How to make Playlists

Now you have managed to rank some of your music in iTunes, it is time to make playlists.
Playlists are self explanatory, but if you want to make it even simpler - think of going back to the old school - they are "Mix Tapes".

I don't want to talk now about what you should put on a mix tape - go and read High Fidelity if you want another over-anal music-Nazi to help there.

What you should know, however is that there are 3 main types of playlist - Normal, Smart and what I like to think of as Bloody Smart.  Obviously the third isn't an official term, but when you are (a) a music geek and (b) an analyst by trade, you are going to get all the technology working for you.

Don't try all of this in one sitting - split it between 3 days. Read and learn about each one for half an hour and then spend some time playing with them in iTunes. You'll be learning by playing.  It's much the same thing, but more fun.

'Normal' Playlists.
Normal playlists are simple lists of music that we define, track by track. They do not change unless we manually do it ourselves.

There are two main ways to make a static 'normal' playlist.  These are the genuine equivalent of music tapes.
The first is to highlight all the songs you want in the main window (holding down Ctrl and left clicking) and then going to "File" and then "New Playlist from Selection". In the example below I have highlighted all of Steve Mason's studio and live work that I own - not his work with the Beta Band or Old Jock Radio.

You can then rename your playlist by clicking on the title (Untitled Playlist) on the left hand side and typing.  Simple.

The second way is even better if you have a large number of tracks all over the place.

Click on "File" and "New Playlist". iTunes will then open an "Untitled Playlist".  My recommendation is to rename it to something good first - for example "Desert Island Discs".
It's a playlist you have dreamt of for ages - now is the time to make it.

The playlist at the moment will be empty.

Scroll the left hand window (in grey) back up to the top and click on "Music" - this is the default where all your music is.

Scroll the left hand window back so you can see your 'Desert Island Discs" playlist - but do not click on it.

Look through your music on the right hand side main window - you can even use the "Search" box at the top.

When you have found the track you want - (for the example below I have chosen 'The Champs - Tequilla') position your mouse cursor over the song title, left click, hold it down and drag it to the playlist. You can see this below.

Don't worry - you haven't moved the song, or deleted it.
A playlist is a collection of code pointing to the song.  That is all.
Then repeat as often as necessary.

Once you have finished you can reorder your songs in this playlist by dragging and dropping them or by clicking on the columns titles - Title, Artist, Rating etc.

For simplicities sake, that is all there is to Static Playlists.

What you can see above is that I have placed many of my playlists into folders. This one, for example is in a folder called "Types of Disc" along with different playlists - Dirge, Earworms, Happy etc...

For those that know me in the real world, they may be amazed that I am that organised. It's all about necessity.  When you have a large amount of music, Playlists are a must and if you have a lot of playlists, organisation through using folders is essential.

To create a Folder click on "File" and "New Playlist Folder". You can title it the same way as playlists and can drag and drop these playlists into folders the same way as songs into a playlist. 

Smart Playlists.
This is where the real frothing geekery starts. But don't worry, we will start simply and work upwards, together.

Smart playlists work on rules which we will define. Rules can be anything about the music we have defined - the Artist name, the songs ranking, the year it was recorded, genre, song length, to what I like to think of as secondary characteristics - it's 'Star Rating', when it was added, how often it has been played and when it was last played.
iTunes captures all of this information in the kind of way that Supermarkets do when you use a loyalty card - except we can make use of this information for our own benefit.

Lets start by making a Folder called "Rated"
Click on "Music", "File", "New Playlist Folder" and then name it "Rated"
With this folder highlighted (by clicking on it) click on "File", "New Smart Playlist".
The window below will pop up:

Well that isn't what we want so let's change it.
We will be working with one single rule to start with - but do note that "Live updating" is the only box ticked apart from "Match the following rule".
Click on the drop down arrow to the right of 'Artist' and select "Rating". Then we can move onto the second box...

As our first smart playlist is going to be for all tunes rated 5 stars, we want the rule to read 'Rating', 'is', '*****'.
Then click "OK". You can see the limits of iTunes logic system here! It is simple, but not that expansive.

You have now created your first Smart Playlist. Name it something sensible "Rated 5 Stars" for example.
Repeat exactly what you have done for a 5 Star playlist for 4, 3, 2 and 1 stars.
The only thing you need to change is the number of stars highlighted on the rule box above.

Our next job is to add rules together.
Unfortunately, the logic system in iTunes isn't as advanced as Excel, so we can't do super clever nesting at this stage....

To make a playlist of everything with 4 or 5 stars we can do the following:

We added another rule in by clicking on that tiny "+" sign on the far right hand side next to the first rule.
Note two things -
1. The first rule is for 5 stars, the second rule is for 4.
2. Most importantly - we have changed the top rule from "Match all of the following rules" to "Match any of the following rules".
This makes the rules 'inclusive' rather than 'exclusive'.

