Archives For smart playlists

Here’s an outline for a set of Smart Playlists that will get you started building an accessible iTunes Library…The basics should be universal, but you’ll want to customise it to suit your taste: if you have lots of music pre-1950, for example. If you need a reresher on making a Smart Playlist the how-to guide is at the bottom of the page.

Folder: Rating

‘0 Star’: My Rating is 0 Star
‘1 Star’: My Rating is 1 Star
‘2 Star’: My Rating is 2 Star
‘3 Star’: My Rating is 3 Star
‘4 Star’: My Rating is 4 Star
‘5 Star’: My Rating is 5 Star

Folder: Year

‘1950s’: Year is in the range 1950 to 1959
‘1960s’: Year is in the range 1960 to 1969
‘1970s’: Year is in the range 1970 to 1979
‘1980s’: Year is in the range 1980 to 1989
‘1990s’: Year is in the range 1990 to 1999
‘2000s’: Year is in the range 2000 to 2009

Folder: Maintenance

These Smart Playlists are used either in other smart playlists or when you are maintaining your library
‘Unplayed’: playcount is 0
‘Played’: playcount is not 0
‘Unplayed and Unrated’: playcount is 0 and my rating is 0
‘No comment’: comment is “”
‘No Genre’: genre is “”
‘No Year’: year is “”
‘Ignore’: genre is spoken or spoken word or comedy or novelty or kids or christmas (this is a useful SPL. If you rate some comedy etc 5 star but you don’t want to hear it all the time, make your High Rotation SPLs have the condition ‘playlist is not ‘ignore”.

Folder: Top

‘Recently Played’: last played is in the last 7 days
‘Recently Added’: Date Addded is in the last 7 days and rating is 0
‘Top 100’: my rating is 5 star, play count > 0 limit 100 by most played
‘Top 1000’: my rating is 5 star, play count > 0 limit 1000 by most played
‘Top but not top 1000’: my rating is 5 star and playlist is not ‘Top 1000’
‘Remind Me’: my rating is 5 star and not played in the last 3 months
‘Remind Me… meh’: my rating is 4 star and not played in the last 12 months
‘Long Songs’: playlist is not ignore and time > 15 mins
‘Short Songs’: playlist is not ignore and < 3:00
‘Covers’: comment contains (cover)
‘Live’: comment contains (live)
‘Rock’: genre is alternative or punk or metal or hard rock hardcore or doom or garage rock
‘Mellow’: genre is pop or rock or soul or rnb or folk or reggae
‘Urban’: genre is hip/hop or rap or funk or drum and bass
‘Mind Melt’: genre is krautrock or psychedelic or ambient or avant-garde and time > 8:00

How to create these Smart Playlists

Create a folder for each group. cmd-opt-n to Create a new Smart Playlist. Here’s an example of an SPL and how it should look in iTunes:
‘Top 1000 Most Played’: My Rating is 5 Stars, Play Count is Greater than 3, Playlist is not ‘Spoken Word’, Limit 1000 by Most Often Played.
Smart Playlist editing example

More tips

Combining conditions is a great way of refining SPLs. for example: ‘Cred list’: genre is ‘punk’, year is less than 1980, My rating is 5 Stars.

Having a good set of Smart Playlists can really help you get access to the tracks you want to hear, but SPLs depend on good tagging.

Try going through your Library looking for the tracks that haven’t made it into your SPLs and then build SPLs to suit.

So you have 100,000 tracks in your library and now you can’t find anything? Here are some principles and practical ideas on how to manage and maintain a huge iTunes library…

Divide & Conquer

Make big changes and improvements, then fix the small problems later. Example: search for ‘Led Zeppelin’ and change the genre for all tracks to ‘Classic Rock’ (or whatever!). Depending on your library, you may have fixed the genre for a couple of hundred tracks… do this with ten of your biggest artists and you’ve made some progress!

