Party on with playlists and iPods

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For many, December marks the time of year when it’s appropriate to don red and green and attend or host holiday parties. And thanks to the portable music players we carry in our pockets (in the form of iPods and iPhones) it’s possible to let everyone join in the musical fun. Here are some suggestions for pumping up your party.

Give iTunes DJ a spin

We’ll start with the party’s host. Launch iTunes and look down its source list for the Playlists entry. The first item below that entry is iTunes DJ. Click on it and iTunes will, by default, build a 15-track playlist from your Music library.

Given that you’re throwing a holiday party, you’ll likely wish to limit iTunes to music appropriate for such a party. To do that, build a playlist of the tracks you want to play during your event. Now, click the Source button at the bottom of the iTunes DJ pane and choose the playlist you created. When you press Play, the playlist will do just that. As a song finishes, a new one from the selected playlist appears at the bottom of the DJ playlist.

Configuring iTunes DJ

Want to have sole control of your music? Then you’re done. However, if you’d like your guests to have a hand in deciding what to play, click the Settings button at the bottom of the DJ pane. In the resulting iTunes DJ Settings window you have the option to display 0 – 100 recently played songs and 0 – 100 upcoming songs. Additionally, you can allow guests to request songs using Apple’s free Remote app on their iPhone or iPod touch. You can restrict them to a specific playlist (the party playlist you created, for example) and you can allow them to vote. The more votes a song gets, the higher it rises in the playlist and sooner it plays.

Guests who attend with their iPhones or iPod touches need only connect to your wireless network (they’ll need the network’s password if you’ve locked it down or access to a guest network) and fire up the Remote app on their devices. Once they do, the Remote’s Settings screen should appear and list any iTunes DJ sources at the top of the screen. When they choose a DJ entry, they’ll see the current playlist. They can vote on songs by tapping the heart icon next to the track name. Again, the more votes a song gets, the sooner it plays.

To request a song, they need only tap the Request a Song button at the bottom of the screen and in the screen that appears, navigate to and tap the track they want to hear. When a song is requested, it earns one vote and appears either next in the playlist if no other tracks have votes, or below those tracks that have a higher rating or the same rating.

Play music around the house

If you’re throwing a big party—the kind that spills out of the kitchen and fills every room in your home—consider putting music in all those rooms. One avenue for doing that is Apple’s AirPlay technology (available in iTunes 10.1 and later). AirPlay audio is compatible with any Apple TV and the AirPort Express Base Station.

Setting up AirPlay Speakers in iTunes

On the new Apple TV you find the option to switch on AirPlay in the Settings menu. Just choose AirPlay Speaker and press the Center button until it reads On. On the original Apple TV you find an AirTunes entry—the name originally used for this technology. Similarly, press the remote’s Center button to switch on the option.

To configure an AirPort Express, launch AirPort Utility (found in /Applications/Utilities), walk through the configuration process, and, when prompted, enable AirTunes (AirPort Utility also uses the previous name). If the AirPort Express is already set up for networking but not for playing music, you can enable AirTunes by clicking the Manual Setup button at the bottom of the window, selecting the Music tab at the top of the window, ticking the Enable AirTunes option, and clicking the Update button.

In regard to making audio connections, the original Apple TV carries both analog (RCA) and digital audio outputs, making it easy to connect to powered speakers and receivers that lack a digital input. The second-generation Apple TV includes only a digital audio output. The AirPort Express has a 3mm stereo jack (miniplug) that you can plug into the majority of powered speakers and receivers (though you may need an adapter cable).

Once you’ve configured the devices and made the audio connection, simply launch iTunes 10.1 or later and click on the AirPlay icon at the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window. A list of all your AirPlay-compatible devices appears. Select Multiple Speakers and in the window that appears, enable those devices you want to stream your music to.

Non-Apple options

AirPlay isn’t the only way to move music throughout your home. Rogue Amoeba has just released its $25 Airfoil 4. Unlike AirPlay, Airfoil lets you stream any sound your Mac makes—not just music from your iTunes library—to iOS devices, other computers, Apple TVs, and AirPort Express Base Stations. Airfoil is one way to stream a favorite Pandora channel throughout your home.

Sonos' Wireless Dock 100

Or you could go with hardware not made by Apple. Logitech’s Squeezebox and Sonos’ multi-room music systems (including the standalone ZonePlayer S5) can pipe music throughout your home. And, unlike with the Apple-provided solution, Squeezebox and Sonos let you simultaneously stream different music to different rooms. They additionally support music subscription services, thus allowing you access to the largest non-permanent music libraries on earth. Sonos provides an additional benefit with its $120 Wireless Dock 100 ( ). When synced with a Sonos system, you can view the contents of a docked iPod or iPhone and wirelessly control the device with any Sonos controller (including the free iPhone/iPod touch and iPad controllers).

Pitch in with the party

A party’s soundtrack need not be left to the whims of a tin-eared host. As you’re loading up the fruitcake, pink chablis, and poinsettia for your next holiday gathering, don’t forget to also pack your iPod, iPhone, or iPad. Doing so may turn a dull affair into something truly memorable.

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