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How Smart Are Your Playlists?

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iTunes features two types of playlists, the first being the standard bucket-like playlist, where you can drag and drop tunes to your heart’s content, and the second, smart playlists which fill with songs based on criteria you choose, whether they be by genre, artist, song length, or any other criteria. With so many options to choose from, the opportunities are seemingly limitless.

Typical examples of smart playlists are things like “80’s rock bands”, where you would select “Genre contains Rock” and “Year is in the range 1980 to 1989”, or “5 Rating” where you would select “My rating is five stars”. But once an iTunes library grows to the several thousands of songs, as some do, especially as computer hard drive capacities and iPod capabilities expand, smart playlists can be an essential part of making sure you get to all your music.

For me, I do have some of the typical smart playlists, tracking music by the year they were created (i.e. 1980s, 1990-95, 1996-2000), but I’ve also tried to make sure I don’t forget about some great music. While the “Party Shuffle” function may randomly catch a track I hadn’t given recent attention to, I can force the issue with a smart playlist I call “The Neglected”.

In “The Neglected”, I feature songs where “Last played is not in the last 6 months”, with Live updating checked. Sometimes, this playlist can fill to the point where I have 12 hours or more to go through before it is empty. But if I make “The Neglected” my starting point, I’m sure not to be repeating songs I heard recently.

Taking things a step further, I also have two iTunes Store-related playlists, one called “Just Off the Rack”, where “Date Added is in the last 30 days” with live updating and another called “Bad ROI”, where “Play Count is less than 5”. It turns out I’m a big music hog, because right now, my “Bad ROI” playlist has 3.2 days worth of music. I get the feeling that no matter how much I listen to iTunes, that this playlist will always have plenty of music.

How do you use your smart playlists? Do you use them to track artists or genres or the year songs were created? Do you, as I do, use them to help manage your iTunes Library and listening habits? For such a versatile feature, I don’t know that smart playlists get a ton of attention, and just maybe they should.

23 Responses to “How Smart Are Your Playlists?”

  1. njdevils42627

    I also have some smart playlists. I have a playlist called quarantined 1. where basically if i skip a song it gets taken off of every other smart playlist on my ipod, where it has to wait a week before it is kicked back into the mainstream, my mentality is that if i skip a song, i’m sick of it.
    quarantined 1 is composed of 2 other playlists within it, where one is “last skipped is in the last week” and the other is NOT “last played is in the last week”

  2. Lorry

    Songs to be deleted. this playlist is for songs that you are actually never going to listen to what i put in it was: play count is 0 – Last played is in the last 6 months – rating is less than 3 – skip count is greater than 15. these songs are clearly never going to be listened to so it’s a good idea to delete them. not a good idea to male this playlist if you’re ipod is a couple months old

  3. I use smart playlist for audio books – Play Count < 1 – useful with CD books that is cut up in 4-6 minute tracks. When I want to change playCount I use iTunesCOM i.e. javascript on windows. Sometimes I fell a sleep while listening or is otherwise distracted and have to reset play count. :-) Or for some reason set some tracks as played.

    The problem is that it wont update the Nano despite everything looks as it should in the Nano playlist on iTunes and then on the Nano it doesn’t show what it should in the smart playlist. If I plug it in again it still looks OK in iTunes. Beats me, my solution was to erase the smart playlist on the Nano and create a new, deleting the playlist won’t delete the tracks.

  4. I have a question. I don’t understand the Smart Playlists as much as I want to. I put two words in the Genre field like “soft” AND “rock”. This way, I thought, I could get that song to play in my “rock” playlist and my “soft hits” playlist. (This is just an example, because I also use different words as genres). Does this not work? I thought I could “split” time between two or three playlists that would all include a certain song. This doesn’t seem to work every time.

    Do these genre fields only recognize certain names, because sometimes I just use letters.

    Please help!

  5. Oscar Trout

    These are great suggestions which I look forward to playing with. But I have a question some one might be able to answer or at least provide some ideas.

    What would be possible ways to create a smart playlist showing the play count for a certain period of time. For example, say I love Tiny Tim’s “Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips” enough to play it 300+ times- could I create a play list showing whether I played this song in the last week and how many times for just that last week, be it one or 20 times? I think it would be interesting to see the variance, and frequency one has played certain tunes in comparison to others over a period of time. Simply put, I’d like a weekly top 40 with a play count for just that last week.

    Thanks in advance.

  6. Wow, I can’t believe no one else has said this yet. I just got an i-pod, and as I started downloading songs, I added “tags” in the “groups” field.

