Managing iPhone/iPod Touch music on the run

iPod Touch
Image via Wikipedia

Although I have an iPhone with 32Gb of storage, once apps, podcasts, photos and other data claim their share, I’m left with only about 20Gb of storage for music. Whilst this sounds plenty, it represents less then 10% of my household digital music library, and I’m forever forced to make difficult decisions about which artists, compilation albums and singles I want on my iPhone.

Since this very issue often comes up in conversation with friends and associates, I thought I’d share my method of sync-list pruning, which I’ve found to be very effective. I should point out, there’s nothing new or astonishing about this approach – I’ve read about this on other sites over the last couple of years, but I have no idea where the idea originated.

Here’s my method:


I have too much music to fit on my iPhone/iPod Touch, and haven’t got time to sift through thousands of tracks to filter down my sync list. I want to be able to manage my list on the move, marking tracks for deletion as I come across them when listening to my iPhone / iPod Touch.


I want to maintain a master ‘sync candidate’ list containing artists, albums or singles I like, but I want only a ‘sanitized’ subset of those tracks to be added to my iPhone, and I want to be able to mark tracks for deletion as I come across songs I don’t like when I’m on the move.


1. Make a new playlist in iTunes which will act as your ‘Sync Candidates‘ list – mine is simply called ‘iPhoneSync’. This list won’t actually be synced to your device, but will contain all artists, compilation albums and singles you may potentially want on your device. For example, I like the artist ‘Colin Hay‘, and I have about six of his albums. Although I don’t want all tracks from these albums on my device, I’ll put all six albums in this ‘Sync Candidates‘ playlist.

2. Once you’ve populated your ‘Sync Candidates‘ playlist with all the artists, albums and singles you may potentially want on your iPhone / iPod Touch, select all tracks within the playlist and give them a ‘rating’ of two stars (right-click on the selected tracks, and then choose ‘rating’ from the pop-up menu to set all their ratings at once).

If some already have ratings higher than this, just sort the playlist by ‘rating’, then select the tracks which have none (click on the first one, scroll down to the last one and whilst holding the ‘Shift’ key, and click on it).

You will now have a playlist containing tracks which you may potentially want on your device, and all will have a rating of two or more stars.

3. Now create a new ‘Smart Playlist’ via the iTunes ‘File’ menu. This will be the list you actually sync with the iPhone / iPod Touch. Mine is called ‘iPhoneSync+’. The filter criteria will be:

  • Match all following rules.
  • Playlist is ‘iPhoneSync’ or whatever you called your ‘Sync Candidates’ playlist.
  • Rating is greater than one star.
  • Live Updating is selected (see image below).

4. The new smart playlist will now contain all the tracks you previously placed in your ‘Sync Candidates’ playlist, because they all currently have more than one star. Under your device sync settings on the ‘Music’ tab, select this playlist to sync (and make sure you remove any other artists, albums, genres etc. which you may have previously set to sync which you don’t explicitly want to ignore the new management method).

5. Sync this list (or as much as will fit on your device).

6. You can now mark tracks you don’t want to keep on your iPhone/iPod Touch when you’re on the move by simply changing their ‘rating’ within the iPod app. When a track you don’t want to keep is playing, tap the ‘playlist’ tile at the top-right of the screen, which will show the album tracklist and the rating indicator. Simply drag your finger backward to remove the two or more stars currently assigned to the track, and next time you sync with iTunes this track will be automatically removed from your device (see below).

Over time, especially if you’re a regular user of the ‘shuffle’ function of your iPhone / iPod touch, you will discover tracks you don’t like, and my lowering their ratings you will prune your sync list down to only those tracks you actually want. You’ll then free up space to add more items to your ‘Sync Candidate’ list, and the process will continue!


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