iTunes is an amazing piece of software. It's simple yet complex, powerful, yet fun to use. Sadly, I suspect that most people are missing out on some of its best features.
Want to listen to your Jazz mp3s without having to dig through your library for those songs? Want a playlist of your favorite songs that updates itself? How about a playlist for acoustic music? Sure, you could just make a new playlist and add the songs to it... but as your library gets bigger and bigger, there's a much easier way to have iTunes play exactly what you're in the mood for.
The trick is to use a combination of song ratings, genre and categories to have iTunes automatically generate "Smart Playlists" that update themselves.
I've had a lot of people ask me how I set my iTunes up, so I thought I'd pass along the info in hopes it might help someone else. Maybe you?
Set Up Your Library
First of all, go to your iTunes library and set up how you want it to look. There's a list of info across the top of the song list... Name, Artist, Album, Genre, Rating, etc. If you right-click on this info toolbar, you'll get a list of view-options to view or not view. Make sure you have Genre, Grouping and Ratings selected to view because we'll be using them. Personally, I use "Date Added" a lot as a quick way to see what songs I've recently added. I'd recommend selecting that one too.
You can drag these columns to put them into whatever order you want them in.
Assign a rating to each of your songs. Click the rating field for the song and select one to five stars.
If you're not already using ratings, you can make the process of rating all of your songs easier by highlighting lots of songs and setting the rating for all of them in one click. Click on the artist field and highlight all songs by Wilco to then rate them four stars. Or click the genre field, and highlight all 80's songs, changing them to two stars...
Here's an often under-used feature of iTunes. By assigning your own custom categories to songs, you can tailor your music to match your tastes. I use the "grouping" field for these custom categories. Grouping was originally intended to keep different movements of a piece of classical music together, but I find it far more useful for creating my own categories and/or sub-genres.
Here's an example: I like acoustic music. So, if a song is acoustic, I'll type the word "acoustic" in the song's grouping field. This makes it really easy to create a playlist of only acoustic music, or maybe only acoustic music that isn't R&B, or acoustic music from the 90s and 00s.
I also like to flag coffeehouse type songs. I label them as "coffee" in the grouping field. I also have a group of soft songs for the sake of having good night-music.
The difference between grouping and genre is that songs from a genre can fall into different groups, including multiple groups.
For example, on the new Death Cab For Cutie CD, I added the following info in the grouping field for the song I Will Follow You Into The Dark:
acoustic coffee soft
It'll all make sense with this final step:
A playlist is just an empty menu you drag songs into. Those are the songs that play, in the order you choose. Pretty simple.
Smart playlists are different. With a smart playlist, you create a rule. Any song that fits that rule gets added automatically to the playlist. If you're like me and have thousands of songs, smart playlists are a great way to have iTunes automatically pick songs for you based on your own criteria.
In your iTunes menu, under File, select "New Smart Playlist"
A dialog-box pops up, asking you to make a playlist rule. By combining rules, you get your huge library pared down to your specific tastes.
Here are the Smart Playlists I listen to the most (with the playlist name in all caps):
In other words, this smart playlist filters out certain genres, and excludes any songs I've rated as no stars. Out of the 9,320 songs on my Mac, 4432 are currently in this playlist.
I usually keep this playlist around 500 songs. These are my all time favorites and my new music. Whenever I load a new CD into iTunes, I usually rate all songs as five stars. Then, as I tire of hearing one, I lower its rating.
I've got around 900 songs in this playlist.
That last Smart Playlist is great for listening to my favorites by a certain artist. Tori Amos has lots of music I enjoy, and lots that... well... not so much. By using a smart playlist, iTunes automatically selects all of her songs rated at whatever I want. Two stars or higher, for example.
I now have a list of Smart Playlists that pick music for me, based on my own tastes and preferences.
If I want favorites and new music, I listen to FIVES.
If I want a collection of all kinds of songs from my entire collection, I listen to A LITTLE OF A LOT
If I want to listen to Wilco, I'll edit ONE ARTIST and have it filter out all unrated songs... or maybe I'll have it filter out anything I've labeled as SOFT to keep the music from sounding too sleepy for mid afternoon.
...and that's pretty much it.
The real power of iTunes, in my opinion, is the ability to combine categories in these smart playlists. I've listened to music differently ever since I first discovered this. Maybe you will too...
This is great! Thanks a million!::::: | May 19, 2006 8:19 AM
One of the more well rounded posts discussing the personalization of the iTunes listening experience. You should also look into the "Sort" feature as well.::::: | October 21, 2007 7:21 AM