Things I Wish iTunes Did

iTunes A few years back, I wrote a post about how I use the star rating system in iTunes to help manage how I listen to music. I recently acquired a new MacBook, and because I made a few mistakes in the process of transferring music from my external drive to the MacBook, I lost some metadata, and that metadata included the star ratings I had accumulated over the last 3 or 4 years.

Some Context

I thought this was going to be a bit of a problem, but it turns out the way I use music has changed a bit and the star system isn't really as central to the way I do things anymore. I tend to think of ambient music these days as needing to be contextually relevant. And by contextually relevant I mean appropriate for the time of day, place, mood, weather, time of year, lighting, temperature, and whatever other circumstances all combine to make up the conditions present when I'm listening to music.

iTunes doesn't have a particularly good way to handle this. I use a lot of Smart playlists to approximate some of the functionality I'm after, but there isn't quite enough options to slice things the way I'd like. What I'm looking for is a way to mix quantitative behavior patters with things like my qualitative feelings on things. Here's an example:

I get up early in the morning, and around this time of year it's dark and the apartment is cold. It's also quiet because the hum of the air conditioner in the background isn't present. I'd like music appropriate for this context.

Using Notes

One way I do this is by using the notes field. I essentially use the space to "tag" tracks. A lot of the tags I use are descriptive in terms of what type of ambient music I'm listening to: drone, instrumental, etc. and then I'll add a few more words that describe the sound like "clicks" or "spacey" or "underwater."

And so I've also used the field to add in contextual information by using keywords like "morning" or "quiet" or "winter" or "autumn" and etc. And this works mostly well, except that the metadata isn't structured, and therefore hard to remember and be consistent about. There's a tradeoff between not being forced to use the exact right term and losing out on tracks I've labelled as "soft" when I make a playlist of "quiet" tracks.

Smart-er Playlists

So I'd like there to be a better system for structured metadata. Basically a "Genre" field that's totally suped up.

But what I'd really like to do is then take these smart playlists based on a combination of keywords and then have the system be smart enough to only play tracks noted as "quiet" and "morning" and "winter" that I've actually in the past listened to between 5am and 7am during the months of December, January, and February.

So what?

What I'm attempting to do with Ambient Music Blog Podcast is to do this work for you. I think of a context, and then I pick some tracks that to me feel like they fit. My longterm goal is to explore the ways in which the kind of music I talk about on this web site might be useful for improving experiences in the physical world. Like, for example, would it be easier to buy a car if the salesman's office was playing a really well-done and contextually appropriate playlist?

In the meantime, I'm hacking away at iTunes and trying to make it do something closer to what I'd like it to do.

Thanks and Happy New Year

worldwide The second year of Ambient Music Blog has come to a close and I'd like to thank those of you who have stopped by in that time, wherever you might be.

Personally, I'm thinking about ways to make 2009 the year where the things I do on the web are more for me than they are for other people. I'm not exactly sure just how I'm going to do that yet, or if I'll be successful, but I plan on Ambient Music Blog being a big part of it.

Thanks again, and good luck.

The Kinds of Things I Post Here

I've gotten a number of emails and (a smaller number of) comments lately from readers who have written to say they are finding music via the site that they hadn't heard of before. This is great, and I'm glad people are finding the posts useful. I also get a fair amount of submissions from artists from all over the world. This, too, is great.

I find it difficult to articulate the particular kind of music I'm interested in here. I also find it not particularly interesting to think and write about how music sounds. And so I'd rather you just have a listen and see if you think something is worth a download or purchase.

That said, I can definitely tell you maybe what kind of stuff I'm not interested in, because I get a number of submissions that are pretty wide of the mark. Here's maybe a checklist:

New-age Mystical Electro Nature-sounds Relaxing Sleep music

Anything with vocals, of almost any type, of which I make an exception for a band or two from Iceland, and only because their music is so goddamn good looking.

Things that sound like they came from outer space.

Chillout music

Anything you might hear at a rave.

I don't want to discourage submissions, but I thought it would be worth all of our time if I tried to talk about the kind of stuff I'm likely to post here, and the only way I can do that is by talking about the stuff I won't be posting here.

Maybe I've missed a few things? If you've got any ideas on expanding the above list, please do drop a note in the comments.


Just a few things to note about changes here on the site. 1. I've begun pointing to MP3 downloads rather than The selection is much deeper now than it was when the service debuted. And you don't need to be a subscriber to grab a track or a full record. Seems more useful for more people. Also, if you end up downloading anything, a few pennies get kicked over to Ambient Music Blog.

