Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Spotify: Searching Spotify's Music Library

Spotify is awesome (read a previous post about it here). Here's some tips on searching in Spotify.

Unlike iTunes and Zune, Spotify boasts no main screen welcoming users into a nicely organized musical world. iTunes and Zune have links for specific genre types, but Spotify does not. In terms of organization, the one common aspect of all three is a Top Tracks/Top Albums list.

iTunes allows easy genre browsing. Spotify does too, but in a slightly different manner.
In iTunes, click on Music and then All Categories on the upper right panel to view various genres. 

To help you get around Spotify's music library, I've written some instructions below. Read on if you're interested. Of note, I have a Mac so my images may be slightly different (but probably not significantly so) than Windows users.

If anything in the screenshot thumbnails is not easily visible, you can always click on an image to reveal a larger version of itself.

First, let's get familiar with Spotify's browsing screen. 
[1] Open Spotify

[2] On the far left panel, click on What's New. You should be met with a page showing the New Releases. At the bottom of the page, you will also see Spotify's Feed featuring articles/playlists/news posted by Spotify's Team.

Clicking on [A] What's New in the left panel brings you to the [B] What's New tab.
You will be able to see [C] New Releases and [D] a News Feed.

[3] If you click on the Top Lists tab, you will be brought to a page showing you Top Tracks and Top Albums.

Click on the [A] What's New link on the left panel.
Click on the [B] Top Lists tab.
On the left half, you will see a list featuring the top Tracks [C1] in the United States [C2].
On the right half, you will see a list featuring the Top Albums [D1] in the United States [D2]
However, this page is very customizable. Basically, this page can hold a total of two lists, which you can set to have any combination of the following:

  • Tracks/Albums/Artists option
  • Everywhere/In the U.S./For Me/In Another Area (U.K., Finland, France, etc.) option

[4] To customize your lists, simply click on the arrow to the left of the option title, and a drop down menu should appear. Click on the option you want, and your new list should appear.

Click on the little arrow next to Tracks to change the option.

Click on the little arrow next to in the United States to change the option.

Making a Top Tracks For Me list is analogous to arranging your songs in iTunes by Number of Plays.
You can easily access your top tracks by setting it to Tracks & For Me

Next, let's learn how to optimize searching. 
When most people use a Search toolbar, they tend to type only the keywords they're interested in. However, with a few simple text commands, you can specifically search certain genres, artists, and time periods! Read on for more.

To search for a specific genre
[1] Click in the Search Toolbar.
At the top left of your Spotify Window, you should see a Search Toolbar.
[2] To search a specific genre, type in the following: genre:"_________" and then press Enter to search.
It is very important that you put quotation marks around the Genre (this is especially true for two word genre titles. If you do not use the quotation marks, the search will not work). Additionally, make sure you do not add any spaces before or after the colon--doing so will result in an unsuccessful search.

For a list of available genres, click here. This is a Google Document of searchable genres posted by Spotify originally in March 2009. I'm not sure how recently it is updated, but I've tried a couple of the more obscure ones and they seem to work fine.

After searching, a list of artists and albums will appear in the upper pannel, and a list of tracks will appear in the lower panel. The titles in the Artists and Albums sections are links, which you can click to be redirected to appropriate artist/album page.

Type in genre:"_______" with special attention to the quotation marks in the Search Toolbar. You should see a list of relevant [B] Artists, [C] Albums, and Tracks.. 

Failure to use quotation marks with multi-word genres leads to an unsuccessful search.

To search for a specific artist
[1] In the search bar, type in the following: artist:"_________" (Again, make sure you do not add any spaces before or after the colon--doing so will result in an unsuccessful search.)
Hit enter. A list of artists should appear.

To search for music from a particular year/within a particular time frame
Now, here's a really cool trick. You can limit your search to a particular year/year interval. To do so, simply add a space and the following text to the end of your genre or artist search: year:1999 or year:1990-1993

Regardless of whether or not you are searching a single year or multiple years, the format is the same, it must be year:#####. If you make it years (plural), it will not work. Also, make sure you do not add any spaces before or after the colon--doing so will result in an unsuccessful search.

Here are some examples. Say I was searching for Backstreet Boys. I would search artist:"Backstreet Boys"

Search artist:"Backstreet Boys" in the Search Toolbar [A] for some major BSB love.
You can see what search terms you used here in [B]. 

But say I didn't want to listen to their new 'comeback' music (ouch, right?), and I wanted some solid BSB hits. I wanted music from their golden years, specifically 1997-2000. I would then search
artist:"Backstreet Boys" year:1997-2000

Adding year:##### gets me to the Golden Age of my BSB music search.

And that ends my tutorial on how to search in Spotify. All this information was originally found in this Spotify post, but I fleshed it out a little. Hopefully it has been to your liking.

Look forward to more Spotify posts on such topics as:

  • Making playlists
  • Sharing Spotify with others without using Facebook contacts

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spotify: It's as awesome as you think it is

For those who aren't familiar, Spotify is a recent addition to the U.S. music playing/sharing/sampling world. As an online music subscription service, it's not the first of its kind. Napster, Zune, and Rhapsody are examples of others--however, none of these have made any real waves.