    For example, most of my music is on albums, but I also have tons of singles that I either bought off i-tunes or just picked off albums where I only liked a couple of the songs. I highlighted them all together and added the tag “singles” to the groups field. Then I made a smart playlist where “group contains singles” and I named it “Singles”. Now I can just shuffle my “extra” songs.

    I have another tag called “nostalgia” for songs that I like to listen to when I want to be brought back to the old days. (This is also helpful for those instances where the release date isn’t current or is missing.)

    I have another tag called “noisy” and I plan to make one called “fun” – for those songs that just make me happy when I hear them. (And I’ll probably make one for sad songs too, because, sometimes that’s what you need!)

    I mentioned that you can highlight a bunch of songs and add one tag to the whole group, but just remember that if you have overlap (more than one tag to a song) then you can’t add the tag to the group as a whole, or you erase the tag you added earlier.

    Also, this works way better if you add your tags as you download the songs instead of trying to go back and do it.

    Hope that helps someone :o)

  7. Wondering if anyone can help me troubleshoot. I have a Smart Playlist with “Play Count” = 0 and “Genre is not Podcast”. Live updating is checked. However, it doesn’t seem to be updating. None of the songs I’ve added in the last couple of weeks are on the Smart PL. What should I check to troubleshoot?

  8. Whoops – didn’t see your last comment. It seems that iTunes handles the played DATE based on the “Play Count” entry – resetting the one will reset the other for you.

    But, for your specific concern: No, I don’t think there is any UI (or direct AppleScript method) of resetting just the date, without modifying the count.

    Sorry about that…

  9. re: Frazier Nutzoff – “Is there a way to reset “Last Played” to “Never”?”

    Yep – it seems you want to reset the “Play Count”, which is available as a contextual menu option when one or more tracks is selected.

    Else, you could use one of the scripts available on Doug’s iTunes Scripts, such as “Selected Tracks Played or Unplayed

  10. Frazier Nutzoff

    Is there a way to reset “Last Played” to “Never”? I have a smart playlist that filters so I don’t hear anything played in the last 60 days. Somehow all 8000 songs were supposedly listened to during a period of a couple hours a few weeks ago (bug?) and now my smart playlist is empty. Is there any option, other than waiting for two months to elapse? I know how to reset play count & skip count, what I want to do is get reset “Last Played” to “blank”. Can anybody help?

  11. Desmondo

    There are some good suggestions here – I especially like the ‘Colours’ playlist, I’ve just implimented this and have got a 1.5GB playlist to listen through. I should buy a special coloured iPod nano just for this smart playlist!

    Smart playlists are great, but I’ve also enjoyed using The Filter over the past few weeks. You get a similar result but without having to fiddle and tweak your way to perfection.

  12. Great topic.

    “0plays” floats to the top for everything I’ve yet to listen to. Which is actually a lot due to the rate at which I seem to buy music.

    The “Recently Added” list gets a tweak to expand the time to 90 days and bump tracks after 3 plays or as soon as they are rated.

    I have several genre lists to gather tracks with 3+ stars. These are great for picking a style (hip hop, rock, R&B, metal, jazz) and just going with it. Great for parties too. These really smoke from your desktop with track fade on slightly.
    Warning, these may force you to reduce the total number of genres or move some artists around. (Some never seem to fit perfectly anywhere, eh?)

    Equally good are artist playlists fetching tunes with 4+ stars. These always hit just right when your in that mood. Especially good for artists whose albums have a lot of skit tracks (Snoop, Redman, etc.) or when they have a large body of work (Beatles, Phish, etc.).

    It seems everyone rocks a Rare Goodies type list. Mine is set to gather everything 4+ stars that has been neglected for 6 months.

    Another great customization is tweaking the Most Played list. Kick it up to 100 and it is guaranteed goodness 100% of the time. Fun to watch when you don’t use it too.

    A Most Skipped list is great for telling me what I need to move to a back-up drive or un-check. Space is limited on my 40g 3rd gen ipod.

    Clifford, thanks for the ideas on keyword list building. I’m totally going to fire up a few of those ASAP.

  13. I have an “unrated”-Playlist from which I feed the Party-Shuffle to rate new music. I also have playlists for 4-5 stars and 5 stars. Then I have a list für Songs with 4-5 Stars which have been played less then 6 times. Sometimes somebody comes along with a few CDs to rip. I then use the intelligent Playlists and use the “Date added” field to get that music.

