Get Smart About Smart Playlists

iTunes can help you organize the music or video you watch or listen to the most, or listen to or watch the least. By programming a smart playlist based on the number of plays or the date added, you can automatically create a playlist of what you haven’t heard or watched yet, or what you’ve added recently.

Of course, smart playlists are ignorant of your taste in music or video. For example, you can create a smart playlist that uses the Year field to grab all the songs from 1966. This list, in no particular order, might include The Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”), Frank Sinatra (“Strangers in the Night”), The Yardbirds (“Over Under Sideways Down”), and Ike and Tina Turner (“River Deep, Mountain High”) — a far-out playlist, no doubt, but not necessarily what you want.

Under the Playlists tab in the iTunes window (after selecting Music in the source pop-up menu), you can find smart playlists supplied by Apple, which are indicated by a gear-in-a-document icon — such as My Top Rated and Recently Added. The ones you create also appear here. Smart playlists add items to themselves based on prearranged criteria, or rules. For example, when you rate your content items, My Top Rated changes to reflect your new ratings. You don’t have to set up anything because My Top Rated and Recently Added are already defined for you.

To create your own, you can use other fields of information that you entered (such as ratings, artist name, or composer) to fine-tune your criteria. You can also use view options such as Plays (the number of times the item was played) or Date Added (the date the item was added to the library).

To create a new smart playlist, choose File>New Smart Playlist. The Smart Playlist dialog appears:


Smart playlist based on composer

The dialog offers the following choices for setting rules:

Match the Following Rule: From the first pop-up menu, you can choose any of the categories used for information, such as Artist, Composer, or Last Played. From the second pop-up menu, you can choose an operator, such as the greater-than or less-than operator. The selections that you make in these two pop-up menus combine to create a rule, such as Year is greater than 1966 or, as in the above figure, Composer contains (the words) Woody Guthrie.

You can also add multiple conditions by clicking the + button on the right of a rule. The Match xx of the Following Rules option appears when you set more that one rule. You then decide whether to match all or any of these rules:

  • All combines the rules with the AND operator (all the rules must be true).
  • Any combines the rules with the OR operator (any of the rules can be true).

Limit To: You can limit the smart playlist to a specific duration, measured by the number of songs (items), time, or size in megabytes or gigabytes, as shown below. You can have items selected by various methods, such as random, most recently played, and so on.


Smart playlist based on date added.

Match Only Checked Items: This option selects only those songs or other items in the library that have a check mark beside them, along with the rest of the criteria. Selecting and deselecting items is an easy way to fine-tune your selection for a smart playlist.

Live Updating: This allows iTunes to continually update the playlist while you play items, add or remove items from the library, change their ratings, and so on.

After setting up the rules, click the OK button. iTunes creates the playlist, noted by a gear-in-a-document icon and the name untitled playlist (or whatever phrase you used for the first condition, such as the album or artist name). You can click in the playlist field and then type a new name for it.

Setting up rules gives you the opportunity to create playlists that are smarter than the ones supplied with iTunes. For example, I created a smart playlist with criteria (as shown in the figure above, “Smart playlist based on date added”) that does the following:

  • Includes any item added to the library in the past week that also has a rating greater than three stars.
  • Limits the playlist to 72 minutes to be sure that it fits on a 74-minute audio CD, even with gaps between the songs. It also refines the selection to the most recently added if the entire selection becomes greater than 72 minutes.
  • Matches only selected items.
  • Performs live updating.

To edit a smart playlist, select it from the Playlists section of the source pane and choose File>Edit Smart Playlist. The Smart Playlist window appears with the criteria for the smart playlist.

For example, to modify the smart playlist so that items with a higher rating are picked, simply add another star or two to the My Rating criteria.

The Plays field is useful for limiting smart playlists to items you haven’t yet watched or listened to. Plays is a a play count. You have to play the last moment of the song or show (all the way to the end of the credits of a movie or TV show) for it to count as being played. So any songs or TV shows you’ve already started will show up on the list, but also mixed in with unplayed songs and shows.

To create a smart playlist that is limited to TV shows you haven’t finished watching, create these rules:

  1. Choose Media Kind, is, and TV Show (“Media Kind is TV Show”) from the pop-up menus for the first rule.
  2. Click the + button on the right of the first rule to create a second rule.
  3. Choose All from the pop-up menu in the Match xx of the Following Rules option at the top.
  4. Choose Plays, is, 0 (“Plays is zero”) for the second rule.

With this smart playlist, any TV shows you have not played to the finish appear in the list.



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