Spotify comes in three varieties--the free version of Spotify ($0/mo), Spotify Unlimited ($5/mo), and Spotify Premium ($10/mo). Spotify Free allows for we

If you're interested in sampling Spotify at no cost, you'll have to add your name to the (no one really knows how) long list by adding your email here. I don't know how long your wait will be, but maybe this fact will help you with the estimates. I added myself to the list about 1-2 days ago, and today I received an email today notifying me that I could gain access to the free version of Spotify.

Before I go into some more details about how Spotify works, let me explain why I think Spotify could really hit it big here in the States. Never mind the raves posted by people such as Mark Zuckberg of Facebook fame (you bet they're going to have some kind of agreement between the two companies). Never mind its already established reputation in Europe. After being a loyal and mostly pleased Zune subscriber for two years, I have to say Spotify really has this music subscription service down.

And so, I've summarized the preliminary pros and cons of Spotify. Read on if you're interested.

How Spotify Accomplishes What Zune Probably Wishes It Could Have
[1] Spotify is cheaper! (Before delving any deeper, all these comparisons will be between Zune and Spotify Premium; let's make the assumption you want to have a music subscription service and the ability to make your music portable.)

Looking at the monthly fees, Spotify is cheaper. Zune is $15/mo whereas Spotify Premium is $10/mo. Zune requires you to purchase a Zune player (which run for at least 100 bucks), but Spotify can be used on most mobile phones (including the ever popular iPhone).

The only caveat about this is how many individuals can share one Spotify account, which thus changes our considerations for cost. This will be an issue addressed later.

[2] Spotify boasts cable-free syncing between the computer and iPhone (let's continue using this for the rest of this exercise). As much as I loved Zune and its expansive online library, there were moments when Zune really got to me. The Zune player has to be connected with the computer at least once a month otherwise the digital rights for the music files expire. Nothing sucks more than being on a long public transit ride and discovering that all your music can't play. Also, syncing was sometimes temperamental. Sometimes the playlists quickly and rightly jumped from my computer to the player, and sometimes they did not even though I executed the appropriate computer commands.

Spotify syncing is a million times easier. There's no cable required. All you need is a Wi-Fi network that both the computer and iPhone are connected to. Playlists automatically sync--you don't have to do anything. You don't have to select a Sync button or anything. It's fantastic.

[3] Spotify has a larger music library! There were a couple of albums that I would have liked to listen to on Zune (Nickel Creek's albums and Chris Thile's albums, for example) that weren't available. First thing I did after getting Spotify was searching these very same albums--and lo and behold, they were there! Spotify has a greater audience and has demonstrated its wide reach (whereas Microsoft's Zune has always had a lukewarm reception from the public), and artists and music companies are more willing to pay the fees required to make their music available on Spotify.

However, no music subscription service is perfect, and even Spotify has some weak points.

Points where Spotify is Lacking
[1] Spotify lacks a nice comprehensive Home Screen in the Spotify equivalent of the iTunes Store. Both iTunes and Zune had a page showing new releases (Spotify has this), and many different menus for genre browsing (Spotify doesn't have this). iTunes and Zune both had a Top Downloads list, but Zune's was basically defunct because of its relatively small audience. I found that whoever downloaded a CD that day basically determined what appeared on my Top 10 Zune Downloads list because all the songs tended to be from the same CD. Helpful, right?

For this reason, I think keeping iTunes around to browse new music and new releases is a good idea. I'd make a quick trip into iTunes, see what was interesting on the home page, and then use that information as a starting point for browsing in Spotify.

[2] As with any music subscription service (or music store in general), you have to be pretty proactive in terms of your music explorations. As wide as Spotify's library may be, the user still has to have the motivation to discover new music and the discretion to elect what goes into new playlists.

If this doesn't sound to your liking, you may want to adopt my strategy. Find a radio station you enjoy listening to (ALICE 97.3 FM is my favorite!)--maybe even listen to it on your iPhone. Find songs you like hearing at frequency greater than that provided by the radio, and get them on Spotify.

[3] Spotify does not allow you to purchase songs. This is very different from the Zune subscription service, which for $15/mo gave full access to download songs as you pleased (these were not owned but simply downloaded to your computer with time-limited digital rights) and then 10 song credits for mp3 ownership.

For me, this is not such a big deal. When I used Zune, it was usually difficult for me to come up with 10 songs a month to download, so losing this ability is not too troubling in my opinion. However, for people such as my sister, music ownership is everything! She likes to listen to a small selection of songs, and thus values music ownership higher. I'm more exploratory and like to go wherever my clicks take me, so I value the wide library selection more than owning individual songs. Depending on your personality, you will have a specific take on the music subscription versus ownership debate.

