I’m not usually one to lament about how technology has changed our lives, and what life was like before [something] changed everything. “We used to have to get up and change the channel on the TV, and we liked it!”. I don’t miss that.

But what I do miss, in some ways, is how I used to enjoy my music. I used to like browsing used music stores, and if I happened to stumble upon something I’d been looking for, I’d buy it, take it home, put it in the CD player, and enjoy it while admiring the cover of the album and reading the liner notes.

When just casually wanting to put on some music I used to open up my CD cabinet and scan my collection until something caught my eye. If I filled my 5 disc CD player I’d get around 5 or 6 hours of music without any repeated songs.

On one hand, I don’t miss driving around town trying to find obscure albums and love the fact that now I can go from thinking about how I want to hear a song to owning that song in less than 30 seconds, without ever leaving my chair.

But on the other hand, I sorely miss the once-clear definition between an album and a mix tape. Listening to albums used to the norm for me, while listening to a mix tape was more of an unusual occurrence. When I thought about listening to music, I didn’t think “I want to hear this song”, I thought, “I want to hear this album”. iTunes Party Shuffle completely reversed my thinking, and I guess I just sat back and let it.

And I’m a little bitter about it.

Party Shuffle is easy. It seems like a great idea to just select my top rated songs smart playlist, and shuffle away. There are problems with this, though. First, shuffle is surprisingly poor at really shuffling songs, and as a result is very good at making you sick to death of a few songs, or artists. Tragically, I had to unrate the Who because of this. As much as I love them, I need to take a long break before I can really enjoy them again.

This burn-out shuffle problem can be alleviated somewhat by creating a smart playlist with the much needed “has not been played in the last week”, I found out, but really, this shouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

I really wanted to start listening to Albums again, but when browsing through a Library of 706 artists, and 1129 Albums, it was hard to scan through my choices, as I used to with my CD collection. Maybe it’s just me, but if I don’t see the cover of Tonight’s The Night, I sometimes forget it exists and will go months without ever considering it as a listening choice.

What would be great is if iTunes would actually comprehend the fact that music is not just a library of singles, but rather a library of complete and incomplete albums, with some singles thrown in. Albums should be considered their own entity, if specified, meaning Albums could have ratings, play counts, and all the rest of the data songs have.

On that same path of thought, ratings need to be much much smarter. I want the ability to find all the albums that contain at least 4 songs I’ve rated higher than 3 stars, that I haven’t listened to in the last 2 months. I want to be able to find the songs whose ratings have increased in the last week, which would be extremely useful for figuring out what my current favorites are. Give me something I can work with, Apple. I’ve been wanting to write a better ratings plugin for a long time now, but the hurdle of figuring out how to do that is a little daunting. It’s on the list, though.

I made a small step in returning to my previous listening style last week, when I spent some time going through my library and adding “[Album]” to the “Grouping” field of all songs that were part of a full album. I then made a smart playlist showing only those songs, and also made sure that every album in that list had Album art (which is much easier than making sure my entire library, with lots of singles and incomplete albums has album art). Now, using CoverFlow, or List view, I can browse my albums with an ease I never experienced before in iTunes.

It’s a long way from ideal, but it’s a start.

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