2. Speaking of pennies, I'm experimenting with some ads on the site. So far they've been nothing to write home about, and I'm leaning towards maybe removing them at some point. But I'm giving them a go after being kind of opposed to the idea in principle for so long.

3. I've taken to just posting a record cover and a link to a place where you can hear the tracks. I'm not much interested in talking about these records. My hope is that you can trust that after a few years of doing this site, if I post a link to something, it's probably worth your time to have a listen. No sense in me getting in the way of that by trying to write clever things about how the record sounds. Just go listen yourself.

That's it. Lots of posts in the queue, thanks for reading, and I hope you find something worth listening to.

Summer Hiatus

Harpswell, Maine Hello. Took a little summer break from the site. I did a little traveling, watched the European Championship, started learning how to play the guitar, bought a car to get away from New York City on the weekends. For now, back to the music.

Here's a few odds and ends that came to my attention while I was away.

Planet Autostar This is apparently "Planet Geek House." I'm not sure what that means, but a think a few of you might find the streaming tracks available here of interest.

crystalpalace "Chilled electronica from electroset mixologist crystalpalace." I'm not generally one who finds "electronica" to be interesting, but some of the streaming tracks available here are pretty good quality stuff. I assume there's no connection to the famous London football club.

More soon.


2007 is drawing to a close, and I'd like to just drop a quick note to say thanks to everyone who has stopped by over the course of the year to read, leave a comment, or write an email. I started this site just under a year ago as a way to learn more about the music I was listening to, to find new music I had never heard of, and to hopefully point a few people looking for the same in the right direction. Looking at the numbers, the site has had visitors from over 80 different countries in 2007. I kind of like that.

And while I'd much rather write about music here than write about writing, it has been a bit quiet on the site lately, and I should tell you that while the reasons are many (finishing up a graduate program, a bit of travel, starting a new job, etc.), I'd like to thank you for your patience and let you know that I intend to pick up the pace here in early 2008.

So, here's to a good new year, and thanks again for reading.

Worldwide Readership Readership I began writing here just a bit over 5 months ago, with the intention of becoming more actively involved in the music I spend so much time listening to. And I think I've learned a decent amount of stuff by writing about records, detailing my listening habits, and researching bands and artists.

Along the way, I've picked up readers from all over the world. While anyone who writes on the web will tell you that they'd always like to have more readers, I think the thing I'm happiest about so far is that the readership is so spread out.

So, this is just a note to say thanks for reading, and if you find the site valuable or useful, please tell your friends about it (especially if your friends live in Antarctica. Only one more continent to go and I've got the whole Earth covered!).

"As ignorable as it is interesting."

There was a time in my life, my teens, when, as is appropriate for a teenage boy living in the American suburbs, rock music was extraordinarily important. I spent a fair amount of time immitating heros on a drumkit in my basement. Later, as an undergrad, I read a lot of philosophy and critical theory trying to figure out if people writing about music in magazines were making any sense. Of course, as one ages, things come in and out of focus, and the kind of things that previously seemed undeniable are now mostly just kind of the stuff that makes up the history of who you are. Rock music doesn't do the same things it did for me when I was fifteen, and that's a relief. Because I'm not fifteen anymore.

I discovered about a year or so ago that the music I was listening to most was the kind of stuff that made the most sense for the environments in which I often found myself: hunched over a computer at home, staring at a different computer at the office, reading a magazine on the subway, drifting off aboard an airplane, or staring out a hotel room window. And this music is what I can only broadly kind of define as "ambient."

Another thing I discovered over the course of a year, downloading and listening to some two-thousand odd tracks or so, is that I really didn't have the vocabulary to speak intelligently about what I was listening to. I didn't even have the basic facts. Who were the artists I was listening to, when was the stuff made, and where did any of it fit in the grand narrative of 21st century music? At best, this makes it difficult to answer the "So what kind of music are you listening to lately?" question, but at worst it makes it nearly impossible to do all the things that makes listening to music so much fun: recommending a record to a friend, discovering connections between artists, or just generally yelling at someone regarding the superiority of record X over record Y in a bar. That's the kind of stuff I like to do.

And so it seems like the best way I can get over this anonymous download-and-listen pattern is to write about what I'm downloading and listening to. I've been writing off and on on the web since before there was anything called blogging, and so the web seems like the natural place for it.

My intention here is not to provide expert commentary. Because I'm not an expert. What I would like to do is simply talk about what I'm listening to. This is mostly a selfish excercise. I want to have a relationship with the music I listen to that is a bit more like that fifteen year old self in the basement. If a reader or two takes a look at some of the stuff here and has an easier time wading through the enormous amount of choice out there, that would be fantastic. Even better, maybe some readers will contribute to the discussion.