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Creating and Managing Smart Playlists

The basic purpose of a smart playlist is the same as a playlist: to contain a collection of content you can listen to and watch, put on mobile device, and so on. However, the path smart playlists take to this end is completely different from playlists. Instead of choosing specific content as you do for a playlist, you tell iTunes the kind of content you want in your smart playlist, and it chooses the content of the playlist for you.

For example, suppose you want to create a playlist that contains all your classical music. Instead of picking out all the songs in your Library that have the classical genre (as you would do to create a playlist), you can use a smart playlist to tell iTunes to include all music with Classical as the Genre tag. iTunes gathers all the music that has that genre and places it in a smart playlist.

Creating Smart Playlists

You create a smart playlist by defining a set of rules based on any number of tags. After you have selected the rules for the smart playlist, iTunes chooses content with matching tags and places them in the playlist.

One of the really cool things about smart playlists is that they can be dynamic; iTunes calls this live updating. When a smart playlist is set to be live, iTunes changes its contents over time to match changes to the content in your Library. If you add content with tags specified for the smart playlist or change the tags on existing content so that they match, the content is added to the smart playlist automatically. This makes smart playlists great for grouping content so that it reflects changes to your Library. (If this feature isn't enabled for a smart playlist, that playlist contains only the content that met the rules at the time the playlist was created.)

You can include multiple rules for a playlist, such as artist, genre, and so on. You can also create multiple sets of rules, with each set containing one or more rules.

You link multiple rules by the logical expression All or Any. If you use an All logical expression, all the rules must be true for content to be included in the smart playlist. If you use the Any option, only one of the rules has to be met for content to be included in the smart playlist.

You can create a smart playlist by completing the following steps:

  1. Select File, New Smart Playlist or hold down the Shift (Windows) or Option (Mac) key and click the Create Playlist button (which becomes the Create New Smart Playlist button when the Shift or Option key is pressed down).

    You see the Smart Playlist dialog box. It contains menus and boxes that you use to choose and define the rules for content to be included and check boxes and menus to set properties for the smart playlist. Initially, there is only one rule, but you can add as many rules as you want.

  2. Select the first tag on which you want the rule to be based in the Tag menu, which is on the far left in the dialog box. For example, you can select Artist, Genre, Rating, or Year, among many others. The Operand menu, which is to the right of the Tag menu, is updated so that it is applicable to the tag you selected. For example, if you select Artist, the Operand menu will include Contains, does not contain, is, is not, starts with, and ends with. You see other menus and boxes relevant to the tag you selected, too. For example, if you choose the Media Kind tag, you see two menus, but no boxes.
  3. Select the operand you want to use from the Operand menu. For example, if you want to match data exactly, select is. If you want the rule to be looser, select contains. The options you have depend on the tag you select.
  4. Type or select the rule's condition you want to match in the Rule box or menu. As you type, iTunes tries to match what you are typing based on content in your Library. The more you type, the more specific the rule is. The options you have depend on the specific tag you include in the rule.

    As an example, if you select Artist as the tag, select contains as the operand, and type Elvis, the rule looks for content where the Artist tag contains Elvis and finds all content where the Artist tag is Elvis, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, Elvisiocity, and so on. If you type Elvis Presley in the Rule box and select the contains operand, iTunes includes content whose artist includes Elvis Presley, such as Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley and His Backup Band, and so on.

    The example shown in Figure 8.3 has one rule based on the Artist tag—so far.

    Figure 8.3

    Figure 8.3 At this point, this smart playlist will contain any content with Switchfoot as part of the Artist tag.

  5. To add another rule to the smart playlist, click the Add Rule button (+). A new, empty rule appears under the first rule. At the top of the dialog box, the All or Any menu also appears.
  6. Select the tag the new rule uses. For example, if you want to include songs from a specific genre, select Genre from the menu.
  7. Select the operand you want to use from the Operand menu, such as contains, is, and so on.
  8. Type the rule you want to match in the Rule box or select the rule from the Rule menu. As an example, if you select Genre, type the genre from which the content in the playlist should come. As you type, iTunes tries to match the genre you type with those in your Library.
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8 to add more rules to the playlist until you have all the rules you want to include.
  10. Choose any from the Match menu to include content if any of the rules are true; choose all if all the rules must be true. The example shown in Figure 8.4 now has multiple rules, with each rule based on the Artist tag. You can mix and match tags among a set of rules, too.
    Figure 8.4

    Figure 8.4 This smart playlist finds any content with the listed artists as the Artist tag.

