TrailMix Review – A step-synced music player iPhone app

TrailMix Review

TrailMix is a ”fully automatic step-synced music player”. What the heck is that, you ask? Good question. Let me see if I can explain it simpler terms.

TrailMix is an iPhone app for listening to music while walking or running that detects your pace using the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, and rapidly adjusts the tempo of the song to match your stride. So, basically, it speeds up or slows down songs to always be in sync with your steps. Run faster and the track goes faster. Slow down and the track slows down. You get the idea.

It’s actually pretty clever. And while the music does sound a bit strange going faster or slower than what you’re used to, TrailMix doesn’t change the pitch, so you never get that effect of listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Daft Punk.

Remember a while ago when we went through a process of adding beats-per-minute (BPM) info to our iTunes library? We tried an automatic way and a manual way. Well, with TrailMix you don’t need that anymore. The developers figured out a way to “listen” to the songs and get the BPM as they play without the need for any fancy stuff. Not even an Internet connection.

From the developers:

The app will play and sync with any song in a user’s library, as well as playlists containing up to 20 songs, whether the listener is running, walking, sprinting, or strolling. TrailMix incorporates a pedometer, and health- and fitness-related rewards from Kiip, an online service that motivates users to exercise by giving away free items and coupons. A Pro version of TrailMix, available separately for $4.99, removes banner ads and includes enhanced features like Magic Shuffle, which chooses songs automatically to match your current tempo, and Cruise Control to lock in a song at a preset beat. The Pro app also provides enhanced stats and an intelligent stopwatch that starts and stops as the user moves to keep track of workout sessions automatically.

I only tried the Pro version, so no idea if the ads are annoying. But honestly, for $5 just get the full version. No ads is a beautiful thing, and that Cruise Control feature is awesome. You basically set a BPM before you start to run and TrailMix magically makes every song fit that tempo. Most of the playlists I’ve been sharing here are based on BPM. No need to spend hours finding the right songs anymore!

I wrote a separate review of TrailMix Pro in another of my sites if you’re interested in more. I liked it.

How to create a Smart Playlist in iTunes for running

itunes-playlist-criteria

I mentioned it briefly in my first post, but since I’ve been saying that one of the things I like the most about creating running playlists is rediscovering old music, I thought I’d explain how to create a smart playlist in iTunes it in a little more detail.

What is a Smart Playlist?

In iTunes, a Smart Playlist is one that’s generated based on pre-defined criteria. You define this criteria and iTunes automatically fills it to match. Smart Playlists are also “live”, meaning they’ll change automatically if the criteria changes.

A good example is the “Recently Added”, or “My Top Rated” playlists that come pre-built into iTunes. The content of these will automatically update based on what you do. Add new songs and the “Recently Added” will pull them in. Rate a song 5 stars and it’ll be automatically included in the “My Top Rated” playlist.

How to create a Smart Playlist for running?

If you want to use beats-per-minute (BPM), which I recommend, you first need to add this data to your songs. Unfortunately, songs you purchase don’t come with this information embedded, so you have to figure out a way to add it. I explained how I added BPM for free here. Other than that, it’s really simple:

1. Open iTunes and select ‘Music’ from the Library dropdown on the left and click on ‘Playlists’.

itunes-library-playlists

2. In the lower left, there’s a ‘+’ (plus sign) next to a gear sign. Click on the plus sign and choose ‘New Smart Playlist’. A new window will open where you can select the criteria for your playlist.

itunes-playlist-criteria

In the example above, I’ve chosen:

  • BPM is in the range of 160 to 170
  • Genre is Electronic
  • Plays is 0
  • Limit it to 45 minutes

Note that at the top I checked to match ‘all’ of the following rules. This is important as otherwise it’ll pull songs that match any criteria, not necessarily all.

The BPM will ensure all songs are at a high and consistent tempo. You don’t want to be listening to a very fast song and then get a ballad when you’re in the zone. Genre is self explanatory. Plays at zero means it’s a song that hasn’t been played before. As I mentioned, I have a lot of music that I haven’t gotten around to listening (or that I haven’t heard since I put them in iTunes), and I like to run to music I haven’t heard in a while. The limit ensures the playlist is contained to a certain amount of time.

That’s it. Click OK and a new playlist will be created in your Playlists list in iTunes.

Since the BPM is unfortunately not always correct, I tend to create playlists with more music than I need and then delete the ones that don’t work for running. To do this, just change the limit. For example, if I want a 45 minute playlist I’ll limit it to 60 minutes, giving me a few extra songs.

If I find a playlist that I really like I just copy the songs into a normal playlist and that way they’ll never change.

So there you go. If you were wondering how to create a smart playlist in iTunes, specifically for running, this is a good way.