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How to get a whole lot more from iTunes

(It's not a good idea, by the way, to run or do other particularly jerky, bumpy exercise with an iPod classic or any of the older hard drive-based iPods, though you're okay with a shuffle, touch, or nano, all of which use solid state flash memory.)

If you subscribe to a lot of podcasts, you could use a Smart Playlist to show all the episodes you've already listened to in one place, from across your various subscriptions. Or, to help with the mammoth task of rating all your music, you could set up a 'Not Yet Rated' Smart Playlist. And so on…

It's worth investing some time and playing around with Smart Playlist criteria, because you're sure to hone your lists with practice – and that'll make them ever more useful.

Party time!

Party Shuffle is a randomly generated selection of tracks from your music library.

You can influence the selection by specifying the source that iTunes uses, whether that's a Playlist to which you've manually added tracks (by dragging and dropping chosen songs from your music library) or a Smart Playlist that you've set up.

And you can choose to have Party Shuffle play your highest-rated tracks more often than others. So, with a bit of Smart Playlisting and Rating, you can easily improve the overall standard of your Party Shuffle.

Chances are that your music library contains some errors: misspelled artist or album names, inconsistent attribution of genres, missing information. BeaTunes ($24.95) is a very useful janitor for your iTunes library.

The program started life as a BPM detection tool for DJs, but it's evolved into an excellent all-round manager. When you first run it, BeaTunes 'inspects' your library and presents you with a list of issues, ranging from different versions of album titles to different release dates and offers solutions to each problem, so that, with one click, you can change the album name or date of all the effected songs.

BeaTunes can work out some other information for you, including tracks' BPM and 'Color': each song's colour is derived from what BeaTunes' author describes as a 'statistical profile' of the track, and gives you an idea of what the song sounds like.

This is useful, again, in putting together Playlists – the idea is that songs of a similar colour will sound similar, so you might want to put together a playlist of 'red' songs, or else mix it up by contrasting colours. It's an interesting idea, and certainly can present some good mixes of songs.

A full analysis of your library takes some time – our 30GB took most of two days to complete. To tell the truth, though a DJ could probably save a lot of time with BeaTunes's full analysis, for the average user it's probably overkill – but the Inspection tool is just great for cleaning up your library and keeping it in good order. And the Recommendations that BeaTunes offers for each track in your library are a good way to discover new artists and tunes.

Discover new music with Last.fm

The last thing we're going to mention is another good way to discover new music. It's an aspect of the social music site, Last.fm.

If you're new to Last.fm, the idea is that when you visit the site, you can make your own radio station by entering the name of an artist and clicking search. You'll then be able to listen to a stream of music by that artist and others producing similar music, so you'll pick up lots of suggestions for artists you might like to explore, and very often you'll discover people you've never heard of before.