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Trick Out Your iPhone with These Smart Playlists

iphone.pngAs I mentioned previously, i received an iPhone for this past Christmas. While I really love it, having to go from a 60gb iPod which held all of my music to having only 8gb of space took some getting used to. I started out by hand-picking various albums and tracks and changing the contents each night in preparation for the next day. It got to be pretty arduous, needless to say, and I was only listening to about 15% of my music, and it was almost entirely tracks that I really liked. In other words, roughly 85% of my music was sitting quietly in iTunes with very little hope of making it onto my iPhone. I sought a way to change all that…

Being a big fan of the Macbreak Weekly podcast, I’d heard Andy Ihnatko discuss his fantastic book, iPhone Fully Loaded. Wanting to really get everything I could out of my new toy, I ordered myself a copy (great book, highly recommended). One of the best chapters in the entire book is “How to Make 8 Gigabytes Seem Like 80″, which directly addressed the problem I was having with the music rotation. So, a good bit of what I’ll share below has been built upon the tips given by Andy in his book (which you should go buy).

So, after toying around with the capabilities of Smart Playlists in iTunes, I’ve come up with those listed below. The goal being a well-rounded snapshot of your library that changes regularly to keep things fresh.

Before we dig in, a couple of points:

  • My iPhone is the 8gb model, so the lists below are tailored to that amount of storage. If you have one of the newer 16gb models, you can safely double the size of each list’s allocation (or tune to taste).
  • It’s a good idea to make sure the genre is properly filled in for each track, though not necessary to make use of the lists below. The most obvious benefit is the ability to shuffle an entire genre, which is something I frequently do.
  • Obviously, this entire post assumes you’ve got more music than will fit on the 8gb iPhone. If you only have 5gb of music, well, you can just stop here :)
  • Rate your music! Once you get into the habit of rating songs as they come on, you’ll build a nice little data baseline for building innumerable playlists later on. It really is a great habit to get into!

Now then – to the lists!

Unrated Tracks (6gb) – This one will be the largest and is especially useful if you haven’t rated many (or any) of your tracks. I like to filter out all of the non-music content (audiobooks and stand-up comedy, specifically) so I’m not jolted out of a music-laden haze by Stephen Colbert reading his latest book. Here’s my current configuration:

Unrated Playlist

Greatest Hits (100 items or so) – Once you’ve spent a good amount of time playing through the previous list (and rating the songs as you go), you’ll start having more and more tracks with 4- or 5-star ratings. You don’t want these songs to be perpetually excluded from the rotation just because they’ve been rated, so create yourself a little playlist with a hundred or so tracks with really high ratings. That way, there will always be a good collection of stuff you know you like, even if the first list drew you a bunch of duds. My config for this list:

Greatest Hits

Second Chances (100 items or so) – These are the tracks to which you may have assigned poor ratings. Granted, you may actually not like them very much, but isn’t it also possible that you were in a crappy mood when you rated these songs? We’re looking for low play count and low skip count (as well as low rating, obviously). The idea is that these tracks get a second chance to make a good impression:

Second Chances

Death Row (no limit) – This is where tracks go to die, the songs that, based on your listening habits, should be considered candidates for deletion from your library. If you’ve rated a song low (say, 2 stars or less) and have skipped it a sufficient number of times, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you don’t like that particular song (and there’s nothing wrong with that – honestly). This one will not be added to the iPhone, in case that wasn’t clear :)

Death Row

iPhone Master (limit to 7gb) – One of the often-unsung features of iTunes Smart Playlists is the ability to nest them, and this is the perfect way to see this capability in action:

iPhone Master

This is where the true magic happens. Now, all you have to do is listen (and rate!) normally and each time you sync, you’ll have a different selection of tracks to experience (again, perhaps).

Note: Note that in each of the list dialogs pictured above, the “Live updating” box is always checked. This is *paramount* to this whole system working right. If you leave this box unchecked, then your playlists will never change after their initial creation. But checking those boxes ensures that any plays and ratings you applied since your last sync will be factored into the generation of the appropriate list, and that your lists will be regularly updated with different content.

Happy listening!

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