Listening to ambient music with eMusic, iTunes, and an iPod

A system for uncovering and then getting back to the stuff I actually like I'm going to detail the process by which I acquire, manage, and listen to ambient music. I don't think there's anything particularly brilliant or even clever about the way I handle things. And parts of it are a bit messy, especially to the librarian in me. But maybe this might be useful to readers trying to deal with large amounts of music.

Most everything I listen to these days comes from my eMusic Premium account which gets me 90 downloads for $19.99. I'm grandfathered in to the old rate, as now they offer only 75 downloads a month at $19.99. For my purposes, this is a pretty reasonable deal. So, after I grab my tracks, here's what happens:

All of the tracks are imported into and labelled "ambient" in iTunes. The music lives on a 2 year old 15" Apple PowerBook, and is backed up to a 250GB Lacie external Firewire harddrive. A smart playlist is populated for each month's downloads, where anything downloaded within the current month and labelled ambient is automatically added. The playlist is synched to a 1G 4GB iPod Nano.

As I listen to music, the tracks that stand out to me are rated from 1 to 5 stars. When synching the iPod with the PowerBook, my recent track plays are sent to I like the idea of having this data on the network rather than locked inside iTunes. I only wish there was a more powerful way to connect the two. The rating system works as follows:

  • 1 star means I'm not interested in hearing the track again.
  • 2 stars is essentially meaningless, though slightly more meaningful than no rating. 2 stars means I don't really like it, but it's not bad enough to throw out. I may end up hearing it again and making a decising to raise or lower the rating.
  • 3 stars means I definitely would like to hear the track again.
  • 4 stars means I think the track is oustanding.
  • 5 stars means the track is basically as good as it gets for me.

I then create playlists based on stars. I'll fill the iPod with the 3 star or greater playlist, which means by definition the 4 and 5 star tracks are transferred. If I'm feeling like I want to listen a bit more broadly, I'll listen to the 3 star playlist. If I'm in the mood to hear familiar, favorite tracks, I'll play the 5 star playlist.

This has been a fairly useful way of uncovering music I like and finding it again for later listens. The rating system also forces me to be a bit more of an active listener, which in turn helps me refine my preferences and gives me things to talk about on this site.