How to get the most from iTunes

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Apple's flagship media player, iTunes, is a popular software program that contains innumerable features to help maximize your overall media experience. While most users will just stick with the software's core functions, iTunes actually sports a range of convenient, yet often-overlooked features.

Smart playlists
We are creatures of habit. So as you play the same songs and albums each day, your music collection can begin to feel a little stale. An iTunes Smart Playlist helps reinvigorate your music library by utilizing a few basic rules and preferences to choose the best songs to play.

"An iTunes playlist allows you to create a filter for your music, based on things like names of songs or artists, star ratings you've given songs, genre, year or other factors you can include or exclude," explains Omar Gallaga, a technology writer for "The Austin American-Statesman."

To create a smart playlist, click on File and select New Smart Playlist. The following window will allow you to create a set of rules that will dictate which songs are played. The first is a drop down menu containing roughly 40 options, such as Artist, Genre and Size, while the second is another drop down menu, featuring options like Starts With and Is Not.

"You could, say, make a Smart Playlist with songs that all start with the word, 'How,' but not songs that have "Broken Heart" in the title," says Gallaga. "Hitting the '+' button next to the text input box allows you to set multiple rules."

"Best of all," he notes, "you can set Smart Playlists to 'Live update,' which means that when you add more music to your iTunes collection, they'll also be filtered in or out of the Smart Playlists based on the criteria you set. Smart Playlists also work with movies, TV shows, podcasts and other items in iTunes, not just music."

Internet radio
Internet radio ranks among iTunes' best underused features. Users can choose from thousands of online radio stations, or add their favorite stations manually. The easiest way to get started with Internet radio on iTunes is by creating a central playlist to store your preferred stations. After opening a blank playlist, select the radio icon in the left pane and browse the list of categories by clicking the triangles beside the category names. Simply double-click a radio station to begin listening to it, and drag and drop it to add it to your playlist.

Create an MP3 music CD
In the modern digital age, compact discs are fast-becoming obsolete, but there are many who still rely on them for playing and sharing music. Through iTunes, users can create an MP3 CD, which can hold significantly more music than regular audio CDs. While it won't be able to play on some CD players, most modern car and stereos can support this file type.

To create an audio CD, click on the Edit tab at the top of the screen and select Preferences. In the preferences menu, click the Advanced tab, and then the Burning tab. Then select the radio button next to MP3 CD to set the disk format. Finally, it's simply a matter of creating a playlist, inserting a blank CD and clicking the Burn MP3 button at the bottom of the screen.

The podcast is a burgeoning media that has gained significant traction in recent years, and iTunes provides a convenient way for users to access thousands of podcasts from every conceivable genre and download them straight to their Apple device.

To begin downloading podcasts, just click on the iTunes Store tab in the left pane and select Podcasts from the main screen. You can then browse the various categories or search directly for a specific podcast with the search bar. You can also follow your favorite podcasts using the subscribe feature, which will ensure that you automatically download the latest episodes as they become available.