If we want to make a rule for music 'Rated 3, 4 or 5' we could add another line in to the above example with '3 Stars' in it - or we could be a little more clever.

Let's give it a go - make a new smart playlist and make it like this one:

It's only one rule and it has all the songs rated 3, 4 or 5 together. How?
Well, we changed the middle box to "is greater than" and the rating to "**".
This means that the smart playlist is looking at all songs which are rated higher than 2 stars - namely everything 3, 4 or 5.

Are you starting to see the range of things we can do here? And this is by playing about with only one characteristic - Rating.
Let me give you one more example of what a smart playlist can do before we move onto 'Bloody Smart' Playlists.

Now don't freak out. This honestly is a simple smart playlist - called "Most Played from 2009"
We'll go through it, line by line.

1. I have asked the Playlist to match "All" of the rules, rather than "Any" - this makes it 'exclusive'
2. Rule 1 - The Date added is from 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2009 - this means that only the songs added in 2009 are in this list.
3. Rule 2 and 3 - The Genre is not 'Comedy' or 'Audiobook'. This filters out the majority of 'non-music' files.
4. Rule 4 - Time is less than 45 minutes. I do have a lot of stupidly long music files. This removes anything of truly impractical length.
5. Rule 5 - Album does not contain 'Trance Remix'. I own all the Pink Floyd Trance Remixes and although they are rather groovy, you have to be in the right mood for them - and this playlist is not one of those times.
6. Rule 6 - Plays is greater than 1. This makes sure that anything on this playlist has been played at least twice. Basically it filters out the unpopular unlistened to songs.
7. I have ticked the 'limiting' box. I have also limited it to 1Gb of tunes (minutes are rather pointless in this day and age) and selected them by the most played.

All in all, this gives me the most played 1Gb (131 Songs, 9 hours 9 minutes and 45 seconds) of the music added in 2009.

Quite long winded, isn't it?  But still not what I would call a 'Bloody Smart' Playlist.

Bloody Smart Playlists.
Hopefully you will have been playing around with Smart Playlists a bit before reading down here.
You will have found that you can do some nesting of rules, but they don't really work too well.

You will have also found, hopefully, that you can duplicate a rule simply by 'right clicking' on it's name and selecting 'duplicate'. You can then right click on the duplicated smart playlist and edit it, rather than writing it again from scratch.

I'm going to now hopefully explain how I have made a Bloody Smart Playlist which I use everyday.
Here it is, in all it's glory - and thanks to me actually naming the smart playlists - fairly self explanatory.  Playlists 1 to 6 randomly select music based upon straight forward rules. Playlist 7 filters out any extraneous tracks not wanted. Playlist 8 adds together Playlists 1 to 6. The final Playlist we will get to.....

So what does playlist 1 look like - 25 tracks of '5 Star' rated songs not played in the last fortnight?

You can see - The Rating is equal to 5 stars. Last Played is not in the last 2 weeks. I have made sure no 'long' tracks turn up by restricting the time to less than 15 minutes. I also filtered out anything with the genre "Audiobook" or "Comedy".  Last but not least, the playlist selects 25 items selected at random.
This is repeated for 2-4 - you can duplicate the playlists and customise them as below.

But what about playlists 5 and 6?  Well, I want a bit of randomness added in as well - not just songs I like.
Here is playlist 5 -

It picks at random, songs of any rating (apart from one star - so all of those with 2-5 stars and zero stars - remember 'one star equals shit track') which haven't been played in the last year and a half.

What about number 6?

It's almost the same as playlist 5 - except for the top two rules. This chooses music added in the last 30 days which hasn't been played in the last 5.  That helps mix in newer music to the system which you haven't heard.

The 7th playlist is a filter - and it does repeat some of the filtering already going on, but having it here as a separate playlist means you can change it independently of each playlist.

Note that it must satisfy all of the rules and that I have added a couple more genre filters.  There is also no limit to the number of items as I am using this purely as a filter. It contains 50 thousand odd tracks!

Rule 8 is a great use of nested playlists -

You can see what it does - easy isn't it? It adds together playlists 1 to 6 together.

And the final playlist is the one where we move it all together into one usable playlist for transfer to an iPod....

It adds together playlists 1-6 (in the form of playlist 8) and filters out any oddities we don't want.

Now - you will probably question "Why did we do this in separate playlists?"
Well, two reasons -
1. You could not do it all in one.  Just not possible in iTunes.
2. It gives better and extra control over the rules. If in a weeks time I feel that I want more new music in my playlists, I merely change that single rule a little. If I want more 2 star tracks to turn up, I can easily just change that rule.

That said - I haven't changed it in 6 months, and these are the rules which are used when I drive into work every day - and the ones that choose the 23rd Track.

If you have any great Playlists that you use, let me know what they are - I'm always willing to learn!