Q: Hi, I’m wondering if there is any way to sync an iPod/iPhone to an iTunes library without syncing the metadata, specifically the “last played” info. I have a playlist set up to pull 50 songs by least recently played. This way I get to cycle through all 7,000 of my songs before I hear them again. Unfortunately my wife and my daughter share some of those songs and each time they listen to one and sync with iTunes it changes the “last played” date; which means there are some songs that will never get pulled onto my playlist.
A: Unfortunately, there is no way to disable the updating of tracking metadata such as Last Played, Last Skipped, Play Count, Skip Count and rating when automatically syncing your music with an iPod or iOS device. Listening to content on any single device will automatically update this rating information for all devices that are syncing with the same iTunes library.
However, one possible solution may be to set your wife and daughter’s devices to manual management. In this mode, they would have to add new content and playlists to their devices manually by dragging and dropping from the iTunes library onto the device icon, but since they’re not automatically synchronizing with iTunes, there should be no transferring of metadata back from the devices.
To enable this mode, you simply select the appropriate iPod or iOS device from the Devices list on the left-hand side of your iTunes window, select the Manually manage music and videos checkbox on the Summary page that appears for the device and then click the “Apply” button in the bottom right corner of the iTunes window. Note that this option may only say Manually manage music or Manually manage videos depending in the specific iPod or iOS device you’re using and whether you’ve enabled iTunes Match (in the case of iOS 5 devices).
Note that manual mode only affects music, movies, TV shows and audiobooks. This means that you can continue using automatic synchronization for other content such as Podcasts, iTunes U collections, iBooks, Apps and Photos regardless of this setting. This does mean that last played times and other related metadata will be updated in your iTunes library for things like Podcast and iTunes U episodes, however.
If you want to continue using automatic synchronization, another alternative is to create a separate iTunes library for your other family members and allow them to synchronize their devices with their own iTunes libraries. The easiest way to do this is to setup iTunes under another Windows or Mac OS X user account—each account gets its own iTunes library and preferences.
You can also setup additional libraries on a single user account simply by holding down the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) when starting iTunes. This will prompt you with an option to either create a new library or choose an alternate, existing library.
You would start by creating a new library with the appropriate option, and then use the OPT/SHIFT method in the future to switch between libraries to sync the different devices. Alternatively, you could simply copy your entire “iTunes” folder to a different location to start with a copy of your existing library as a baseline, and then simply use the “Choose” option to switch back and forth between the two.
If you take this approach, you may also want to move your iTunes Media folder, which contains all of your actual media content to a common location on your computer, and then point each of your iTunes libraries to use that common folder. This would allow you to maintain separate libraries of metadata and playlists without having to actually duplicate the underlying media files. See Transferring your iTunes Library for more information on how to do this.