i hate the sound of guitars

an expat dc punk in massachusetts

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smarter playlists in iTunes

20 Feb 2008 · No Comments

Lifehacker recently ran an article on their Top 10 iTunes Smart Playlists. I disagreed with most of it, but it got me thinking about playlists, and I realized I could get solve some of my iTunes peeves by chaining multiple smart playlists together.

My favorite radio shows on my favorite station, WMBR, mix brand new stuff I’ve never heard before, a selection of current favorites, and a smattering of catalog classics. I wanted an iTunes playlist with a similar blend. I thought what I came up with was cool enough to that it might be useful for other folks.

I like to use folders to keep things organized. Here’s my overall structure:
nested folder structure for iTunes playlists

Because the playlists depend on one another, you need to create them in a particular order.

First, the pools are normal playlists (except for newest).

  • “heavyrotation” is for the current faves, songs that I want to hear pretty often. For instance, I just went to see The Magnetic Fields, so I had several of their albums in heavy rotation to psych myself up for the shows.
  • I used “queued” mostly for older music that I want to hear without frequent repeat plays. If I find myself thinking something like, “it’s been a while since I listened to The Replacements,” I’ll drag their catalog into this list.
  • “newest” is a smart playlist itself. It’s similar to the default smart playlist “Recently Added.” I use a shorter timeframe, since I have a pretty steady stream of new music coming in.
    newest playlist filters by Date added is in the last 5 days
    I don’t currently have any non-music in my iTunes, but I future-proofed my rule to exclude videos or e-Books in case I ever do, and to make it easier for other folks to adopt and adapt my filter rules.

When I start to get tired of hearing The Magnetic Fields all the time or when all my favorite Replacements songs have come up, I can just delete those artists/albums from “heavyrotation” and “queued.” (I can also sort those playlist by the playcount and ditch the songs I’ve heard most). “newest” cleans itself up automatically to keep things fresh.

Next, the metafilters are smart playlists that filter the pools. I don’t usually listen to these playlists; instead they are used to create the metalists that I actually listen to. These lists manage how often tracks come up in shuffle mode.

  • _heavyrotation
    match all the rules last skipped is not in the last 1 days and playlist is heavyrotation
    The source “heavyrotation” consists of tracks I want to hear a lot of, so the same track can come up multiple times in a single day. But I figure if I skip it once today, I’m not in the mood, so it won’t come up again the same day.
  • _queued
    match all the rules last skipped is not in the last 1 days, last played is not in the last 7 days, and playlist is queued
    The source “queued” consists of tracks I want to hear somewhat less of, so the same track can only come up once a week. Again, I figure if I skip it once today, I’m not in the mood, so it won’t come up again the same day.
  • _newest
    match all the rules last skipped is not in the last 1 days, skip count is less than 5, play count is 0, and playlist is newest
    The “newest” source has a slightly different focus. I try to listen to everything through at least once, so I can make sure CDs/downloads aren’t glitchy, and form an initial impression. If something catches my ear, I can add it to the “queued” or “heavyrotation” lists, so the newest list is set to never repeat. The skip rules are a little different; if I skip it several days in a row I must dislike it, but generally I want to give everything a chance.

Finally, the metalists combine the metafilters to make the playlists for listening.

  • “New, Q’d & Heavy” is the main playlist, it combines all three of the metafilter lists.
    match any of the rules playlist is _heavyrotation, playlist is _queued, _playlist is _newed and include only checked items.
    I uncheck items to indicate things that I don’t want to ever come up in shuffle play, so I reflect that in the overall rule.
  • If I’m not in the mood to hear new music just now (e.g., I want some background but I’m not paying enough attention to evaluate new material), “Q’d & Heavy” does the trick:
    match any of the rules playlist is _heavyrotation, playlist is _queued, _playlist is _newed and include only checked items.
  • If I want a little break from those songs I hear all the time, “New & Q’d” is the ticket:
    match any of the rules playlist is _queued, _playlist is _newed and include only checked items.
    (I wish I could flip a software switch like this for real radio stations!)

A few additional notes:

  • Everything is set to “Live updating,” so if you purchase downloads or digitize from a CD, the tracks show up in all the playlists immediately. If you’re listening in shuffle mode, though, the shuffle order is only set when you re-start the playlist — otherwise, new tracks are just added to the end of the shuffle order. So, for example, if you’re listening to “New & Q’d,” you need to click on some other playlist (so iTunes shows you a stop button instead of a pause button), stop the “New & Q’d” list, click back to it, and start it again to make it reshuffle with the new tracks included.
  • For the geekier component of the reading audience: the “secret sauce” is that using a smart playlist as the source for another smart playlist lets you mix AND filtering with OR filtering, which you can’t do in the rules for a single list.
  • There’s plenty of room for improvement. I’d love for the _heavyrotation metafilter to do something like only play a track once in 6 hours, or no more than twice a day. I haven’t figured out a way to do that (I’m not sure it’s possible). I’d also love to come up with a way to weight things, so, for example, new tracks would be twice as likely as anything else. Suggestions welcome!

Tags: iTunes · lists

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