Monday, May 11, 2009

iTunes Smart Playlists

Are you tired of the same old playlists? Do hate how time consuming it is to search for songs for your music playlists? Are you sick of listening to the same songs over and over? If so, Smart Playlists are for you…

While there are several things about iTunes that annoy me, I do love the smart playlist feature. For those of you that may not be familiar (because Apple prefers to talk about how cool they are instead of any product features), I thought I would share.

Smart playlists allow you to tell iTunes how to create a dynamic playlist instead of creating playlists manually. This helps keep your listening fresh and saves time as well. Simply tell iTunes some basic criteria and it will populate the playlist automatically. Then set iTunes to automatically sync with your iPod and you're good to go. [This compliments new research that shows listening to music counteracts stress by improving blood flow and that listening to the same songs repeatedly has diminishing returns…so keep your happy music rotating!]

One quick caveat is that the more information you have about your songs the better this will work. If all of your songs only have the title and the artist, this may not be as useful. But if your files are tagged with genre, release year, and ratings, this feature becomes sooo awesome. I believe you can have iTunes get some of this basic info for you in the advanced toolbar, but if not there are other free programs that can such as TagScanner and MediaMonkey (ooo, ooo, ooo). The rating info is probably one of the key fields to use - though time consuming at first, I think it is well worth it. Plus you can create playlists that will help you rate your songs to have a little fun with it (see end).

So enough with the do you do it:

First you need iTunes, but if you have an iPod, then you have iTunes, and if you don’t, I don’t think this will work with other mp3 players.

Click on File-->New Smart Playlist - A dialog box will come up (below) and you can begin to select which fields to query, from about 25 of them. Here are some I find useful:

Last Played - I didn't use this one much at first, but now I find it essential to keeping your music rotating. Depending on the size of your music library, you may forget you have certain songs, and this will ensure that they get the shine they deserve. Combine this with rating info and you can avoid those that you aren't too crazy about, but enjoy every other blue moon. Whether played on your pod or on your computer, iTunes will track and refresh your playlists accordingly.

Rating - I love the ratings! Sometimes I forget which are the best songs on an album, so I just have iTunes remember for me. I think the ratings field is one of the best fields for querying allowing you to listen to your favorites more often.

Play Count - not to be overlooked, especially if you don't or haven't yet rated your music. Presumably, those songs that you have listened to the most are your favorites. However, to get the Play Count credit, the song must finish (no skipping the last few seconds) which may not be useful if you skip to the next track before the song is done.

Comment - user generated to query based on your own information. Let's say you have a lot of parties and only want certain songs for those occasions - type Party in this field and you can query based on that information. And you can add as much information as you want. For example, enter Party, Poker Night, Workout, or Tea Party and you can query based on “Comment field contains XXXXX.” Now if you only enter Party in the Smart Playlist query field, your Tea Party songs will come up causing embarrassment, so query by "Party," (with the comma or type each entry without spaces (TeaParty) to get around this or use “does not contain Tea” as one of the criteria.

Grouping - Not sure what this is for, but I treat it the same as Comments (user generated). If your comment field becomes too crowded, enter some info here.

Finally, select "live updating" to keep song info up to date and select the song limit and order preferences. If you have a smaller ipod, 2 gb, you will need to limit your playlists for it to work properly (or else iTunes will say “Playlist too big, cannot sync, you loser” and you won’t have anything to listen to). Personally, I prefer “selected by random” so I won't know what's next (otherwise I may skip past Beastie Boys' Girls to get to Fight For Your Right To Party).

Last but not least, when your pod is connected select the playlists to sync and you are all set (this is the only managing that you need to do). Select or unselect playlists based on how you want to listen (if your listening at work, maybe Work music playlist – check; Poker Night – uncheck; heading out on a road trip Music To Drive By – check; Tea Party – Uncheck and re-sync your pod).

And finally, last, in conclusion, here are some of my favorite playlists:
  1. I Love The 90s - for all of those high school memories (Ice Ice Baby):
    1. Release year is between 1990-1999
    2. Rating is 5 stars
  2. Year End Top 10 List - your favorites of the year:
    1. Year is 2009
    2. Limit to 10 selected by most played [I have a best of 2009, 2008 (below), 2007]

  3. Remember Me? - Favorite songs that you haven't heard in a while:
    1. Rating is greater than 3 stars
    2. Last Played is not in the last 6 months
  4. Oh-Ver-Ray-Ted (aka Hi, I'm a Mac) - Songs that maybe I rated too high:
    1. Rating is 5 stars
    2. Last Played is not in the last year
  5. Shuffle - to a constant stream of music I haven't heard in a while (this takes 4 smart playlists):
    1. Playlist A) Rating is 3 stars and Last Played is not in the last 8 months
    2. Playlist B) Rating is 4 stars and Last Played is not in the last 5 months
    3. Playlist C) Rating is 5 stars and Last Played is not in the last 2 months
    4. Playlist D) The playlist that brings them all together: Playlist is A or B or C limited to 300 songs selected at random [obviously, change the Last Played to suit your preferences, but this will give you a playlist of fresh music that you haven't heard in a while favoring those songs that you love]

  6. If you have a bunch of Holiday music or Polka or other music you may want to exclude, be sure to set a criteria to exclude them “Genre is not Holiday” (or make a playlist for all excluded songs and just set a criteria as “Playlist is not Excluded Playlist”). This will prevent Jingle Bells from showing up during your August road trip to the beach or your favorite orchestra piece from interrupting your morning jog
Overall, maybe it is a bit more upfront effort, but if you love music like I do and want to lower your risk for heart disease it is worth it (and fun).

*Playlist to help you rate your music: Rating is no stars; sorted by Most Played. Then simply listen and rate your songs from your iPod controls.

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