Friday, September 10, 2010

iTunes is smart, but it's no genius

Time for a hymn?  Today's Tech Gospel is about a feature in iTunes that not many people take full advantage of.  The Smart Playlist.  I don't know about most of you, but I think the "Genius" feature in iTunes feels more like a retarded monkey clicking away at my playlist with bizarre song choices.  It works most of the time, but every now and then, it feels like the DJ fell asleep at the booth.

I prefer having a little more control over my playlists, but I'm personally too lazy to always change songs.  I do like hearing songs I haven't played in a while, but I also have a set of favorites that I always like listening to.  So what's the balance between manually selecting songs, your favorite few, random (aka genius), and adding new songs?

Smart Playlists

This isn't a new feature of iTunes, but one that is often overlooked.  It's much simpler to just drag a song into a new playlist or create a new one with songs you already like.  That's fine if you only have a few songs.  Once your library passes 500, it kinda gets messy.

A Smart Playlist is a playlist that can sort songs given certain rules that you define.  For example, I have master playlists of each genre that I like, Alternative, Rock, Metal, etc.  But Christmas songs that also fall under these genres are NOT included in these master lists since I want those under just one Christmas folder.

Songs can be cross posted under different SPs as well, like if a song is classified as both classical and instrumental, it can be sorted into two SPs.  A classical and an instrumental one.  The Instrumental SP may contain other genres as well, not just classical music.

You can also create a SP that sorts all songs recently played, or most often played.

for each genre
or artist.

Most often played
or least often played.

Latest added (this is a default Smart Playlist in iTunes)

Or almost anything else that you prefer.

And even if the older iPod Shuffles can't handle playlists, that doesn't mean they can't benefit from Smart Playlists.  I have a Smart Playlist just for my 2nd gen Shuffle.  It automatically loads 1GB worth of songs, distributed in 100MB per genre.

It takes a while to define the rules.  You can have more than one, and sub-rules for every main rule.  For example you can tell a Smart Playlist to include all songs by John Mayer that you recently played, but not from his Room For Squares album.  Then limit it to the last 100 songs that fit that description.

The advantage of Smart Playlists vs regular ones is that with the right set of rules, you don't have to keep making new playlists.  They constantly change, update, rearrange, add and remove based on what you tell it are your listening habits.  Not a 'best guess' effort.

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