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iTunes Playlists for Fun & Profit

iTunes provides two types of playlists: Playlists and Smart Playlists.

For Playlists, you simply create a list, give it a name and manually add items as desired. You can also reorder the tracks within the list by dragging them into position. (This is the way CDs are created from iTunes.)

For Smart Playlists, items appear in the list according to the criteria specified. The criteria can be highly sophisticated.

To create a Smart Playlist, press Ctrl-Alt-N. A dialog box with a simple criteria will appear:

At this point the rules are very simple to understand. Additional rules may be added using the + button. However as the sophistication of the Smart Playlist needs to increase, so can the confusion. This is because iTunes refers to each line as a “Rule” and groups of Rules also as a “Rule”. Whereas it makes more sense to think of each line as a “Criteria”, and collections of Criteria as “Rules”.

For example, let's suppose you have a large iTunes library, and you want to make sure that when shuffling a playlist, some of the tracks you haven't heard for a while are given priority. Additionally, you want to also hear any new tracks which you haven't heard much of. Consider the following collection of Rules and Criteria:

The overarching structure of this Smart Playlist is three rules. Tracks are selected if they belong to any of the three rules. (This is specifed by the first Match [Any] of the following rules at the top.)

  • Each of the three rules consists of a collection of criteria, which tracks must match. (This is specified by the three [All] of the following rules.)

  • The first rule says, include any tracks which are Comedy or Spoken Word, which haven't been played for 24 months, and have been played less than 8 times.

  • The second rule says, include any tracks which were added in the last 12 months, have been played less than 3 times, but haven't been played in the last month.

  • The third rule complements the first rule by first excluding the Comedy and Spoken Word, and including tracks which haven't been played in the last 6 months, but which have been played less than 8 times.

  • Each rule contains a criteria to include only Music, to exclude Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts and so forth.

  • Comedy/Spoken Word have a separate rule so they are included in the playlist, but individual tracks appear less frequently (2 years as opposed to 6 months for other tracks).

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