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iTunes 9: Smart Playlists Are Now Smarter

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Smart Playlists in iTunes have always been a powerful way to create specific playlists to meet your needs, from creating a rotating fresh playlist for syncing to an iDevice to creating a specific playlist for a party. Being able to say “give me my music that hasn’t been played in the last month, that is of at least 320kbps and is rated 5 stars” is pretty sweet.

In iTunes 8 and earlier you could create all of these multiple rules and have them applied with a ‘match operator,’ which could be ALL (all rules have to match for a track to be included) or ANY (if any of the single rules apply the track will be included).

iTunes 9 has quietly and substantially expanded the level of complexity that you can create in these rules by allowing you to create nested rules. This lets you build up substantial logic with multiple ANY and ALL match operators being applied.

Lets look at a simple example.

iTunes 9 Smart Playlist

Here I have four individual rules:

  • Not played in the last week
  • Bitrate is higher than 150kbps
  • Was added to my iTunes library this year
  • Is Music (not a podcast, or video)

Previously this had to be an ALL or ANY. But now the rule comes down to one and four and (two or three). So it will give me all music that hasn’t been played in the last week, and has either been added this year or is higher than 150kbps.

The example above is simple but reflects the power that can be obtain from single level nesting. But wait, there’s just one more thing. Actually, there’s more than one; you can have up to five levels of nesting.

iTunes 9 Smart Playlist -5 layers

The possible combinations of logic available here are liable to do one’s head in — but I’d be interested in seeing what complex rules are being used by our readers. Let us know how you use Smart Playlists.

44 Responses to “iTunes 9: Smart Playlists Are Now Smarter”

  1. Hugo Leal

    I have a lot of smart playlists but the one I want the most I just can’t do it. Is it possible to make the “most played tunes in the last weeks”? I wanted something that counts how often a song is played in a certain amount of time, not how many times it has ever played.

  2. Yes, but have you figured out how to create a smart playlist that is:

    1) Music (Media Kind = Music)
    2) Sorts by Most Recently Added
    3) Groups by Albums alphabetically

    Therefore, if I add two or more albums at one time and the songs go in out of order, my smart playlist will keep them sorted by album in iTunes.

  3. Artist_by_Primary_Key


    Can anyone tell me how to configure a smart play list so that it randomizes the tracks by using the artist as the primary key.

    I will give you an example of what I am talking about.
    I have a smart playlist that pulls in everything by genre. So lets say ‘pop’ as an example.

    The problem that I have is even if I have a total of say 100 tracks and I limit it to say 20 tracks by the limit check box in the smart play list; there are artists that seem to appear alot more often than others. This by the way makes sense to me because I have artists with many albums against them and then some artists may only have one album.

    So what I am trying to do is the following:

    If I have a total of 20 artists in my playlist and the total tracks across all of them and their albums is say 1000. If i create a smart playlist of 20 tracks I would like each artist to have one song before it starts repeating the artists from the top down again.


  4. It appears to be a great new feature, but perhaps I misunderstand it. I’m trying to create a smart playlist of songs from the 1930s. All my albums of the 1930s contain ’30s’ in the title; the year for some of the songs on those albums is blank because unknown; and I have some 1930s songs from other albums without this in the title. So my filter is

    Match any of the following rules:
    Year is in the range 1930 to 1939
    Album contains 30s

    This works fine, but some of the songs on the albums with 30s in the title are from the 1940s, so after ‘Album contains 30s’ I click on ‘…’ and add

    Year is in the range 1930 to 1939

    This, I thought, should exclude those songs not from the 1930s that are on albums with 30s in the title, but it doesn’t make a difference to the playlist, and

    Year is less than 1940

    includes all the songs in my whole iTunes library for which the year is unknown.

    I want all songs from 1930-1939, plus albums with ’30s’ in the title, minus songs on those albums outside the range 1930-1939. Maybe it would help if there were to option to exclude songs not in the range 1930-1939, but there isn’t. Can anyone help, please?

    • I do not thnk you can do this with current smart playlist tools. However if you currently do not use the -grouping- or the -description- fileds you might start to add a new search value into one of those fields.

      I have chosen to put use place holder years for songs where I do not yet have the year info. You can choose an appropriate number -3333- for all songs missing their year info for a given decade. Then use that to pull in those songs. Due to the limits of iTunes smart playlists boolean rules you will probably have to use nested smart playlists to achieve what you are trying to do.

      Another option is to break down your genre groups by decade:

      popular music 1930-1939
      popular music 1940-1949

      I too thought originally that the … addition to the smart playlist was allowing us to added boolean tests to the previous test. That is what I hoped any way. ;-) This change last year is of some limited use to me but the nestsed tests would be much more powerful I believe. Now I generally create a number of smart play lists and then create additional more sophisticated collections by pulling from collections of them.

