Making your music accessible
Thanks to devoting a little time a few years ago, streaming music wirelessly around my house is in "set it and forget mode." This is especially nice during the holidays when teachers have a nice block of time to relax or entertain friends and family. Even if you aren't up for tackling "whole house audio" I'll start with a very easy tip for getting your holiday music organized, whether you are playing it from just an iPod or computer hooked up to speakers. The bottom line is that if you take a little time to get organized, you will listen to your music collection more often, even when it's not a holiday season.
Apple's Smart Playlists
A nice feature that Apple added to iTunes a few years ago is called the "Smart Playlist." This is a list that looks for certain criteria automatically so you don't have to manually find and drag tunes into a playlist (though that works fine if you don't have a huge music collection). Smart Playlists update themselves automatically as you add new music to your iTunes library as well. For holiday music the easiest way I have found is to have iTunes search the "genre" field for the word "Holiday." Presto, you have holiday music ready to go. However this method is not perfect. I have found that, oddly enough, not all holiday albums are classified with the genre "holiday." And perhaps you have some music that really isn't holiday music but you like to listen to it during the holidays. What to do? First, I'll explain how to re-classify your holiday music should you desire to use this method. It's pretty easy. I'll be talking about Christmas music here, with all due respect to those of you who celebrate other holidays. Alter as needed!
First you need to be sure you can see the genre field while looking at your library (it doesn't show up by default). So look under the "View" menu and choose the view options. Check the box for "genre" and now you will be able to see whether or not a Christmas album is tagged as "Holiday." Now, type the word "Christmas" into the search bar, and most (but probably not all) of your Christmas music will appear. Click the top column of the album field to sort everything by album. Now scroll and keep an eye out for any album that is not classified as "Holiday." If you find one that isn't, select all the tracks for that album (use the shift key and click the first and then last track) press control and the letter i. Under the info you will see the genre. Press and change the genre to "Holiday." Press OK and all the tracks will be re-classified as Holiday. Now try searching for any other albums that may not contain the word "Christmas" and make sure they too are labled as "Holiday." Now your genre Smart List should work nicely. Shuffle and go! Caveat: If you have other holiday music in your collection (I don't know, let's say "Easter") then this method may not work so well for you. Read on.
As some of you have probably already attempted, you could also simply create a Smart List that looks at the album title field and finds anything with the word "Christmas." This works and is much quicker, though you may miss some albums that do not include Christmas in the title. You may need to add some other criteria to catch everything (click the plus sign to add additional criteria). Maybe you have some other Smart List creation tips. Leave a comment if so. Again the nice thing about Smart Lists is that they update automatically, so when you add new music your Smart List will see it as long as it matches your criteria. By the way, Apple's new "Genius Mix" feature would be a natural for holiday music, but unfortunately they didn't really implement it properly. I've found that when you click a Christmas tune and then the Genius button, it invariably includes a few unrelated tunes by some similar artist. Hopefully Apple will think about tweaking that feature.
AirTunes and the Airport Express
I've used AirTunes with an Apple Express in the past to stream audio from my laptop to powered speakers elsewhere in the house. But a couple of winters ago I finally got serious about it. I'm using my Apple TV as the source, and I have three Airport Expresses throughout the house that are connected to either powered speakers or an input on a stereo system. I like Apple TV because I can use it with my High Def TV to not only listen to my music on my home theater setup, but also rent HD movies through iTunes. But you can also use your computer as the hub for this idea just as easily. Note that some people hear about AirTunes and they start looking for where to buy "AirTunes." AirTunes is the name of the techology that is used by the AirPort Express. So it's already built into iTunes, and it's free. What you need to buy is the Airport Express.
Using the iPhone (or iPod Touch) with Apple's free app called "Remote" I can access everything from anywhere in the house. Additionally, the Remote app can select or de-select any of the speakers and also control volume, so you can route the audio on the spot wherever you want it to go in the house. Powered speakers are plentiful these days. You can usually find some nice sounding models in the computer area at any Best Buy, or take a look on Amazon. If you have an iPod dock, sometimes they have an "external in" jack on the back. With the right cord (male stereo mini to male stereo mini) you can connect the output of the Airport Express to that jack.
You can read more about Airtunes at the following link. http://www.apple.com/airportexpress/features/airtunes.html