Apr 27 2009
This is one of those "here’s my situation and what I did about it, if you’re even a little like my, you might give this a try" kind of tutorials.
I drive a half hour to 45 minute commute to work and I like to listen to my iPod and sing along with the music as I go until someone notices and laughs (then I pretend I’m talking to someone on my hands free cell phone …poking at the imaginary buttons on my dashboard sells the illusion, I think). The problem I had was that my iTunes library, though rather modest, is diverse and not all of the content is even music let alone stuff I’d want to sing along to.
Like anyone in this situation, I set up a playlist to hold all the music I like to listen to while driving. That was fine for a while, but as you probably realize, a playlist never changes. When I added music to my collection, I’d have to add it to any playlists I wanted it to be in by hand. To have a playlist automatically grab newly added music, it would have to be smart…like a Smart Playlist.
Smart Playlists gave me another problem. Smart as they are, they’re not bright enough to know that podcasts like Jonathan Coulton’s Thing A Week and Geoff Smith’s Ones and Os are actually music delivered via RSS–they only let me listen to them with other podcasts. If Iwas going to be able to rock out to Re: Your Brains or Digg the Code on my way to work, I was going to have to educate my Smart Playlists. It was an arduous task and maybe someone out there knows a way that makes this system seem even more laughably over complicated (and I certainly hope there is) but here’s what I did: I nested them …and then I made them even smarter.
Teach iTunes to look for audio by file type
The first playlist, which I titled "___Just the Audio", searches my whole iTunes Library for MP3, AAC and "MPEG audio file" formats. You may have to add a few other file formats depending on what kind of audio you have in your collection, but this worked for me.
Narrowing it down to Music
Next, I set up a Smart Playlist to weed out the Genres and other Playlists that I don’t want to listen to on the way to work. This Smart Playlist is a long list of "is not" rules that are ended with "Playlist is ___Just the Audio". I named this one "__Just the Music".
I was getting closer; I had all my music in one Smart Playlist. I still found that I was shuffling through to a lot of songs that I just didn’t want to hear. I was at a loss because iTunes doesn’t have a rule for "Kind is what I want to hear" …or does it?
Smarten up the Smart Playlist
iTunes does keep track of the songs you skip–even on your iPod. So I set up this Smart Playlist (named "_Skipped Songs") that keeps track of the songs that I’ve skipped more than four times in the last four months. To get add a point to a song’s Skip Count, you must hit the Next button no earlier than 2 seconds into the song and no later than 20 seconds in.
The smart part of this Smart Playlist comes when I apply it to one of the other ones.
The Smart Smart Playlist
This is the playlist I rock out to on the way to and from work.
Each file in my iTunes Library is first checked to make sure it is in fact an audio file, then it is compared to a list of genres and playlists that I don’t want to listen to with my list’nin’ music, and finally the song’s "permanent record" is checked to see if it is a "repeat offender" in that it has been skipped repeatedly in the last little while.
This keeps me from being bothered by music I always skip while not being so strict as to put a black mark on a song I just didn’t feel like listening to that day or one I skipped accidentally. It also gives every skipped song a bit of a probationary hearing so that they get another chance to win me over in the future.
Your milage may vary.
The audio file format types, the list of restricted genres and the "four skip/four month" thing will be factors that you will have to adjust to match your personal listening tastes, the size of your library and how fast you cycle through it. This works pretty well for me, but I expect I will be making adjustments to it in the future as new factors come to light.
The real lesson here is that Smart Playlists can be played off each other to make them smarter and to better suit your needs. It’s all good.