Tackle the iTunes Music Store

Apple has scored a big hit with the iTunes Music Store (iTMS). The virtual record shop offers a vast catalog of songs at low prices and has an easy-to-use interface. But you’ll find more than just music. iTunes 6 added TV shows, music videos, and short films to the mix of songs, Podcasts, audiobooks, and movie trailers. Feeling overwhelmed? Here are some tools that will help you customize your shopping experience.

Personal service

iTunes now has several personalization options, and one of the coolest is Just For You, an early version of a feature that suggests songs and albums you might enjoy, basing its recommendations on your past purchases at the iTMS. To get customized recommendations, look to see that this option is turned on—you should see a bold Turn Just For You Off link at the bottom of the iTMS main page. (If you see a Turn Just For You On link, click on the link to do so.) Now Just For You will show up in a window above Exclusives on the iTMS home page. Click on the See All link, and you can refine the suggestions list by clicking on the Already Own It or Don’t Like It button that appears under each album (see top screenshot). These tools will not only help the iTMS learn your tastes, but also banish these albums or books from your recommendations list forever. The Just For You feature also works for albums that you own but that you didn’t purchase through the iTMS.

Pass it around

Sometimes songs or artists touch our lives so profoundly that we just have to share them with our friends or family. There’s an easy way to do this: by clicking on the Tell A Friend link in the upper left corner of an album’s page or in the upper right corner of an artist’s page. Doing so brings up a window that lets you send one or more people an e-mail notification with album art and a link to that page.

But there are a few less-obvious ways to send links to your pals (especially those who don’t like having their e-mail addresses revealed to Apple). Or perhaps you want an easy way to link to a new album on your blog. To get a direct link, just control-click (if you have a multibutton mouse, right-click) on the name of an album or artist in the iTMS—or to get a link to an individual song, on the arrow to the right of its title—and select the resulting Copy iTunes Music Store URL contextual-menu item. The URL is now in your Clipboard, ready to paste into a private e-mail message or add to a Web site.

Another way to share an iTMS address is to simply drag and drop a song, an album, or an artist name to the desktop (this creates a .webloc HTTP link), to the Bookmarks bar in Apple’s Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox (this adds the link as a bookmark), or directly into an e-mail message (this adds the URL). This trick also works with iMixes, Podcasts, audiobooks, and more. Activating any of the links I’ve described opens iTunes to the proper page at the iTMS.

Up for review

If you’re an armchair music critic (and really, who isn’t?), share your thoughts with the world by clicking on the Write A Review link that appears on the lower right side of any album page. Add a one- to five-star rating and about 200 well-chosen words, and your cheers or jeers will show up for all the world to see. But what happens if your tastes change? That Black Eyed Peas track that seemed so catchy a month ago might drive you crazy now—and you might even be embarrassed to have people know how much you once loved it. No problem: you can easily delete an old review via your iTMS account settings. Click on your account name in the upper right corner of the iTMS window, enter your password, and click on View Account. Click on the Manage Reviews button, and you can delete (but not edit) any of your published reviews. Click on the Remove button, and nobody will ever have to know.

Stay in the loop

If you’re more interested in having Apple deliver information to you than you are in sending links to others, there’s something for you, too: custom RSS feeds. Pay a visit to the iTunes Music Store RSS Feed Generator; there, you can create feeds based on all types of data, such as new releases in blues and French pop, top audio-books, or just-added jazz—you pick the genres that you care about (see middle screenshot). Then click on the Generate button, and the page will present you with a feed URL that you can enter into any RSS reader—including the one built into Safari. This is a great way to keep abreast of the iTMS goings-on that most interest you.

List It for Me

In previous versions of iTunes, playlist glut could clutter up the Source window and actually make your tunes harder to find. But since the latest versions of iTunes let you organize playlists into folders (and even subfolders), there’s no reason not to go on a playlist spree, adding one for every album. In addition to placing all your iTMS purchases in the default Purchased playlist, iTunes 6 can generate playlists on a per-album basis. Just select the Automatically Create Playlists When Buying Song Collections option in the Store tab of iTunes’ preference pane.

Save it for later

If you find yourself impulsively splurging on every album that tickles your fancy, you might want a way to force yourself to ponder before you purchase. iTunes provides a financial buffer, in the form of a shopping cart— go to the Store tab of iTunes’ preference pane to activate it. Select the Buy Using A Shopping Cart option and click on the OK button, and a new icon will appear in the Music Store entry in your iTunes Source list. When you find a song or an album you might want to buy, click on the Add Song or Add Album button (which will have replaced the standard Buy Song and Buy Album buttons); that item is then added to the shopping cart instead of charged directly to your credit card. When you want to take a look at what you’ve added, click on the Shopping Cart icon, and you’ll see a list of everything in your cart, as well as the total price of the items you’ve chosen (see bottom screenshot). You can then buy individual songs or albums, or the whole cart, with one click. You can remove songs (or switch back to the standard shopping method) just as easily. And as a bonus, iTunes will suggest other albums, based on the items in your cart.

Debit me

In case you don’t like using credit cards online (or the idea of your spouse’s being able to see how much you spend on music every month), iTunes now lets you pay for purchases directly from your bank account, via PayPal. Click on your account name in the upper right corner of the iTMS window, enter your password, click on the View Account button to get to your Apple Account Information page, and then click on the Edit Credit Card button. At the top of the screen, you’ll see radio buttons for the four major credit cards, as well as for PayPal. Click on the PayPal icon and validate your request; then iTunes will whisk you off to the Pay-Pal Web site, where you will verify your account.

Not so fast

Although people who have blazing cable or DSL connections tend to take broadband for granted, much of the country is still using dial-up modems. If your poky connection causes iTunes’ song previews to stutter and stop, enable the Load Complete Preview Before Playing option in the Store tab of iTunes’ preference pane. This forces iTunes to load an entire preview before playing it—eliminating the stutter.

[ Mathew Honan writes about digital audio for Wired, Playlistmag.com , and other publications—all of which helps cover the enormous bill he runs up every month at the iTunes Music Store. ]

iTunes 6 offers personalized music suggestions with the new Just For You feature.Looking for an easier way to keep up with iTMS releases? Create a custom RSS feed and let Apple deliver the information to you.Use iTunes’ Shopping Cart to collect music before you buy—and keep an eye on your spending.
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