iTunes 12.4 Applies Song Ratings to Albums and Destroys Smart Playlists

In iTunes, you can rate songs and albums separately. For example, you can rate a song five stars, and an album four stars. If you do this, iTunes considers that every track that is not rated specifically inherits the album rating. And the album rating – if you have not set it expressly – is computed from any song ratings you’ve applied. This can be good or bad, depending on how you manage your iTunes library.

When iTunes 12.2 was released, the app changed some song ratings to album ratings. This means that if you have smart playlists that look for, say, five-star songs, iTunes will add all the tracks from the album with the five-star rating to those playlists. After iTunes 12.2 was released, this happened occasionally; but with iTunes 12.4, my entire library was changed. Every single song rating in my library got changed to an album rating. (Note that neither iTunes Match, iCloud Music Library, nor Apple Music are active on this Mac, so these services are not responsible for the changes.)

Obviously, this broke my smart playlists.

Empty smart playlist

What is particularly annoying is the fact that I use playlists like the one above to sync music to my iPhone. I had noticed that my iPhone had more free space, but I hadn’t thought to check how much music had gotten synced.

Yesterday, when looking in my iTunes library, I spotted the problem. Here’s one example: each of the following albums had a number of tracks rated five stars, some rated four stars, and some with no rating. iTunes decided to change the album ratings to match the highest song ratings.

Album ratings five

You can see that these albums now have five-star album ratings (the black stars next to the album names), and the songs have “computed” ratings (the gray stars). But none of them have actual song ratings, so smart playlists looking for those ratings will not find anything.

So, I set out to fix this. It wasn’t easy. Since I have Time Machine backups, I went back to an older iTunes Library.itl file, from before the 12.4 update. I loaded that, and created smart playlists for each rating: one stars, two stars, etc. I then selected all the files in each playlist, and created new “dumb” playlists from them. I exported those playlists as XML files.

I then re-loaded my newest iTunes library. I deleted all the album ratings using Doug Adams’ Album Rating Reset AppleScript. I imported the rating playlists, and manually applied song ratings to them. This process took quite a while. I had over 3,500 songs rated.

That first playlist above now contains 88 songs, and other playlists contain hundreds of songs that were missing before the fix.

Fixed playlist

When I synced my iPhone, 279 songs were copied, because many of the songs in those playlists are already synced from other playlists. But if I had depended only on ratings playlists to sync music, my iPhone would have been empty.


And here’s how the two albums in the screenshot above should have looked; you can see I had only rated a few songs on those albums:

Correct song ratings
So, if this happens to you, I hope you have Time Machine backups. Because otherwise, there’s no way to get back the ratings that you meticulously applied to your music. iTunes, you’ve failed me again.

43 thoughts on “iTunes 12.4 Applies Song Ratings to Albums and Destroys Smart Playlists

  1. Any theories on what triggers this behavior? I haven’t seen it in my library, and I’ve got plenty of ratings for tracks. (I don’t believe I’ve ever actually rated an album.) And if it did happen to me, like you, I’d be facing a lot of work repairing the damage.

    • No idea. But in the 12.2 article I link to, I heard from a lot of other people who had the same problem.

      • For what it’s worth: I was wrong, and I’ve just realized this HAS happened to me, with two albums I’ve bought recently. I know I’ve given these star ratings on my iPhone recently (in the past few months). I don’t know when my 4/5 star playlists had these complete albums added in. But the problem hasn’t affected tracks/albums that were rated earlier.

        Tip for finding this: make smart playlists chosen by rating and make sure to include the rating column. Sort by album, and then scroll down. The album ratings are in grey and become fairly easy to see.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! My music library is made up of many smart playlists, and depend on them. It’s stuff like this that worries me as a “power user” of iTunes what they will do in the future.

  3. I haven’t had this particular problem. But I almost always get album ratings added when I change the rating of a song, but only when I use my iPhone to change rating. This has been the case since 12.2 and is still an issue with 12.4.

    • I don’t recall seeing this when rating tracks on my iPhone; it’s not something I do often. I generally rate in iTunes.

      • I’ve definitely noticed this too. If I rate a song as 5 stars on my iPad the whole album gets a five star rating in iTunes on the Mac. The stars are applied to each unrated track and are grey rather than black but it DOESN’T add them to my smart 5 Star songs playlist. Strange and confusing behaviour that needs sorting out…

        • That’s the way it should be. But what happened to me now – and to some other people – is that all song ratings got converted to album ratings. So the smart playlist with song ratings don’t work, plus all the tracks of an album show the gray stars for all songs, in spite of what the song ratings were before.

  4. I don’t use album ratings, but I have 10s of thousands of rated songs and thankfully I did not experience this problem (I am on El Capitan).
    I can be sure that I do not have this problem because I have only about 300 5-star songs, 3000 4-Star and the numbers have not changed. I also made sure that my “All 5-Star songs” playlist was updated.

    Maybe using album ratings is not worth it.

  5. I back up song ratings into the comment ID3 tags of my music files. I’ve done this since an iTunes library corruption and then a hard drive failure made it very clear that leaving ratings solely in the iTunes library file was a good recipe for data loss.