  5. The Smart Playlists apear to have a flaw. I have several Smart Playlists that no longer appear on the Music tab within my device for synch selection. Therefore, my iPhone 4+ smart playlist no longer appears and cannot be synched to my iPhone. Has anyone figured out what the workaround is? I have tried recreating the playlist, but nothing seems to work.

  6. Hey guys, good discussions going here.

    I was wondering if there is a way to list when individual songs were added to a playlist, not to the actual library itself. It seems like this might apply to the smart playlists, but I haven’t been able to work it out yet. I have a playlist synced to an iPod I use to rotate out music, but I want tracks that have been in the playlist longer to be removed sooner.

    • Hi Michael,
      The only thing that would maybe even possible change would be the “last modified” field, and I have a feeling adding to playlists doesn’t qualify as a change.

      When you drag things to playlists, they get added at the bottom, so you might be able to rotate by removing songs from the top of the list (sorted by #), unless you arrange the play order manually.

    • Oh thats not ideal, but great nonetheless. At least it gives me something to work with

      Didn’t realize the sorting numbers. I guess that will work until they implement the functionality haha. I could probably create a smart list or something that filters the older numbered tracks out and adds newer ones.

  7. Now that it’s impossible to set album ratings to 0 if you have rated one or more tracks (iTunes 9, Windows), my smart playlist for “Rating is 5 stars” now includes all tracks from albums that iTunes has “ghost-rated” as 5 stars. I don’t want Album Ratings, and I can’t get a playlist to just include songs that I have explicitly rated as 5 stars.

    Any ideas? The album rating thing has gotten worse and worse.

  8. rihamy2nd

    Here’s one: My music collection far exceeds the capacity of my iPod. There are a large number of songs that I usually skip, but I may occasionally want to hear them. I would like to have a playlist option that would limit the playlist to X amount of items selected by “least recently skipped.” This would always keep the playlist refreshed and I’d have another playlist that would hold songs chosen by “most often played” that would keep my favorite songs that I want to stay on the iPod. The two playlists would combine to fill the capacity of my iPod. Hence, I’d have my favorites and the not-so-greats would constantly (automatically) rotate.

    This can be a bit difficult to explain fully, but I’ve gone into full detail a couple of times with Apple to get “least recently skipped” criteria added to the smart playlist options, but to no avail.

    Any suggestions?

  9. John Mitchell,

    Just set the ‘last played’ option to not play within the last “0” days. In the logic the 0th day is today. So if it’s played today, it won’t be eligible to play again until tomorrow.

    • rihamy2nd

      I do believe that this is the solution to my question, except I’ll use “last skipped” is not in the last X days. That way other songs will take their place and the playlist will constantly refresh.

      Thanks so much for opening my eyes to this. Apple clearly states that they will not personally respond to requests/ideas for software updates, so when I asked them to add “least recently skipped” to the playlist criteria, the “Geniuses” never did tell me to do it this way.

      Thanks again, IZ

  10. John Mitchell

    Ok I have a question, I have been using smartplaylists for ages now, I think the potential of them is spectacular.

    However there is one thing i am just not that impressed with and was wondering if anyone had found a work around.

    I have a smart playlist to give me any track rated 5 stars in the past 3 months, this works as planned, however i have another version of this playlist where i keep the above features and filter this to show tracks not played today. (I have done this due to sometimes when doing things on itunes it might play a track from another playlist and then when i go back i dont want to hear the same track again)

    I have an issue with the last played selection. I have set this to last played is not in the last 1 days, however it does not appear to work as tracks that were last played over 24hrs ago do not still appear, my expectation is that tracks should repopulate after a 24hr period.
    I had changed this to say not played “today” but itunes changes this to the current date and then remains set.

    Anyone got any clues?


  11. Tony Nicklen: I always segregate my singles from my albums. I add “singles” to the genre, i.e. Dance vs. Dance – Singles, or Rock – Radio vs. Rock – Singles.
    The Compilation feature also helps keep these loose songs in check. I also gather them up into self made “albums”/compilations and change the artist to “Various Artists” after having first moved the song artist] to the back of the song name i.e. “Whip It – Devo” by Various Artists on “80’s Geek Chic Hits”. This way you don’t have thousands of loose artists with no full albums.

  12. Tony Nicklen

    Always loved the smart playlists but here is a challenge for you. Is it possible to create a playlist of “complete albums” without using . i.e. selects all the songs from albums that have total number of tracks greater than say 7.

    Would also love to know if there is an answer to AEB’s Q too.

    • Hi Tony Here is my way to have complete albums using playlists:
      I normally use a smart playlist to sort track. Then I have a second smartplaylist to complete the albums. Criteria are:
      Match ALL criteria
      Playlist is “Playlist A”
      Playlist is “Music”
      It is important that all track from playlist A are included in Music.

      In the Browser of the second playlist, select the 1st album, press Control while selecting the last album. All the albums should highlighted.
      Click Edit the playlist, and switch to Match ANY criteria.
      Only the missing tracks of the albums that appeared in Playlist A should appear together with the original selection.

