The iTunes Library contains all the music, movies, podcasts and audio books you’ve added to iTunes. It acts as a master list of all the media you have in your collection. Click on the Music item, for example and you’ll see everything classified as music within iTunes.
In iTunes 7 the Music list is always displayed, but look at the General Preferences to optionally display other items, such as movies, podcasts, radio stations and audiobooks.
A list of all tracks is fine, but you may sometimes like to listen to a set of your favourite tracks, or tracks by a certain artist, or tracks you haven’t played recently. Playlists make it easy to do that.
A Playlist is an arbitrary list of some items that exist in the Library. It’s like jotting down names on a piece of paper. You can add tracks or remove them at will — whatever you do to a Playlist doesn’t affect the content of the Library. Deleting a track from a Playlist is no more than crossing out a name on the list.
There are two types of Playlist: Manual and Smart. The contents of a manual playlist only change when you deliberately edit it. A smart playlist can notice a newly acquired file and add the track if it meets certain criteria.
To make a manual playlist go to the iTunes File menu and choose New Playlist (or press Command N). A new Untitled Playlist is created and displays in the Source Listing (the left hand column in iTunes) with a blue music note icon.
Type a name for this playlist, for example, Morning WakeUp. Now select tracks from the Library and drag them on top of the Morning WakeUp playlist item. That adds them to the playlist.
Screenshot 1: My Morning WakeUp playlist in iTunes. Screenshot 2: The alert when you remove a track from a playlist.
To add more tracks to the playlist drag them onto the Playlist’s icon. To remove a track from a playlist select the track in the Playlist and press the Delete key on the keyboard. An alert message appears. Click the Remove button to proceed or Cancel if you didn’t mean to delete that track from the playlist. Remember: the file will remain on your computer and in the master Music listing.
Another way to create a manual playlist is to first select tracks and then either press Command Shift N or drag the tracks in bulk onto a blank spot in the Source column on the left. This creates a new Untitled Playlist containing the dragged tracks.
Screenshot 3: I’m dragging four tracks as a group onto a blank area in the Source column. Screenshot 4: The new Untitled Playlist contains the tracks I dragged.
Manual playlists are quick and easy to create, but they can involve a lot of clicking and dragging. A more complex, but potentially even easier option is a Smart Playlist. A Smart Playlist is an exceptionally powerful tool.
Would you like a Playlist for your favourite tunes, or tunes you haven’t heard for a while, or how about favourite Reggae tracks you haven’t heard in the last 5 days and which are rated with more than 3 stars? You need a smart playlist.
Choose New Smart Playlist… from iTunes File menu or press Command Option N. Now you have some thinking work to do: you need to come up with a set of Rules.
Suppose you’d like a playlist containing all tracks containing Janis as part of the artist’s name. Type Janis into the text box. As you type, iTunes tries to help by suggesting artist names from your Library. Once you have the correct name entered, click the OK button. A new Playlist with a purple cog icon appears in the Source Column.
Screenshot 5: Smart Playlists need criteria to work by. Screenshot 6: This Smart Playlist selects tracks by the name of the artist. Screenshot 7: The named Smart Playlist icon in the Source column.
One interesting thing is that the Live updating checkbox is ticked by default. If you add another track to your Library by Janis it will automatically be added to your Smart Playlist. If you’d made a Manual Playlist for tracks by Janis you’d have to add any new tracks by hand.
Delete a playlist by selecting it in the Source column and pressing the Delete key, or Control click on the playlist icon and choose Delete from the contextual menu.
That’s a pretty boring way to use Smart Playlists, though. They become infinitely more useful if you add criteria. And, interestingly enough, you can use any playlist as a criterion in another playlist.
Edit an existing playlist, or create a new one. Choose from the pop-ups and enter text as necessary to create the first rule. To add another rule click the plus symbol at the right-hand end of the line. An additional criterion line appears.
To edit an existing smart playlist Control click on the Playlist icon in the Source column and choose Edit Smart Playlist.
Any or all?
Before adding the new criterion though, stop and think. You have a major decision to make: will these two criteria be exclusive or inclusive? Do you want to use ANY of the criteria or ALL of them?
For example, would you like to select tracks that EITHER haven’t been played in the last 4 weeks OR are by Janis, or would you like to select only tracks that BOTH haven’t been played in the last 4 weeks AND are by Janis?
Screenshot 8: Apply Any or All criteria?
To select the former (more tracks) select Any from the pop-up at the top of the window. To narrow the selection, choose All from the pop-up. I find All more useful, especially for building complex rules.
Complex playlists h4>
Start by making some simple playlists and then you can go on to create complex playlists that rely on the simpler ones.
For example, you may have a ‘my-music’ playlist that excludes various tracks iTunes may refer to as music, but which you think are not. These could include recordings of birdsong and other ambient sounds, recordings of lectures, specialised tracks for relaxing or for encouraging sleep.
Screenshot 9 shows a complex set of rules I use for playing music tracks I haven’t often heard. It excludes various tracks that aren’t actually music (such as podcasts or ambient sounds such as recordings of birdsong), refers back to a playlist of spoken word items (such as recorded lectures), and so on.
Screenshot 9: A complex set of rules in a Smart Playlist.
Playlists create endless possibilities for matching mood and circumstance. they make it easy to select just the right track for any given moment. Experiment now.
This article was first published in Macguide magazine Issue #32 March / April 2007 and may have been modified from the original.