stars. ★★★ and nil probably make up most of my library. When I create a Smart Playlist for a radio program — or one of the parties my wife and I throw — the minimum a song must rate is three stars.
This is where my personal tastes probably first show. As I always say, I am not the arbitrator of what is or is not “good.” Only what I like or do not like. If someone else likes something I do not, I like to think I can appreciate why. At the time of this writing — and for the foreseeable future — I am the show’s producer as well as its presenter. I obviously want to play music I like, but I also want to entertain the listeners, and hopefully attract new listeners who are potentially new members to the station.
My mother-in-law likes to say that if a DJ has enthusiasm for the music they play on the air, listeners will catch on to that excitement and give the show a go even if they aren’t familiar with the selections. This is important for community radio stations like WFVR-LP — where my program is based — where the programming is so diverse. Most commercial radio stations have some sort of style or genre for which they are known, and listeners can expect to tune in whenever they want and hear that (their favorite) style of music. Community radio is made up people with a wide variety of tastes and many times programming directors need to schedule programs based on when the presenter can be there and not just based on what his audience listening schedule is.
The tl;dr version of this story is that once I get into the four and five star ratings I run the risk of isolating my audience, but I also may open their world to something they like that they didn’t know they like. And this has been my own personal mission of late. Get outside my comfort zone, and to seek out songs that make me happy. But also to listen to a balance of styles, whether any of those songs make it on the my show or not.
This is my happy place. This is my dessert island. This is the good stuff as far as I am concerned. Songs with five stars next to them is the equivalent of my life-long, personal mix tape to myself. Full stop.
What about zero? Zilch? None? Does a song need to be rated? I personally want every song in my library to have some sort of rating, but I don’t want to rush that. So, in my case, no stars means that I just haven’t gotten around to listening to it, or equally likely, I forgot to rate it.
As a rule, I also do not rate Station IDs, Sponsor IDs, carts, etc. in my library. I want them there to include in my show playlists, but I don’t feel a need to rate them, or Group them.
Uncheck or Delete?
There are at least two other options to consider when managing one’s music library. One is whether you want songs to be considered for play or to be included in Playlists. The other is the nuclear option: delete the song entirely and move it to the Trash.
If you uncheck a song in iTunes you can then exclude it from playing via a check box in a Smart Playlist titled “match only checked items.” Also, (I think) by default iTunes won’t play songs that are unchecked.
You can always delete songs from playlists without deleting them from your library. For this reason I rarely delete songs. In fact, deletion is usually reserved for songs that have a defect, such as music I have transferred from vinyl to the computer. And even then, I may uncheck the song, and mark the defect in the title and/or the comments or description fields. Something like: Homesick [SCRATCHED] | The Cure | Disintegration. The benefit of doing so is being able to easily see songs I may want to replace to complete an album.