      I normally drag the full selection (original tracks and the new tracks) to a normal playlist that will sync into the iPod.

      I sounds a lot of things but after a few times, you’ll do it automatically. especially that you can keep the smartplaylist for a later use (you’ll only need to switch back and forward from ALL to ANY when your albums are selected).

    • there’s a hidden way to do this, but it’s really cool:

      First, you need Shuffle in your library set to “Albums” and not tracks or groupings.

      Second, create a smart playlist of Media Kind is Music and “limit to X GB sorted by Random”

      it works!

      this is great for picking albums to fill up your iDevice with, especially if you throw in a playlist is NOT (already synched playlist).

      you can also delete albums from this list and it will add another one to fill up the allotted space.

      I hope Apple doesn’t break this feature.

  13. Wow, wish I’d known about this a bit earlier! Past couple of weeks been trying to organize 16gig of music to shuffle through a 8gig iPod based on their genres and ratings, and just finished few days ago. Now I can switch all those playlists over to smart playlists with live updating, and have it automatically sort my tunes just by changing a rating, excellent =]

  14. Smart playlists finally became really useful. I only don’t understand why checked/unchecked property isn’t handled as any other, but has that special checkbox which doesn’t allow one to include only *unchecked* items.

    Speaking of flexibility, why not provide a SQL-like (or Xquery, or Xpath, or whatever syntax strikes Apple developers as natural) interface to all properties for advanced users?

  15. I’ve set a couple of playlists, smart or basic, that get overwhelmingly large. I then set up other smart playlists, each of which references one of the large playlists (or excludes all high rated songs already assigned to playlists) and the key feature of the short smart playlist is, Not Recently Played. This way, the large playlists don’t always present the same songs (top of the list) on the Nano, which doesn’t do well with really long lists of music.

  16. BustersDad

    This is a huge improvement over the previous Smart Playlists function! In the past I have created “base playlists” to filter out holiday music or PDFs. Then I would use the base playlist to build actual interesting playlists. Now it can all be done at once! Wonder if I will sit down and revise all of them or just fiddle here and there…

    Blondepianist, I also use a similar technique to to create more refined playlists. I enjoy music with a lounge-y vibe but the genre may be electronic, soundtrack, alternative, etc. So, I place lounge in the comment field and create a playlist using “Comments” “contains” “lounge”.

    Finally, thanks mhglover! Those are all great suggestions! I am a huge fan of having Smart Playlists swap music off my iPhone after I listen to it today so I am a big fan of “Last Played” is not in the last two weeks.

  17. Cameron Conner

    This is excellent! I used to have to have two smart playlists to make a mix for my iPhone, now I can finally get rid of one of them. And I’m sure it’s going to come in handy in many other ways, but that’s the most obvious one right now..

  18. Some of my favorites:

    New Unrated – Rating is 0 stars, Date Added is in the last 3 months, Media Kind is Music

    Unrated (Hot Albums) – Album Rating is greater than 4 stars, Rating is 0 stars

    A Good Year – Rating is 5 stars, Date Added is in the last 12 months, Last Played is not in the last 1 week

    Supergenius Unrated – Playlist is Genius, Rating is 0 stars.
    Seed this by picking a song for Genius, then point iTunes DJ toward Supergenius Unrated. This is great for ferreting out forgotten and unrated gems from a big library.

    Lost Lovers – Rating is greater than 3 stars, Play Count is less than 2, Last Played is not in the last 1 month

    And for syncing to my iPhone:
    Audiobooks – Genre is Audiobook, Play Count is 0
    This keeps my fresh audiobooks on my phone and removes each file as I finish it. I don’t use this to listen to the files, just to keep them in sync. They’ll still show up in the Audiobook section of the iPod app.

  19. blondepianist

    I hadn’t even noticed this, and it was one of the things I’ve wished iTunes did for a long time. There have been several instances where I’ve needed more powerful logic than what the old Smart playlists gave. Thanks for the update!

  20. I think the cooler thing no one seems to be noticing is how awesome the Classical Music playlist is now, with its custom format. Maybe I just missed it in a previous version, but this is a much improved way of viewing a large collection of classical music.

  21. This seems better controlled. is there a way (perhaps by beats or something) to tell if something in a “soundtrack” genre, is actually a soundtrack (instead of the artists performing in a movie) instead of changing the genre. If you can only change the genre, would this mess up Album art or other tags?

    • blondepianist

      As far as I can tell, you have to change the genre, but it doesn’t mess up album artwork. I’ve found that it works well to first list the primary genre of a song, followed by any secondary or tertiary genres (“soundtrack/pop”, for example). Then you can create a smart playlist for genres that contain “soundtrack” (all soundtrack), one for genres that are “soundtrack” (scores), and another for songs that contain, but are not, “soundtrack” (movie songs, etc).