    I back up my ratings by using a smart playlist that checks track ratings against there being a matching strong in the comment field [“(*****)” for a 5-star song, for example]. I have a separate smart playlist that looks for songs that have a rating in the comments that doesn’t match the iTunes rating, which is handy for when I change ratings or re-import songs I’ve previously rated.

    A fun side-effect to this system is that I can create ad-hoc smart playlists using the search bar. Typing in “(***” will get me every song rated 3-stars or above, for example.

    The thing that iTunes has been doing for a while that really screws up this system is deciding to auto-rate albums and then apply those ratings to every single unrated song on the album. Now my rating backup playlists are filled with songs with grey star ratings. I shouldn’t have to run Doug’s AppleScript to fix auto-ratings every single time I rate one song. I wish iTunes would add a way to turn off this incredibly annoying, smart playlist breaking “feature.”

    • I do the same using the “group” tag. I got into the habit while trying to maintain iTunes libraries on multiple computers before iTunes gained the ability to sync. I use a series of smart playlists such as “5 star, fix group” and “Group 4, fix star” to manage the tags. This method has saved my bacon more than once over the years.

    • I do the same, adding stars to the Comments tag. Most files actually support star ratings tagged to the ID3 tags, but iTunes doesn’t do it. I’m looking into using another app to edit those tags.

  6. It’s a waste of time to spend significant effort in cataloging such details in iTunes and depending on it. Apple can change anything at anytime, and there’s rumors of moving more and more to subscription models.

    I invested so much time in iPhoto – then they dumped it for Photos, which lost a lot of tagged data.

    These applications come and go, startups come and go. They care ZERO about time and effort put into cataloging.

    • iPhoto isn’t being updated anymore, but you should be able to open your old library in iPhoto and see what parts of your data can be embedded into the EXIF of the photo files themselves.

  7. Several years ago an iTunes update screwed up all my playlists. It was so time-consuming to fix that I gave up using playlists entirely. I simply didn’t trust Apple to respect my metadata. It was a draconian move, but it looks like it was the right one.

    I don’t care how many times I hear it in a keynote speech—Apple does NOT “get” music.

  8. iTunes does the same thing for podcasts. It treats each podcast like an album and each episode like a song. Maybe I’m the only person in the world that rates podcasts, but I’m frustrated by this totally messed up system as well.

  9. Wow, I liked 12.4, and was thinking about installing it in all my Macs and partitions. On this partition, I did update to 12.4, but on newer Macs, I am still using iTunes 12.2 or 11. Since Apple is close to the birth of 10.12, I may not update to the latest OS since I don’t want to go through and rate playlists. Here’s hoping Apple fixes this.

  10. Slightly off topic: I always hated the way iTunes computed the album rating from individual songs. I mean, if i rate only one song of an album with 3 stars, the entire album gets an average of 3 (grey stars). While in my eyes it would make much more sense to also count all those 0 star rated songs, resulting in about a half star average.

  11. I used to really like keeping up with my smart playlists, and still sort of do, but the latest versions of iTunes and Apple Music take away more and more control over one’s music library. Thanks for writing this article.

  12. So I have a windows machine and I don’t have a way to easily clear out the album ratings.

    My thought was to backup the ratings using Orzeszek Ratings ( which doesn’t backup the grey rating, then completely wipe out the library and start itunes from scratch and then copy over the ratings again using Orzeszek.

    I still will do the grouping field trick of tagging each rating and then exporting in case it doesn’t work. At least then I won’t lose all my ratings.

    • I’m posting this just so that any other Windows folks will know that using the method described above, I was able to get my ratings back and I don’t have any “grey” ratings in my smart playlists based on ratings.

  13. I sympathize with everyone who has lost data at the hands of Apple. It happens far too often.

    I’m glad that people rating songs/albums useful, but I simply cannot understand it. I have around 700 hours of music so even if I could devote 2 hours/day it would take an entire year to listen and rate it all.

    Once completed a second listen would undoubtedly change many of the ratings. Over longer time periods the ratings would change even further. Does the fact that I no longer like a certain band, album or song mean that it’s not good music? How about all that stuff that I used to hate that’s now in my collection? Must I constantly be updating the star rating? If so then it really is far too much work for far too little return.

    • To each their own. I don’t rate all my music, not by a longshot. But I do rate tracks 4 or 5 stars if I like them, or love them, so they show up in a smart playlist that I sync to my iPhone. I suspect a lot of people use ratings for this. Don’t assume that just because you don’t use software in a certain way that there’s no reason for a given feature to exist.

    • I have nearly 100 days of music (~30,000 tracks or so) collected over 10 years or so. I have always rated tracks as I listen to my music on my iPod. These ratings are continuously being changed as I listen to my music, and as my tastes develop. I have a passionate and profound love of music. I have a smart playlist of my last 30 days acquisitions which I listen to each month and rate. In this way most of my music is rated. Even non rated is a rating – non rated. I use these ratings so that I can create 4 playlists. 2, 3,4 and 5 star rated playlists. I reserve 1 star for marking tracks I don’t like in my ‘last 30 days acquisitions’ playlist and dispose of them at regular intervals.