  14. A couple of helpful ones are:
    “Not so hot”, songs with more than 3 stars but play count is less than four times.
    “Rate me”, songs with no rating and play count is more then eight times.
    “Forgotten favorites”, songs not played or skipped in the last 30 days but with a play count over 10

    Adjust integers as needed, enjoy!

  15. Clifford Hill

    Love these smart lists for making my old music haunt me again and again. I have over 11,000 songs and forget so many oldies to the new songs that come along. Try these odd playlists:

    – Dos n Don’ts – songs with words “Do” and “Don’t” in the title to remind me of all those lost loves and their many, many requirements.

    – Just Compilations – I tend to seek artist albums when the music urge hits. Compilations are filled with many artists I don’t have albums for and therefore forget.

    – Long Songs – Any song over 6 or seven minutes. Why? I don’t know. They mostly suck.

    – Short Songs – For any tune under 3 min. These I like better. Short and to the point. Hooray for Punk, Western Swing, and Rockabilly!

    – Colors – Songs with any color in the title… Red, Purple, Blue, and all of the typical ones, plus nicer colors like Aubergine, Lavender, Chocolate…

    – Animals – Songs with various animal names in the titles. Odd but fun! Great for all those early blues and folk songs about farm life.

    – Baby – Songs with “Baby” in the title. This one turned out well. It’s primarily a love song / heartbreak playlist.

    – Love – Songs with “Love” in the title. Similar to above.

    – Celestial – Songs with celestial bodies in the titles. For instance, “Star”, “Moon”, “Comet”, the planet names, etc. Very romantic. Not surprisingly, many pop songs want you to follow them to the outer reaches!

    – Rock – Songs with “Rock” in the title. Makes for good swaggering.

    Most recently, I’ve played with BPM analyzing software on my entire library. This yielded Suppertime which are songs in the slower ranges around 60 to 95 BPM for a relaxed mood. Also, of course, faster BPM songs for parties.

  16. I have a few different playlists that filter into a “meta playlist” to keep my music fresh. I have a playlist for star ratings 3-5 and filter out songs based on last play date (3-star songs not played in the last 3 weeks, 4-star songs not played in the last 2 weeks and 5-star songs not played in the last 3 days). I also have a playlist that randomly chooses 20 unrated songs (so I can give them a listen and properly rate them).

    The meta playlist takes all the “star-rating” playlists, along with my “Recently Added” playlist and filters out any genres that I don’t want in my shuffle (comedy, rap, dance, etc.)

    The playlist depends on 1) you being religious about rating your music, and 2) using iTunes A LOT. I have my music playing constantly at work, so this playlist keep me from hearing the same songs over and over again.

  17. jrobcet

    Smart playlists are where my “love affair” with Apple began. I had a rather large library of music on my Windows machine that had become almost unmanageable. On a whim, I decided to download iTunes to see what all the fuss was about. I really wasn’t impressed at first, but it wasn’t long until the power of smart playlists hit me. And hit me it did – my music was finally organized, and most importantly, easily accessible.

    Six months later I bought my first iPod. A few short months later, I bought a Mac Mini. Another month goes by, and my boss agrees that we need new computers. I walked to the University bookstore that day and came back to the office with a new MacBook. It has been my primary work computer for almost six months. And finally, I bought another iPod this weekend because one iPod is just not enough for our household.

    All of this because of a simple, yet powerful, piece of software that opened my eyes to the power and simplicity of Apple products. How’s that for a halo effect?

  18. I love Smart Playlists and I use them for a variety of purposes. Here are some of the perhaps less obvious playlists I have:

    “Often Skipped” – where skip count > 5. This is a clean-up playlist – I look at it every now and then and go, do I even like these songs? What’s wrong with them?

    “Old friends” – where my rating is >3 stars and last played is more than 30 days ago. Songs I really like, but haven’t heard in a while for whatever reason.

    “Party-able” – where genre is not comedy, spoken, audiobook, jazz, or classical and time is less than 10:00. I use this as the party shuffle source.

    I have a 4 GB nano so I need a pretty smart playlist to a) not have to drag songs to it manually b) not hear the same stuff over and over. Here it is:

    “Chianti” (named after my red nano) – where my rating is not 1 or 2 stars, last played is not in the last 3 days, last skipped is not in the last week, limit to 3 GB. The rest of the space is filled with podcasts, photos, and one “manual” playlist called “Handpicked”.

  19. I just wrote about this myself. I use it to make a playlist called zeroplay that filters out all unplayed Songs only of a certain type that I might want to hear but obviously haven’t heard since my last iTunes library switch (when all my playcounts were reset). Pretty useful to rediscover music that’s gotten buried underneath a big library.