iTunes 8 and Genius first impressions

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genius error message hey jude

As expected, today Apple launched a new version of iTunes to go along with their revamped iPod line, and during the Apple Event, Steve Jobs simply could not shut up about the newest iTunes feature: “Genius.”

What Genius does is analyze the music and video in your iTunes library (provided that you opt-in to the service, that is), and recommend other music and shows you might like, based on other users with similar tastes. It’s similar to the recommendation feature used by movie rental site Netflix and online “radio station” Pandora to help users find new movies and music.

genius gathering infoFirst off, privacy concerns. While Genius very definitely collects your information and sends it to Apple, it’s not something that happens without you knowing it. Not only do you have to turn on Genius (after installing iTunes 8, natch) you have to agree to the TOS (which explains in relatively plain English how the service works), and you then have to sign into your iTunes store account. From there, Genius begins analyzing your music, which can take a while (my 26GB work library took about 15 minutes), but there’s a big fat “stop” button on the Genius page (which sits just below the Party Shuffle in the Playlists sidebar). The TOS notes that you can opt-out of Genius at any time and it’ll stop sending your data to Apple (but presumably they retain the data they have). You can use iTunes normally while Genius analyzes your music.

genius splash page

Genius consists of two components. One, it creates playlists based on music you already own, and second, it will suggest music you can buy from the Apple iTunes Store, either by the same artists, or tracks from that album you may be missing. The latter shows up in the Genius sidebar, which you can hide with a button click.

genius list location

The Genius Playlist is set up like a smart playlist: you can limit the number of songs in it, refresh the list with new songs, or save it if you like the mix it creates. And I have to admit that on its first try, it didn’t do half bad: going from Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” into Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” into Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Not bad at all. Likewise, it did a good job of mixing Weezer into the Pixies into Modest Mouse and Cake.

iTunes Genius recommendsBut when you get into more… unusual… choices, Genius stumbles. It had no suggestions for a mix starting with William Shatner’s “Common People,” (but really, what could follow that?), but it was spotty when trying to build lists starting with They Might Be Giants. LP cuts it had no problem with, but more obscure tracks from EPs stopped it dead. If Genius can’t create a list, it advises you to try “updating Genius.” Apparently, the problem erupts if Genius can’t identify the track. It’s not just an issue of missing information, because it created playlists from certain tracks even if information (like the album) was missing. Genius will also not create playlists from tracks on an iPod hooked up through iTunes.

After playing with it for only a short time, though, I have to say I’m pretty impressed with Genius’s mixing skills. Except for one thing…

genius error message hey jude

Genius doesn’t work with the Beatles. At all. Not the compilations, not with Abbey Road, not with “Hey Jude.” Which tells us that Genius is probably pulling its data from songs that you can buy from the iTunes store, or from ITMS customer recommendations.

The other notable change in iTunes 8 is a new way of viewing your album art: rather than shuffling through them (by far my favorite), you can now view them in a grid layout, sortable by Album, Artist, Genre and Composer. It’s a neat way of looking at things, kind of like hanging your album art on the wall, but not really that earth shattering.

itunes 8 grid layout

Genius, however, is going to create a lot of interest, from people who want to find new music, those who want to laugh when it makes an inevitable ridiculous prediction, from privacy advocates (even though it’s an opt-in system), and from those who will criticize it as a tool for recommending “more of the same” while potentially ignoring more indie, unusual artists.

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  • Bill Stiteler

    No, it very much does work with ripped music (which 95% of my music is). What I believe the problem is that the songs must also exist in the ITMS database so that it can be compared with other songs.

    And the Beatles and more obscure tracks aren't.

    Genius totally works with ripped music.

  • Kirk Hiner

    But, will it work with my JRock songs? Because if Apple can't look at Go!Go!7188 and recommend Mummy the Peepshow to me, then I'll have nothing to do with it!

  • Bill Stiteler

    Well, I'm looking at my iTunes Library right now, and by hitting cmd-J it brings up the familiar list of check boxes, showing all the columns that can be listed. Simply deselect "genre" and it disappears.

  • rob

    I am aware of that.

    Cmd-J brings up the View Options (also available in the View menu) which as ever just controls which columns are visible in the track details. It doesn't control the three columns of the Browser which are as ever Genre, Artist and Album.

    In iTunes 7 there was an option in the main iTunes preferences which said "Show/Hide Genre in Browser" that enabled you to just have two Artist and Album columns which was much neater.

    This option has been removed from iTunes 8.

  • Bill Stiteler

    Ah, sorry about that. I don't use Browser Mode, so I was confused. However, I believe <a href="this" rel="nofollow">">this is the droid you're looking for.

  • stephen

    So how do we opt-out from Genius? Many websites just repeat what Apple says that people can opt-out once they have tried Genius. But I don’t see any that bother to tell how to do so. Reminds me of Hotel California…You can check out anytime you like. But can never leave……..!

  • Kirk Hiner

    Once you turn on Genius, the "Turn On Genius" option under the Store menu will become "Turn Off Genius."

    Too bad, though, that anything reminds you of "Hotel California."

