Make Your Playlists Smart

Source from : CNET

Smart Playlists are a powerful and underused feature in iTunes. These special playlists are updated automatically, depending on a simple set of criteria. The ability to create playlists by mixing music tracks from different albums and genres has always been one of the great features of iTunes, and Smart Playlists take this to the next level.

Introduced in iTunes 3.0, Smart Playlists let you personalize your listening experience by creating music lists that automatically update based on user-specified criteria such as My Rating, Last Played, Comment, and Play Count. Some attributes of a track that can be used as criteria for creating a Smart Playlist (such as Song Name) are static, while others (such as Play Count) are dynamically updated to reflect track status. Smart Playlists have something to offer every listener.

To rate songs on the iPod, press the center (wheel) button two times. The first time will put the wheel into jog mode, and the second into rating mode. Once there, you will see the stars on the screen. Spin the wheel to increase or decrease the star rating. Make sure that iTunes is set to one of the two automatic transfer modes in the iPod Options screen. Otherwise, you will not be able to easily transfer Play Counts, Ratings, and Play Dates back to iTunes.

The Smart Playlist dialog (shown below) is accessed from the iTunes File menu and can be broken into three distinct areas: the Match Line, the Criteria Lines, and the Limiter Area. The Match Line determines how the criteria are evaluated. It will change contextually depending on the Criteria Lines. When multiple criteria are specified, the Match Line will display the any/all pop-up. Otherwise, there will be no pop-up in this area.

Start by making your selections from the pop-up menus in the Criteria Lines area, choosing the desired attributes, operators, and values. The Criteria Line initially displays only one line. Press the + button to add additional criteria lines. The Match Line settings will determine how the criteria are evaluated. The real power of Smart Playlists comes from combining various rules. To add a rule, or Criteria Line, simply click the + icon. There is virtually no limit to the number of Criteria Lines you can have. Each rule is interpreted as a Boolean operator, meaning that a match or true result will display the track, while a false result or nonmatch will not display the track.

After you've chosen your criteria, the Limiter Area allows you to limit the number of results returned by the Smart Playlist.

Track Attributes

Understanding the meaning of the many track attributes is important to getting the most out of Smart Playlists. Attributes are always examined on a per-track basis in iTunes, regardless of the music source (for example, CD, iTunes Music Store download, or analog recording). The only attribute that groups CD tracks together is Album Name. Tracks can just as easily be grouped by Artist, Genre, Year, or Play Count. Below, you see the iTunes drop-down menu listing the track attributes you can use for building Smart Playlists. The table below describes all the attributes.

The album on which the track was released.

Beats per minute, or tempo. This is a numerical value describing the number of musical beats in one minute. The value is not calculated by iTunes and is not included with songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store. It must be entered manually or calculated by a third-party application. Although it has a strange interface, the application Ask the DJ ($29; free trial version available) effectively calculates BPM. Once the BPM attribute is written to your tracks, you can create excellent workout playlists.

Bit Rate
The number of kilobits per second (Kbps) used to represent the track. The higher the bit rate, the higher the resulting audio quality and the larger the file size. Music files are typically 128Kbps or higher, while audio books and other spoken-word content are often 96Kbps or lower.

A user-defined field, which means you can do whatever you want with it. This is a great place to put keywords or extra information about tracks. For example, you may record the source of music files in the Comment field (for example, my CD collection, bought from iTunes Music Store, ripped from DAT tree, borrowed from girlfriend, sampler CD from club, promo, and so on).

Used to group multiple movements in single larger classical pieces. Many users have developed individualized schemes involving grouping, such as subcategorization by genre or specially featured performer.

The audio file format. Current supported formats are AAC Audio File, Protected AAC Audio File, AIFF Audio File, Apple Lossless Audio File, Audible File, MPEG Audio File, MPEG Audio Stream, Playlist URL, and WAV Audio File.

My Rating
Rate your music collection by assigning zero to five stars in iTunes or on an iPod (third-generation or dockable and newer).

Play Count
A musical odometer: keeps track of how many times you listen to each song.

Includes or excludes tracks contained within other playlists (new in iTunes 4.5). This parameter allows for nesting and extremely complex mixed-Boolean Smart Playlists.

Sample Rate
Number of samples of a sound taken each second to represent a sound digitally. The more samples taken per second, the more accurate the digital representation of the sound. The sample rate for CD-quality audio is 44,100 samples per second. This sample rate can accurately reproduce audio frequencies up to 20,500 Hertz (cycles per second), covering the full range of human hearing.

File size in megabytes.

Song Name
Name attribute of the track.

Total duration of the track.

Track Number
Track number as assigned per album (e.g., 7 of 10).

Year of track release.

Additional Attributes

Now, we're on to the final set of Smart Playlist attributes to consider when creating a Smart Playlist. These variables limit playlist size and are important for portable audio players, ease of viewing in iTunes, and building CDs. Here are the attributes to consider for limiting your playlists:

Limit to 25 songs selected by random

This line allows you to limit the size of the playlist and choose how the selection is made.


Song limits create manageable lists, which can be scrolled through visually.

Minutes and hours

Timed lists are great for creating CDs. Try limiting to 74 minutes for the perfect CD-size playlist.

MB (megabytes) and GB (gigabytes)

File-size limitations are important for portable music players, such as the iPod. Why let iTunes randomly fill your iPod Mini when you can create four different 1GB Smart Playlists, tailored to your taste?

Selected by

This pop-up menu specifies how the song selector sorts the list. Choices include Random, Album, Artists, Genre, Song Name, Highest Rating, Lowest Rating, Most Recently Played, Least Recently Played, Most Often Played, Least Often Played, Most Recently Added, and Least Recently Added.

Match only checked songs

This selector is handy for omitting tracks from playback by iTunes or iPod. Uncheck songs in the iTunes Library, and they won't show up in the playlist. (Unchecked songs do not play in iTunes by default. They play only when double-clicked.) Try unchecking holiday songs, exceptionally long tracks, or other content that you don't often access.

Live updating

Checking this box will allow your Smart Playlists to update on the fly. It's a good thing this is checked by default, because if it's unchecked, you'll need to manually refresh the list by selecting all the tracks and pressing the Delete key.

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