Expect more Spotify posts in the future! Topics to be addressed include:
-How do I optimize searching in Spotify? 
-What does offline syncing mean?
-How many devices can I have on one Spotify account?
-How does music sharing in Spotify work?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mac OS X Lion: Fix for Webpage Swipe Shortcuts

Yay! The day has come! Mac OS X Lion is released! Pluses include Misson Control and Launchpad, which  looks a lot like the iOS devices home screens. But I'm not posting to boast about these features, which you can read about on Apple's site. Click here for some pretty pictures giving a nice overview, and click here for specifics on the 250+ new changes.

The one thing I noticed when I first started interacting with the new OS was the scrolling was weird. The two fingers up/down swipe seemed funny. Previously, swiping two fingers downward would scroll the page down. However, in the new Lion, swiping two fingers downward scrolls the page up. After a little thinking though, I can see what Apple was trying to do. I believe they wanted to set up a more universal scroll up/down action for all their devices--Macbooks, iPhones, and iPads.

On an iPad, users drag the page to reveal what they'd like. On an iPad, you would 'pull' the page upward by swiping your fingers upward to see what was further down on the page. You would use a similar motion on your iPhone. Now, the very same action is used to control your Desktop file viewing experience.

When you think about it that way, the 'reverse' scrolling seems to be a little more logical. However, the same scrolling rules apply for external mice--and I feel this change will take a little longer to get used to. Prior, I would scroll downward to go down the page, but now I have to move the scroll button on my mouse in the opposite direction. Too weird.

The next thing I noticed, was I couldn't use the finger shortcuts to move backward and forward when I was in my browser (Google Chrome!). After reading a little bit online, I found the answer. If you're interesting in restoring this nice little trick, read on.

[1] Open System Preferences. 
[2] Click on Trackpad. 
[3] Click on More Gestures. Change the settings to be as indicated in the image below. I recommend that you change all of them because you will find (if you experiment) that certain settings depend on the settings for others.

After you do this, you should regain your ability to use a three finger left/right swipe to move between pages on your browser.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

iTunes: Importing Individual Songs Into Library

Recently, I discovered a fast and easy way to import individual songs from CDs into your Music Library in iTunes. Prior to this discovery, I used to slowly uncheck every single box adjacent to the song names until only the desired files remained. This turns out to be inefficient and boring. The easy solution? Use the 'Add to library' feature. If you want to avoid checking those annoying little boxes, read on!

[1] Open iTunes. Insert the CD.

[2] Click on the CD as it appears in the left hand frame. Go to File > Add to Library, or use the shortcut Command + O. 

[3] A new window will open up. Select the CD as it appears in the far left frame. Here, you can either select one song only, or you can select multiple songs. Select multiple consecutive songs by clicking on Song #1 (for example) then pressing Shift and clicking on Song #5 (for example). To select multiple nonconsecutive songs, click on Song #1 (for example) then press Command and click on Song #8 (for example).

After you've made your selection, select Choose.

In the new window, make your song selection and then click Choose

[4] The songs will begin to be imported. You can recognize this because a little orange squiggly icon will appear adjacent to the imported song. When the import is complete, the icon becomes a green circle with a checkmark inside. 
During the import, an orange icon is present.

After the import is complete, a green icon is present. 

[5] You will find the new songs in your Music Library in iTunes. 

The song is now imported in your library.

Ta-daa! Now you know a trick or two about importing individual songs without going through the hassle of a dozen or more clicks.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mac: Screenshots

For Mac users, here's a little tutorial on how to take selection-based screenshots. Think of these as computer screen 'clips.'

[1] Arrange your screen as desired. Then press Command + Control + Shift + 4. Use your mouse to click and select the area you want to clip.

[2] Open the program Preview

[3] Go to File > New from clipboard, or use the shortcut Command + N. This should now put your clip into a new file, which you can save.

[4] Go to File > Save as and place where desired.

Easy peasy lemon squeasy!

Mac: Editing Images Using Preview

On Macs, Preview is a pretty excellent little program. Most Mac users will identify it as a PDF viewer (it is), but it can also do so much more! You can annotate images and edit them as needed.

Your image can either be one that you've already saved to your computer, or you can annotate a screen clip. I will provide instructions for the latter. For the former scenario, you can simply open the desired file and then immediately go to Step 4.

For those taking the screen clip route: 
[1] Arrange window as desired. Type in Command + Control + Shift + 4. Select the desired area.

[2] Open Preview.

[3] Type in Command + N. This will paste your screen clip into a new file.

Can you recognize whose half face that is?

[4] Go to Tools > Annotate and then select which option you are looking for--adding an arrow, oval, rectangle, or text.

[5] Change the options using the buttons at the bottom of the window. You can change color, line thickness, etc.

[6] Save your edited image. Go to File > Save or simply type Command + S. 

Ta-daa! You're done.

Note: For those who are interested in blocking out certain text in your image using Preview, there is an easy way to do this! All you have to do sufficiently increase the line thickness icon before drawing your rectangle. Then, when you make the rectangle, it will appear like a solid rectangle as opposed to the default (and sole option) no fill rectangle.

Here are some images to aid you:

The original image

Add a rectangle using a thicker line.

Draw your rectangle over the text you wish to omit.