New in iTunes: Genius Shuffle

You may recall the iTunes DJ feature in older versions of iTunes. It allowed you to either queue up music or have iTunes play music at random from a specific playlist, or from your entire Music library, and a lot of people miss this option.

iTunes 11′s Up Next replaces the queuing feature, but there was no way to make a long shuffle playlist of your music. iTunes 11.1, released yesterday, has a new feature called Genius Shuffle. This is a way of turning on shuffle for your entire music library.

To activate this, choose Controls > Genius Shuffle, or press Option-Space. You can also press the Option key and click the << button, which changes as you can see here to show a Genius icon when you press the Option key:


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Genius Shuffle is a quick way to listen to some music, when you have no idea what you want to listen to. Apparently, it looks at your entire library, and creates a playlist from the gestalt of your music tastes.

But Genius Shuffle doesn’t take all your music to create a playlist; it takes a subset of your music. For example, I started Genius Shuffle once, and it played a bunch of songs by the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Hot Tuna and others; these are all artist whose music “goes together.” The next time, I got a playlist of my jazz artists. Another time, I got a playlist of artists like David Bowie, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. So Genius Shuffle changes each time you restart it.

007You can see what’s coming up in the Genius Shuffle playlist by clicking on the Up Next icon in the iTunes LCD. And, as with Up Next, you can delete or re-order songs in that playlist.

If you want to create a new Genius Shuffle playlist, you can either click the Shuffle Again button you see atop the Up Next queue, or just press Option-Space again. Each new Genius Shuffle playlist will be a different genre or style of music.

In order to use Genius Shuffle, you need to have Genius activated. Go to the Store menu and choose Turn On Genius. (If you have iTunes Match on, Genius is on automatically, so you won’t have to do anything.)

One thing to know about Genius Shuffle: it does not respect the Skip When Shuffling option you can apply to tracks by selecting them and checking this box on the Options tab of the Info window. So you may end up getting Genius Shuffle playlists with music that isn’t fit for shuffling. For example, I don’t like to listen to classical music in shuffle mode, because it splits works. And I have a lot of spoken word content in my library, notably many recordings of Shakespeare plays. So these items can come up in a Genius Shuffle playlist. If this happens, just press Option-Space again to generate a new Genius Shuffle playlist.

It’s not clear how Genius Shuffle works, but I suspect it simply picks one track at random, then creates a Genius playlist from that track. It probably aims for higher rated tracks as its “seed” tracks, and for the subsequent playlists, and also probably takes into account the number of times you’ve listened to tracks, and even how recently. But I’m just speculating, based on my tests.

Genius Shuffle is an interesting idea. It’s worth trying it out to see if it works for you. And remember, if you like Genius, you can always create a Genius playlist from any song, instead of letting iTunes choose a random song. Hover your cursor over a song, click on the > icon, then choose Create Genius Playlist.

8 thoughts on “New in iTunes: Genius Shuffle

    • Long, not all. You could always play a song in your Music library, and turn on Shuffle, and it would play everything. So you didn’t even need a playlist. :-)

  1. It uses the song you currently have selected as the seed for the genius shuffle. It’s kind of what it had in iTunes 8, just with a different interface and name.

    • No, because you can start it with no song selected. And if you click Shuffle Again, it starts a totally different playlist, with no relation to the last song, or currently playing song.

  2. Oops, that is how it always works. The new feature is just picking a random song before doing the genius button, so as if you are too lazy to pick a seed song it will pick a random one for you.

  3. Genius shuffle works the same magic the DJ used to BUT you cant choose a genre of music. You can’t even run the shuffle from a song you are presently listening to. WTF?! Genius playlists etc. have nothing on what The DJ could do. The DJ would dig up songs I hadn’t listened to in years, it would surprise me. You could easily make playlists from these magical groupings. One of the best features they (iTunes) had. I was fully able to listen to my entire music library. This feature was also great for small and large social gatherings using the remote app. Why would they add the shuffle option with NO control? You have to keep hitting the button till you get to the genre your in the mood to hear. This would all be solved if they just added the feature back … whats up with the work around? It exists already. #SMH

  4. Gone are the days when Mac users would rabidly criticize Apple for user-interface missteps. Our fondness for Jonathan Ive is a new kind of distortion field. This genius shuffle thing is hands down the most humorously bad interface decision Apple has made in recent years. “You want to start genius shuffle? OK, no back button for you then.” Whaaa?

    This is almost as bad as putting a genius playlist in a *hidden dropdown menu*. To you know, make things simpler. Mr. Ive, you’re on the wrong track. If hiding things necessarily made things simpler, than my life would be simpler every time I misplace my car keys.

    This is getting absurd, and Mac users should wipe the Ive sparkles out of their eyes, and start looking critically at what Apple’s been doing around interface design.

    I still haven’t figured out how to this genius-shuffle thingy off, by the way.

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