Genius

I’ve flipped back to iTunes as my default audio player.  I was avoiding it for a long, long time for a lot of reasons but when WinAmp randomly stopped playing OGG files (which I have a lot of), and I couldn’t fix it, I installed the Xiph QuickTime Components plugin and downloaded the latest version of iTunes.  And I have to say, having a functional playlist generator is nice.  Here’s why I was against iTunes in the first place and why I came back:

1. iTunes is a resource hog

It’s no secret that iTunes is a huge application.  When the download size is over 70MB compared against the comparatively miniscule WinAmp (currently sitting at 10.7MB, which is twice as large as earlier versions), you know you’re in for more than just something to play music on.  Additionally, the minimum system requirements for iTunes is about double the minimums of WinAmp almost across the board, including 1GB of RAM if you want to play HD video (I don’t, but that’s besides the point).  As a designer, my RAM is a precious commodity, and the last thing I want is my music player getting in the way of the resources required by my graphics application.  That said, I upgraded from 2 – 4GB of RAM recently, and upgraded my operating system from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows 7 at the same time.  The native 64-bit iTunes has yet to cause any problems with resources while I’m designing (although it gets a bit slow internally when it’s downloading art or updating Genius – but that’s mostly to be expected).

2. iTunes does weird things to your music collection

I’ve had my own directory hierarchy for years.  Music Folder/Genre/Artist/Album.  However, there’s several inherent problems with this, not the least of which being when you have over 30,000 music files, organization is a bitch.  And then there’s the genres themselves, which I kept deliberately general (Alternative, Jazz,  Indie, Punk, Rock, Soundtrack, Rap, Electronic, etc…) – does Nine Inch Nails go in Goth or Industrial?  Does Guitar Wolf go in Punk or Japan?  Is Lady Sovereign Rap or Electronic?  I may not like iTunes messing with my folders, but then, if I can’t find the artist I’m looking for because I can’t remember if I put them in Indie or Alternative, having the artists filed alphabetically starts looking pretty appealing.  And what is my own, personalized directory structure really getting me, anyway, other than headaches?

What’s more, I’ve recently started using the Grouping tag to handle sub-genres – so the Genre field in my tags are the more general genre, and Grouping is for the forks and sub-categories like Dream Pop or Indie Electronic or IDM or Alternative Folk or Death Rock or Shoegazer, and this seems to be working pretty well.  The other thing that’s cool about using the Grouping field is when you have a variety of interpretations of a sub-genre…Alt Country is a great example of this — is it Alternative? Country? Indie?  I use it for Rockabilly, where I stash my newfangled indie Rockabilly Revival and Psychobilly artists alongside the originals like Wanda Jackson, The Collins Kids, and Elvis.

3. iTunes doesn’t automatically update your library

Probably my biggest complaint ever with iTunes has always been if you’re going to take over my entire music collection, why the fuck do I need to manually add new music?  This has been fixed (in fact, it was fixed in iTunes 9).  Now there’s an Automatically add to iTunes folder in your music library folder, which is all the more reason to just let iTunes handle your directory structure for you.  Adding new music to that folder, it gets gobbled up by iTunes and automatically added to your collection.  Which is exactly how it should be.  No more dropping down in File –> Add folder to Library bullshit.

4. Apple is a huge corporation that just wants your money

Yes, but, isn’t everyone these days?  WinAmp may be an independent contractor, but it’s still sporting the Aol logos everywhere, and it’s not exactly the scrappy underdog it was, you know, 15 years ago.  And anyway: so what?  I hate to break it to you anti-Apple-everything geeks, but Apple actually makes some good products.  They may be overpriced ripoffs of other stuff that already exists, but they’re really good overpriced ripoffs of other stuff that already exists.

And here’s why sticking with iTunes is actually probably a good thing:

1. Genius fucking works

Seriously, WinAmp’s Gracenote-powered playlist generator was awesome…for the five minutes that it worked.  Then it sucked.  Sure there’s alternatives, but isn’t it nice to have something built-in that just works?

2. Automatic fucking updates

What’s the worst thing about software updates?  I’ll tell you: it’s having to go to the fucking website and download/install a new version of the software you already have installed.  Really?  It’s 2010 and we still need to install our own updated software?  Most Linux distributions do this for you, you just need to say “uh…okay…” when an update is available.  Java does this, too, along with a bunch of other, more intelligent pieces of software, like FileZilla and uTorrent.  Apple, too, has been doing this for years for their Windows users (and automatically bundled in the Apple Updates for Mac users), and I think it’s awesome.  Why more software developers don’t build this in to their applications is baffling.  Get over it.

3. Smart playlists

Smart playlists are effing brilliant.  It’s like someone crawled into my head and extracted precisely what I’ve been wanting to do for years.  I want to listen to this type of music but not this stuff over here, and if you could add this artist, that would make it even better…Sometimes I don’t want a Genius playlist, but I don’t want to go through and manually build a list to listen to…with smart playlists you can tailor them to just about any freaking thing you can imagine, and here’s where things like Grouping and all sorts of other tags come in handy – Indie Rock from the 90s? Check.  Alternative rated 4 stars or above? Check.  All the stuff I haven’t listened to recently?  Sure.  Or, my favorite, everything with “snow”, “holiday”, “santa”, “winter”, or “christmas” (excluding audiobooks titled SnowCrash, thank you very much)?  Instant holiday playlist.

Like it or not, iTunes is solid.  Big, but solid.  Stupid icon, maybe.  Why fight it?  What’s the point in using some super awesome, uber-customizable little app (Foobar comes to mind) that almost does everything you want?  Now, that Ping thing…that’s another matter entirely…