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iTunes, Ratings, and Smart Playlists


January 30, 2008 by brian

iTunes ScreenshotFor the large number of people that use iTunes as a media library, I’m baffled to hear how few people actually use the rating feature. To help people see the benefit, I thought I’d write a little on how I’ve implemented smart playlists, many of which are based on ratings. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to rate your entire library. I’ll first discuss my rating structure:

  • 5 stars: my favorite songs at the given moment – these are usually ones that I could listen to over and over again
  • 4 stars: great songs
  • 3 stars: good songs
  • 2 stars: mediocre songs – ones that I want to hear infrequently
  • 1 star: songs that I don’t have any interest in listening to again, or tracks that I wouldn’t want placed into a music mix, like a stand-up comedian or skit from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
  • 0 stars: not rated – doesn’t mean I don’t want to listen to it, but I just haven’t listened to it at all or enough to rate it

When I first started rating my music, my rating spectrum was much more symmetrical. I quickly realized that I needed more variation for the music that I liked, and I’ve been using this modified rating structure since. After the break, I’ll discuss some smart playlists I’ve created.

As you’ll see below, some of my playlists build upon one another. I’ll discuss them in the following order: Good New Music, New Selections, Good New Selections, Automagic Mix, and Highly Rated Mix.

Good New Music

In this smart playlist, I have the following criteria:

iTunes - Good New Music

What I’m doing with this playlist is trying to capture music that is new to me and I already enjoy. I’ve added the comment rule as a way to get rid of an old song that I just added to my iTunes library. I just need to add the %old% tag to the comment field of a song to keep it from entering the list.

New Selections

I’ve found a number of situations where I got some new music, but didn’t really listen to it much at first. Later, I release I want to listen to the CD but it’s no longer in my Recently Added playlist. For these instances, I have the “New Selections” playlist, which is static and not smart. I can add the tracks to this playlist and be sure that they’re tranferred to my iPod.

Good New Selections

As you might assume, this playlist builds off of the previous one. It’s goal is to capture the songs I like from the New Selections list. This smart playlist has the following conditions:

iTunes - Good New Selections

Automagic Mix

This playlist is my favorite because it incorporates my favorite music at the moment and the fresh music that I like. I find myself listening to it at least once a day. As the 5 star songs get old, I simply reduce the rating. Here are the conditions:

iTunes - Automagic Mix

Highly Rated Mix

This playlist is a good revolving list of great songs. As you can see below, it includes the 4 and 5 star songs that I haven’t listened to in some time:

iTunes - Highly Rated Mix

That concludes the example playlists. You may find that certain aspects of this configuration don’t work for you. I realize that people can have very different music listening habits. If anyone has some iTunes techniques that they enjoy, please share them in the comments.


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