Here’s another way of fixing big batches of tracks: use maintenance smart playlists to catch untagged stuff. Set up an Unrated (0 Star) Smart Playlist, and SPLs for tracks with no genre, no artist name, or no year. Here’s a good way to add year tags quickly: create an SPL for tags with no year, then type ’19’ (no quotes) in the search box. Chances are that most of the results will contain ’19’ because they have the year of issue in the album name or comments field. You can select and change the year quickly. Repeat with ‘200’ to get all the 21st century tracks. This type of trick won’t catch everything but it will save you googling release dates for some of your albums.

A general principle: organise your music based on the tags you’ve given it, instead of building a manual structure of Dumb Playlists. The only manual playlists you set up should be compilations… try to do everything with Smart Playlists – they are updated as your library changes.

Instead of fixing all the tags for each album in turn, focus on fixing a type of tag for lots of tracks in batches, which is much more efficient. For example, spend some time fixing the ‘Genre’ tag for a few thousand tracks, then work on fixing the ‘Year’ tag.

Develop different approaches for getting at the good stuff, or stuff you need to be reminded about. Try a Smart Playlist of 5 star tracks not played recently, or never played. Or 0-4 star tracks played lots that you could rate higher.

By the same token, bump down those tracks you always skip. iTunes now gives you access to a field called ‘Skip Count,’ so try a Smart Playlist with these Rules: Skip Count is greater than 3 and Rating is greater than 3. Select everything this Playlist finds and bump the rating down to 2 so you don’t see it as often.

You can also try automatic tools like MPFreaker to do batches of tagging for you, which can save time when your iTunes library is too big.

Tag your music well

Here’s some more tips around tagging:

Use downtime to tag and rate old stuff that gets lost. For example, rate music on your iPod. Also, get Quicksilver or Butler and set up shortcut keys for assigning ratings to your music while it’s playing. You can do this without interrupting the current app you’re using, and it’s a good way of rating stuff fairly transparently. You can also spend 10 minutes doing some tagging in downtime, this can really help bring your music into line.

Tag everything as it arrives. Set up a Smart Playlist called Recently Added – Date Added is in the last 7 days and My Rating is 0. Once you rate your new stuff it will drop out of the list.

Prune duplicate or too-similar genres so that the genre is a usable criterion in a smart playlist. I find that although I dislike categorising by genre, it is a really useful way of finding music you want… because my 5 star steel pole bathtub tracks from the early 1990s are quite different to my 5 star Aphex Twin from the same era and genre works well for telling them apart. If you’re into electronic music you might have dozens of genres. This is really a matter of taste but I like the idea of inclusive genres, so soul includes stuff that purists would argue is doo-wop, for example.

The end result of all this is that you impose a system on your music, then trust that system.

Find ways to make your iTunes library easier to manage in the long term

Do it with smart playlists as much as possible. The trick is that Smart Playlists need well-tagged tracks in order to be effective.

Automate where possible. Have a look around Doug’s Applescripts for iTunes, and use applescripts to save time editing tags etc.

Here’s a collection of iTunes template smart playlists I’d recommend as a start…

Other iTunes questions:

Who has the biggest iTunes Library?

The biggest iTunes Library that I know of is owned by one Will Friedwald, a music critic. See Interview: Will Friedwald, Owner Of The Worlds Largest iTunes Collection
Update 4 Nov 2012: Lee Brown claims to have a larger library than Will Friedman! 321,245 songs (without duplicates), 861 days, 1,123.30 GB. But bear in mind that those Friedman stats are from way back in 2007. Anyone know if he’s updated these numbers? Any other big libraries? And should we be asking for proof?

Check out some of the numbers people are claiming here. I want to see screenshots though: talk is cheap!

Any iTunes Library Maintenance Tips?

ITunes Library Maintenance tips:


  • Make sure the disk containing your iTunes Library Database and music files is de-fragmented.
  • If your library is in multiple places, consider consolidating the whole iTunes library to one place so you can easily back it up.
  • Obviously, make sure iTunes is fully updated.