  • Ace

    This iTunes update is like every other update. It adds some potentially cool feature whose novelty will wear off after a couple of uses. I never used party shuffle because it was worse than the regular shuffle. This genius feature so far has yet to change my life in any meaningful way, giving me the same albums that I already have. The theory is cool, but I use and it does the exact. same. thing. without the corporate tie-ins.

    The grid view is alright. It does put the compilations together, which is an improvement. But, why can't I do this to my iPod (look at it in grid view or cover flow)? I actually took the time to make sure my iPod has all of the artwork, so why can't I search it the same way? I mean, I can't even browse my iPod anymore with the bar. It's stuff like this that makes me want to leave apple so desperately. I want to be able to set my computer up how I want it, not how apple wants it. This is added to the fact that I can't add podcasts individually.

  • Kirk Hiner

    That's exactly what it is. If the band has no songs in the iTunes store, they won't work with Genius.

  • T Niesen

    My genius won't work at all, with any song I have. Every time I click on a song, a box pops up that says "Genius is unavailable for the song ______". However, my genius bar still has all of the info for "songs I may be missing" by the artist or "Albums" to buy from iTunes. And yes, my genius is turned on and has been updated and everything like that. Furthermore, whenever I try to use the feature on my iphone, it says that it "doesnt have enough related songs to create a Genius playlist". Does anyone have any ideas? thanks.

  • Samed

    Well, you are able to turn off Genius. Go to the Store menu and click on it, then click on Turn Off Genius.

    It works, that thing is annoying, wow!

  • Fallen

    Genius doesn't work with Tool at all. I've tried all the albums and all the tracks. Could there be a licensing issues e.g. Beatles and Tool don't license tracks to iTunes?

  • Kirk Hiner

    All Apple knows is whether you bought it from them or got it from somewhere else.

    And those thin, long clouds in the sky are contrails from airplanes, not chemicals being dumped on us by the government to control our eating habits.

  • Tony

    The browsing your iPod bit was driving me nuts…the button doesn't work, but you can bring it up by going to the view menu and selecting "Show Browser".

  • Johnny

    Genius won't even work with Eleanor Rigby when it is Aretha Franklin singing it instead of the Beatles!

  • Rob

    Please oh please how do you get rid of the very annoying meaningless and unnecessary Genre column from the browser?

    I was perfectly happy with 7 and now the iTunes 8 update has put the Genre column back and no-longer has the option not to show it in the preferences panel!


    I was happy with iTunes 7, it did everything I needed it to (including not showing irrelevant Genres which mean nothing to the music). I need nothing that iTunes 8 gives. Okay, other people might want pictures of their music, fine, but that's no reason to remove the older basic little functions which made text listings less cluttered and easier to read.

    Genres are a subjective assignment anyway.

    Here's hoping for the quick release of 8.0.1 which puts that happy little Genre removing option box back!

    Is that email address to Steve Jobs really any good?

  • rob

    Many many thanks!

    The Appletell webpage has removed the html link that was in the 'follow-up' email so for anyone else who needs it – this is the droid I was looking for:

    from MacOSHints

    "In iTunes 7, a preferences setting let you disable the Genre column when using the Browser pane —
    so you'd see just Artist and Album. In iTunes 8, that preference is gone. Thankfully, for those who
    dislike seeing Genre, the ability to disable that column still exists. Quit iTunes, launch Terminal, and
    enter this command:

    defaults write show-genre-when-browsing -bool FALSE

    Relaunch iTunes, open the browser, and you'll notice the Genre column has vanished. You can
    reverse this by quitting iTunes and repeating the above command, but with TRUE instead of FALSE. "

  • itunes8

    yea genius seems like a good idea…. But apparently it DOES NOT WORK with music ripped from CD's.. It only works with music downloaded from the itunes store… WOW another apple strategy to squeeze money out of us!!!!!!!

  • megaton

    I'm a bit of an apple fanboy but hang on a minute…

    Genius is the perfect opportunity for apple to find out exactly how much music is pirated, packaged (as they do so well) as some new thing they make you think you think you need. This info is the marketing departments holy grail.

    Transparency is the only way to build confidence and trust, and you know how secretive apple is. Show me what happens with the data, where its stored and who has access to it, when and how its used, and I won't be so sceptical.

    If its anonymous, why ask for itunes username & password?

    Whats next? upload all your emails to us and we will put you in contact with people that we think are like you? but we wont read your emails honest. Yeah right!

    If the exact same thing was opt out instead of opt in people would be up in arms.

    All respect to apple though for having the genius to get what they want most (your data) given over on a plate for free.

    Apple has always been 90% marketing 10% products though, so its a good job their products actually deliver, otherwise their in the s**t

  • Russ

    Even if Genius worked with Tool, it wouldn't really. All it could do was display the rest of the album from the song you picked.

  • Roosevelt Gray

    I think iTunes 8 is GREAT! I'm one of those people who has so much music in their library that I dont know where to start when making a playlist. But If I click "Santeria" and theGenius button It makes a wonderful playlist of all the similar songs that I LOVE.

