Playlists are the heart of iTunes and the iPod's advanced playback features, and smart playlists are the quintessence of playlists. While regular playlists let you add songs and set their order manually, you need to do all the dragging and dropping yourself. Smart playlists let you set up rules and then sit back and let iTunes do the searching, filling the playlists with tracks that meet your desires. Here's a handful of smart playlists to show you some of the subtle ways you can have your Mac choose your songs for you.
Making smart playlists
It's easy to make both normal and smart playlists. To make the former, just click on the plus (+) icon below the iTunes Source list; a new playlist will be added to the list. Change its name, and drag tracks to it. To make a smart playlist, hold down the Option key and click on the gear button (which was the plus button before you pressed the Option key). You'll see a window where you choose items such as Artist, Album, Size, Bit Rate, and so on; then verbs, such as Contains, Is, Does Not Contain; and, in many cases, a text field where you can enter information or another menu where you choose from certain types of items.
For example, if you haven't deleted the default Recently Added playlist from your iTunes library, Option-click on it and you'll see the following rules: Last Played Is In The Last 2 Weeks, and Podcast Is False. The Live Updating box is checked, so iTunes updates the playlist to reflect what you've played since you created the playlist. (If you don't check this box, you'll have a list of music played in the last two weeks from when you created it, or from when you unchecked Live Updating, whichever is later.) You can also limit the number of items the playlist contains by number, time or size, and have iTunes choose items at random, by album, by artist, by rating, or by other conditions.
Back up iTunes Store purchases
Here's a simple playlist that lets you find all your iTunes purchases, then use it for a backup of new purchases as you add them. Create a rule where Kind Contains Protected, then click on the plus (+) icon to the right of this rule, and another rule appears. In the second rule, choose Kind Contains Purchased. When you added the second rule, a popup menu was added above the rules allowing you to choose to have the playlist match all the rules or any of them; in this case, choose Any. Click on OK, then name the playlist something like iTunes Purchases. If you look in the Kind column in the playlist, you'll see two kinds of files: Purchased AAC Audio File and Protected AAC Audio File. The former are iTunes Plus files and the latter are older files with DRM, as well as audiobooks and videos.
You can back up all your purchased content now, if you want, by clicking on Burn Disc (at the bottom-right of the iTunes window) and choosing Data CD; this will copy the original files to a disc, rather than creating audio CDs.
After you've backed up your music, create a new smart playlist with the following rules:
Playlist Is [choose the playlist you just created]
Date Added Is After [the date you created the first playlist]
As time goes on, only tracks you purchased from the iTunes store after the date of your initial backup will be added to this playlist. Back it up from time to time, and, each time you do, change the Date Added to reflect the new date. Each time, your second playlist will contain only un-backed-up files, and you can burn new discs to make sure all your purchases are backed up.
If you rip your own audiobooks to CD, you know that they can contain many files. You can either join files to make one per CD, or rip the many files each disc contains. In either case, there's a nifty way to make a smart playlist that will automatically play the next file you haven't heard and save the location of where you stopped off. But since I already described this in a previous article, check out our story on ripping and playing audiobooks to see how to do this.
Spot skipped songs
If you use the iPod's Shuffle Songs feature, you may come across some songs you don't want to listen to at a given time. So you press the Next button to skip them. You may not know that your iPod keeps track of songs you skip, adding them to a Skip Count tag, just like your Play Count tag. You can make a smart playlist to see which songs you've skipped and how many times. Use the following rule:
Skip Count Is Not 0
If you find that you skip certain songs a lot, you might want to remove them from your iPod; it may be that you just don't like them and never got around to culling them from your collection. While you're in this playlist, you can also choose to reset the Skip Count if you want; just select some tracks, then Control-click and choose Reset Skip Count.
Find missing tags
Tags are important to keep your iTunes library organized, and it can be useful to set up some playlists to check that all your files are tagged. Set up playlists where Album Is [blank field], Artist Is [blank field], Genre Is [blank field], or Composer is [blank field], or any other field that you need to fill in. You can then find any tracks missing these tags, and enter them as needed.
Keep track of digital booklets
Why not keep all your digital booklets in a smart playlist? Set up one where Kind Contains PDF and have them all in one place.
So with these smart playlists to help you get some idea of the tricks you can use in iTunes, you can certainly come up with more on your own. Feel free to post your favorite smart playlists in the comments to this article.
This story, "A Salmagundi of Smart Playlists" was originally published by Macworld.