  11. To add a set of rules, click the Add Set of Rules button (...). The all/any menu appears along with an indented rule, which is the first rule in the set you are creating.
  12. Use the tools in the rule set to define each rule you want to include. These work the same as adding individual rules.
  13. Choose any for the rule set if content meeting any of the rules should be included; choose all if all of the rules in the set must be met.

    As you add individual rules and rule sets, predicting the results of a smart playlist gets more complicated. However, if you carefully think about each rule and how the rules are connected, you can get pretty accurate. As an example, try to predict the results of the smart playlist shown in Figure 8.5.

    Figure 8.5

    Figure 8.5 This smart playlist now has three individual rules and one rule set.

    The example playlist finds any content with the following terms included in the Artist tag: Switchfoot, 3 Doors Down, and The Outlaws. These are defined by the top three rules. The rule set finds content only if (because all is selected on the menu at the top of the rule set) that content's Artist tag contains Lynyrd Skynyrd, is rated with 4 or 5 stars, and is from the Rock genre. Because any is selected on the top menu, content that meets any of the three individual rules or the rule set is included.

  14. If you want to limit the amount of content in the playlist, check the Limit to check box; if you don't want to set a limit on the playlist's content, leave the check box unchecked and skip to step 18.
  15. Select the attribute by which you want to limit the playlist in the first menu. Your choices include the amount of time the playlist will play (minutes or hours), the size of the files the playlist contains (MB or GB), or the number of items (items).
  16. Type the amount appropriate for the limit you select in the Limit To box. For example, if you select GB on the menu, type the maximum size for the playlist in the box. This proves especially useful for creating playlist to move content onto a portable device or disc because you can configure the playlist to use a specific amount of the device's or disc's storage space.
  17. Select how you want iTunes to choose the content it includes based on the limit you selected from the Selected by menu. This menu has many options, including randomly, based on rating, when the content was added to your Library, and so on.
  18. If you want the playlist to include only songs whose check box in the Content pane is checked, check the Match only checked items check box. If you leave this check box unchecked, iTunes will include all items that meet the playlist's rules, even if you have unchecked their check boxes in the Content pane.
  19. If you want the playlist to be dynamic, meaning that iTunes updates its contents as the content in your Library changes, check the Live updating check box. If you uncheck this check box, the playlist includes only those items that meet the playlist's rules when you create it.
  20. Click OK to create the playlist. You move to the Source pane, the smart playlist is created and selected, and its name is ready for you to edit. Also, the content in your Library that matches the playlist's rules is added to it, and the current contents of the playlist are shown in the Content pane.
  21. Type the playlist's name and press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac). The smart playlist is complete.

Building a smart playlist based on just a few rules is simple. Creating sophisticated smart playlists with multiple rules and rule sets takes some practice. To build a complex smart playlist, add rules or rules sets one at a time and check the results each time you add the rule or rule set by clicking OK and looking at the contents of the playlist in the Content pane. This tells you whether the most recent rule or rule set has the effect you intend. If not, change the smart playlist, as described in the next section, to correct its rules and rule sets before adding the next rule or rule set.

Over time and with practice, you get the hang of how smart playlist rules and rule sets work and are able to get iTunes to create just about any set of content you want.

Changing Smart Playlists

To change the contents of a smart playlist, you change the smart playlist's rules; iTunes updates the contents of the playlist based on the changes you make to its rules.

Select the smart playlist in the Source pane and choose File, Edit Smart Playlist. The Smart Playlist dialog box appears; the title of the dialog box is now the name of the playlist, and the playlist's current rules are shown, as in Figure 8.6.

Figure 8.6

Figure 8.6 You can tell I am editing a smart playlist because the playlist's title appears at the top of the dialog box.

Use the techniques in the previous section to change the playlist's rules. You can change existing rules, add new rules or rule sets, remove rules, or change any of the playlist's settings. When you finish making changes, click OK. Your changes are saved, and the contents of the playlist are updated to match the current rules.

If live updating is enabled for a playlist, iTunes changes its contents as your Library's content changes. For example, if you download new content that meets the playlist's rules, it is added to the playlist automatically.

You can also change the order in which a smart playlist plays just like a playlist, such as sorting it by clicking a column heading. Over time, the contents of a smart playlist may change if live updating is enabled, which can impact any sorting you apply.

Deleting a Smart Playlist

To delete a smart playlist, select it on the Source list and press Delete. Confirm the deletion at the prompt, and the playlist is removed from the Source pane. Of course, this removes only the playlist; it has no effect on the content stored in your Library.

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