  • Dennis

    I just bought a MacBook, loaded all my CDs onto Itunes and started working Genius. Worked like a charm when I set up 4 different playlists. Problem was they overlapped by about 25 percent. Because Genius doesn't recognize world music, jazz or "alternative" I was left with my collection of standard boomer-era classics. Love 'em, but not the mix I was hoping for. So I added some more new stuff (burned from CDs — originals, not copied from friends), deleted the existing playlists, hit the "Update Genius", re-synched my iPod to also delete the lists from there, and turned on Genius to start creating some new, and perhaps more varied, playlists. Result? Genius now does not recognize ANY tunes on my playlist. Not even the ones it built playlists around previously. Who screwed up, me or the Genius?

  • Bill Chuckless

    To the ones who are saying it doesn't work just with songs that aren't on itunes they're wrong. The CD "The Innevital Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust" by Saul Williams is sold on itunes and genius doesn't work on that one. Genius keeps telling me that the B52s goes well in a playlist with marilyn manson as well.

  • chris

    I'm getting a message that my shared Limewire library is not compatible with this version of itunes… any suggestions :(

  • Robbo

    It is true, I am a major tool fan but the fact is that their songs are not sold on itunes. I do not know why it is said that tool does not want their songs to appear on itunes. So if the music is not sold on the itunes store then Genius can not make a proper decision, that is why it asks you to update Genius incase the song is brand new. So for all those Tool lovers like me we'll just have to put up with it

  • Paul

    Is there a way to have "Genius" not use a certain Genre? When I click on one of my songs from my library that has lets say a "pop" genre, it will give me a list of songs but it also lists songs from the "Holiday" genre. I really don't want to listen to Christmas songs in the middle of summer! I know I can manually delete them from the playlist, I just wanted to know if I can have "Genius" not include the "Holiday" genre when it puts together a list for me.

  • Asher

    Is there a way to get rid of the horrendously ugly color scheme on iTunes 8? The purple/pink backgrounds and gray scales (at least for Windows) are so offputting I want to uninstall iTunes entirely now.

  • Peter

    I just created a very nice playlist from "You Never Give Me Your Money" by The Beatles. I have quite a bit more obscure music and the Genius seems to work fine. I have Genius playlists based on music from Tindersticks, Brian Eno, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Xavier Naidoo, Xiu Xiu, The Flamin' Groovies, Art Brut and others. Some of these artists are not that obscure but they're not that mainstream either.

    The problem I am having is that my library is rather large (pared down to 250 GB+/-) and the Genius times out every time. I can't update the new music I am adding. This is so frustrating because I find the Genius perfect for creating playlists for my iPods and iPhone to list to in the car, plane, etc. Anyone have any idea on how to fix this, or a tool that helps? VERY FRUSTRATING.

  • Steve

    My Genius won't work with any song in my library – purchased or burned- even after updating. My music is pretty much popular stuff. What can I do?

  • joe

    Is it possible to load Genius onto my iPod? I love the feature, but I want it to be portable, for when I'm away from my computer.


  • Kirk Hiner

    Genius is part of iTunes, and since the iTunes software isn't on the iPod, you can't "take it with you." Best you can do is let iTunes create the playlists for you, the put the playlist on the iPod for later listening.

  • Peter

    Joe, Genius isn't available on my iPod either but it is available on my iPhone. On the iPhone I can't create Genius playlists but can refresh the ones I have, effectively changing their content with a new list from the songs available on my iPhone.

    Steve, I don't know why Genius wouldn't work for you unless there's some kind of problem with your music titles. For instance, I can't say for sure but if your songs are titles things like "01-first album-beatles-hold your hand.mp3" my guess is that the Genius would be useless.

    As for me, Apple seems to have fixed whatever problem they were having when returning Genius results and my rather large library now gets updated without a hitch.

  • Patrick

    Joe: Newer Ipod models allow the use of a 'portable' genius. The 120 gig classic 6th gen that I bought for myself, along with 2 16 gig nanos for my wife and daughter both utilize genius. Once genius is set up on your computer, and you sync the ipod…it's just a simple matter. Merely highlight the song you want to utilize, then hold the center button down for about 3 seconds to make a genius playlist. I noticed that previous versions of the classics don't do it though.

    As far as genius not working for some people…all I can suggest is checking your ID3 tags. When my tags are slightly off…Genius won't recognize them at all. Once I ran my mp3's through a program called 'musicbrainz', I updated genius and voila…about 95% of my music worked flawlessly.

    I hope I helped :)

  • jack

    Why is it that everytime i want 2 use genious, and i sign in, it says "sorry we r encountering technachal difficuties"

  • bobrock

    I've only updated my tracks from uploaded songs from CD from which Genius once worked, now it won't work. Any Suggestions?

  • Jake

    One minor correction: Pandora doesn't rely on similar tastes for its recommendations–it's based on analysis of the actual song in several categories. It'd give you songs that sounded like Hey Jude, not songs that people who like the Beatles like. That works better (for me) for most purposes.

  • Jake

    How could Apple tell where a particular song file came from? So I let them know I have an MP3 of Windfall–how do they know if I ripped it from my CD, bought it from Amazon, downloaded it illegally, or was given it by a friend?