      So, the rating system, and smart playlists are essential to my life, and my love of music. It is clear that whoever is in charge of iTunes has very little idea of how we all like to organise and listen to our own music. I believe Apple iTunes team have an arrogance and an ignorance (the two often go together) that is reckless and hurting to many music collectors and listeners. As someone else said in these posts… They do not get music. Its as if they think they really do own our music collections. I don’t know what we can do about this, but something needs to be done. This is not only their software they are tampering wth and damaging. It is our music collections and organisation. Ours.

      Rant over.

      • +1 well said rant.

        I came across this thread almost 2 years ago and find myself again trying to tackle this problem. I expect I’ll be giving up once again.

        I run iTunes 10 on three systems. iTunes 10 has the right design to manage my well-catalogued 20,000+ song collection. Version 11 failed, and 12 failed harder. But 12 is needed to sync with the phone, so my fourth system which mostly just sits in the closet, runs 12 to permit the quarterly phone syncs.

  14. Apart from your suspected issue here, given many of the comments here, and elsewhere, I would also add ‘don’t assume that just because you want a specific feature implemented in a certain way that there’s a reason for Apple to do it.’ Just say’in…

    That said…I see comments where people proclaim themselves iTunes power users yet these same power users themselves can agree on how a feature is or should be designed. While I agree iTunes should be split up, likely for reasons different than most, I do think that with millions of users with countless library nuances built up over years of upgrades, transfers, potential corruptions, etc., Apple is is a lose-lose proposition these days. IMHO!

    Disclosure: My iTunes library contains 23,812 owned songs, I subscribe to iTunes Match and Apple Music all on the Family Plan across more that 21 devices, including Mac, AppleTV, iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

  15. While iTunes 12.4 definitely introduced some more quirks, Apple added an Album Rating column, which makes it much easier to discern if a track has an album rating as well.

    There’s also the ability to specify the Album Rating attribute specifically in Smart Playlists.

    Because they’re Album Ratings, clearing the Album Rating for one track per album clears it from all tracks in that album.

  16. I’m currently going through the process of rating the songs in my entire library. I use iTunes Match to stream my home (iMac) library to my work machine (MBA). When I rate songs via my work library, it changes the entire album rating to the new song rating I applied.

    Like you, I use this data to run my smart playlists. I use these for daily listening and syncing to my mobile devices. This is such a pain, and I basically have to manage the ratings after I apply them. I do this via the a “recently played” smart list that shows the album rating on my home machine. At work I’m using a “rating is 0” smart list.

    23,000 songs in total (adding almost daily), only 3,000 left not rated. So to say that it is too big of an undertaking ……. nah :)

  17. I’m really bothered by the state of affairs in regards to Apple’s treatment of the star ratings system. I’ve written an email to Tim Cook, personally, because it’s so important to me. It’s a funny story, but star ratings are actually the reason I got into buying Apple products!

  18. Smart playlists are also broken in another way, at least for me on Windows 10. Any smart playlist that depends on other playlists (smart or dumb) cannot now be edited. When I try to select any playlist from the combo box (“dropdown”) in the smart playlist editor, no menu list appears, just a thick solid line where the top of the menu list should be. Since iTunes 12.4 trashed several of my playlists and I had to restore them from exported backup copies, many of my smart playlists are now broken because they depend on playlists that no longer exist, and I cannot edit them to point to the corrected new versions! A real pain since I use a rather complex smart playlist for syncing to my iPhone. Wondering if Kirk or anyone else is seeing this behavior. Reported a bug to Apple months ago, but got no response; still broken in 12.5.

  19. Are we talking of BLUE starred albums, or GREY starred albums?

    I’m a “power user” also and have smart playlists, normal playlists (with 3Go worth of tracks) and track ratings with 5* and so on.

    The GREY starred albums don’t bother me too much as I don’t have smart playlists based on albums.

    The BLUE starred albums appeared last year, when syncing ipods and iphones.
    I think this appeared when they released ios upgrades last year, and there’s a glitch when you star a track on your phone or ipod: iTunes understands it as ALBUM rating.

    This is messing a lot as it implies a choice that you haven’t actually done. A BLUE star on an albums automatically rates (GREY) ALL tracks in that album.

    You will note that latest iphones updates do not allow you to rate a track anymore (they have that <3 like red or not).

    I have no idea if there will be an upgrade or a bug fix and I'm still looking, that's why I'm here today. If anyone has a solution please pin it on top somewhere!



    • “You will note that latest iphones updates do not allow you to rate a track anymore (they have that <3 like red or not)."

      Unless you upgrade to iOS 10.2, where star ratings are back. You just have to go to Settings and enable them again.

  20. I have painstakingly gone through my entire library (iTunes 12.8), running the “Album Rating Reset” script where necessary. Much to my dismay, I still have unwanted songs showing up on my iOS iTunes synced smart playlists (running iOS 11.4.1). I can’t believe this is still an unresolved issue. Apple has had years to address it.

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