One of iTunes' most powerful and useful features is Smart Playlists: dynamic, search-based lists of songs that save you the work of grouping tunes by hand. But with almost 40 fields to search against—from Album and Artist to Bit Rate and Category—there are thousands of possible Smart Playlist combinations. If you listen to music while you work, but don't want to waste time manually creating playlists in iTunes, today we've got our top 10 favourite Smart Playlists that will keep your tunes fresh and focused automatically.
10. Only Music
The base recipe for all your music listening needs in iTunes should be the "Music Only" Smart Playlist, which excludes podcasts, videos, PDF's, spoken word, and audio books from the rotation, leaving only tunes behind. Use this playlist in conjunction with the ones below to narrow down your music even further. (Hat tip to 43 Folders for suggesting even more thorough criteria on this playlist.)
9. Holiday/Seasonal Music
Avoid hearing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" in the middle of March with a well-tuned holiday music Smart Playlist that you can exclude from your current playlist during the other 11 months of the year. Just match the word "Holiday" and specific names of holidays (i.e., "Christmas") against the track name, album name, genre, or description. (Make sure you change "Match" rule to "any," not "all.") This same trick works well for Broadway musicals as well: usually the Artist name is "Original Broadway Cast" so "Artist contains Broadway" works in that scenario.
8. Not in the Last Week
Keep your tunes rotation fresh with a simple Smart Playlist that says "don't play anything I've heard already in the last week." I use this one in conjunction with Party Shuffle all the time—just set "Last Played" to "not in the last" then "1 week."
7. PDF's Only
iTunes can store more than just music and video files—it can also handle PDF documents. If you're organising your PDF library in iTunes, it's easy to create a Smart Playlist to separate your ebooks and scanned receipts from your media files. Just set the Kind to "PDF document."
Automatically create your very own yearly hits playlist with the right Smart Playlist criteria: specify the Date Added range as anywhere from January 1st to December 31st of the year in question, and set the Play Count to be larger than, say, 20. (Tweak that number to your liking to narrow down or expand the length of the list.) And there you have it—and instant list of your personal hits of that year.
5. Neglected Tunes
Funny thing about Party Shuffle—it'll serve up songs you've heard 5 times in the last month and neglect others with a sad Playcount of 0. Dig deep into your iTunes library and make sure you've heard everything with a Smart Playlist that contains only songs with a Playcount of 0. Combine this with the Music only playlist to narrow it down to, well, music only.
4. Not in This Folder
One of the lesser-known playlist features in newer versions of iTunes is the ability to create folders of playlists, and match against the folder name in playlist criteria. For example, all my audio books aren't tagged quite right, so I've got an "Audio Books" folder of playlists. Similarly, you can create folders for "personal genres"—like "College Favorites" or "Summer Camp '99." Then, when you create Smart Playlists, you can grab from or exclude from the folder itself. For example, a playlist called "Adulthood" might exclude tracks in the 80's playlist, as well as the "High School Flashback" and "College Favs" folders.
3. No Skippies
What, you've been too lazy to apply actual ratings to the music in your iTunes library? Chances are if you started to hear a song you didn't like, you skipped it. Use the Skip Count criteria to avoid songs you've avoided in the past. If you do rate your songs, Mac guy Merlin Mann suggests using the Skip Count and Ratings criteria to re-rate songs you thought you liked, but skipped anyway.
2. No Shorties
If you've acquired music from less-than-reputable sources over the years, chances are you've got a few cut-off tracks in your library, or maybe you've got a few short intros and outros. To weed out the songs that have been cut off or other short tracks, create a Smart Playlist that contains tracks longer than a certain amount of time (like 1 minute.) Combine this with your Music Only playlist (#10) to make sure you're only hearing full length songs.
When the single "Genre" field just doesn't go far enough to describe a track for you, add keywords to a song's Comments field that you can use later to make a Smart Playlist. For example, add the words "gym," "highschoolflashback," "boyrock," "mashup," or "danceparty" or any combination of those to a song's Comments field. Then, create a Smart Playlist that matches those "tags." Voila—instant High School Flashback playlist. (Note: you can also use the "Grouping" field to same effect, but the Comments field is stored within the MP3 and on your iPod. Thanks, Craig!)
What's your favourite iTunes Smart Playlist? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, also check out our previously posted iTunes power tips feature.