iTunes Smart Playlists | August 20, 2005
I listen to my iTunes music library almost constantly when I’m working. I currently have 3476 songs in iTunes which works out at around 12.4 days worth of music. This may seem a lot, but considering how much time I spend on the computer, I burn through tracks with surprising ease.
One of the problems with this is keeping your music collection interesting. You’ll want to hear newer songs more often than older ones, yet at the same time you’ll want to make sure that the old music doesn’t get lost. You want to hear your favourite songs slightly more often than everything else, but you don’t want to keep listening to the same old tracks over and over again. As such you need to make sure your playlists have a good degree of variety as well as and a high churn rate.
The way to achieve this is by utilising smart playlists, however it can be quite difficult getting the right balance.
The first thing I’ve done is organise my music into genre related playlists such as Indie, Dance, Chill etc. You could do this using a smart playlist and matching the genre to a specified keyword. However I find that the predefined genres tend to be pretty poorly defined. For instance I’ve got several Thievery Corporation CD’s as well as lots of random tracks from compilation albums. As such, their music is variously categorised as Electronica/Dance, Rock, Soundtrack, Reggae and Blues. Of course the other option would be to update the genre info, but there honestly aren’t enough hours in the day.
Next I’ve created a series of “base” smart playlists that will form the foundations of my proper playlists. Because I won’t actually listen to any of these base playlists I’ve given them a prefix of XXX so they appear out of the way at the bottom of my smart playlist list.
The first of these smart playlists is called XXX Highest Rated. As the name suggests, this playlist creates a list of the highest rated songs in my library; in this case songs with 4 or more stars.
I don’t want to keep listening to the same songs over and over again, so I have limited this playlist to songs I haven’t heard for a week.
Rating the songs in your iTunes library is a really good idea as it gives you the ability to create all kinds of preference based smart playlists. If you did want to spend a weekend or two rating your songs, you can easily set up a smart playlist to show you every song without a rating. Unfortunately I can’t be bothered going through all my songs, so I tend just to rate my favourites.
With so many songs, it’s easy for your newer music to get passed over. As such I’ve also created a XXX Latest Additions smart playlist.
This playlist is comprised of music added in the last 8 weeks. Obviously you can tweak the time depending on the size of your library and how often you add new tracks. I don’t want to keep hearing the same songs over and over again, however I do want to hear newer songs more frequently than older ones. Because of this I’m limiting songs in this playlist to ones I haven’t heard in only 2 days, as opposed to a week
You’ll also notice that I’m excluding audio books and radio stations from this playlist. There is nothing more irritating than the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy or a learn to speak French CD appearing in the middle of a playlist.
As well as wanting to hear the latest additions, I also want to hear stuff I’ve not listened to in a while. To accomplish this I’ve created a XXX Not Often Played playlist.
This playlist is made up of songs that have been played less than 4 times and haven’t been listened to in 6 months or more. This is a nice way of getting to hear older music that you haven’t heard often. Obviously the longer you use iTunes, the higher the play count will need to be.
So now I’ve got three playlists, one for my favourite songs, one for the new stuff and one for the older and less played stuff. To complete my base smart playlists I need to create one that deals with everything else. In this case I’m calling it XXX Fresh, because I want to make sure this playlist is full of fresh tracks that I haven’t heard for a couple of weeks.
If this playlist just contained songs not played in the last couple of weeks, it would be pretty large and the songs within it would have too much weighting in their favour. In order to put more weighting on the other playlist, I’m limiting this one to only 1000 songs. However I don’t want these 1000 songs to include those in my other playlists, so am excluding them.
With these base playlists in place, I created a new playlist called XXX Mix. This playlist basically brings all the other playlist together in one uber smart playlist.
This playlist contains a pool of around 2000 songs. Half of the songs come from my favourites, latest additions and old songs, the other half are songs I’ve not listened to in the last couple of weeks. If you wanted to get more scientific, you could actually set limits on all of the base playlists. For instance, if you wanted to hear twice as many new songs as favourites you could limit the new songs to 600 and the favourites to 300.
I want a way to skip over songs I don’t want to listen to, and I can do this by selecting the “Match only checked songs” option. If a song is playing that I don’t want to listen to, I can simply uncheck it, and iTunes skips to the next song. However periodically you’ll need to go through and re-check these songs or you’ll end up never hearing them again. To make this easier I’ve set up a couple of utility smart playlists.
My Checked playlist is simply a playlist that contains all the checked songs.
My Unchecked playlist then uses this to exclude any checked songs, creating a list of unchecked songs.
As well as un-checking songs I don’t want to currently listen to, I’ll also un-check songs that I don’t like or are damaged in some way. I can then later go though my Unchecked playlist and delete any songs I no longer want.
Here is a quick tip that frustrated me for a while, so I thought I’d pass it on. Selecting a song in a playlist and hitting backspace simply removes that song from said playlist. If you want to remove the song from iTunes you need to do Option (Alt) Backspace. And if you want to delete the song from your computer you can do Command (Apple key), Option (Alt) and Backspace.
Anyway, back to the XXX Mix playlist. You could happily listen to this playlist as is, although I’d probably choose to limit it to 30 tracks chosen at random, just to keep the sequence shuffled and fresh. However I prefer to listen to my music based on genre, so have created several more smart playlists called @Indie Mix, @Dance Mix, @Chill Mix etc. The @ prefix keeps these main playlist at the top of your smart playlist list, although you could equally use a colon, a full stop or an underscore to achieve the same effect.
Each of these main smart playlists look the same, so I’ll only show you the @Indie Mix playlist.
Here I’m simply creating a subset of my main mix playlist that only contains Indie music, and am limiting this playlist to 30 songs chosen at random from a much larger pool of songs.
And there you have it. That’s how I use smart playlists keep my music collection interesting and organised. However I know there are many ways to skin a cat, so I’d be interested to hear how you organise your music collection in iTunes.
Posted at August 20, 2005 4:20 PM