Sunday, March 16, 2008

Adam's Station: Smart Playlist for my iPhone

I was discussing Vietnamese iPhone imports with my friend and Madagui teammate Laurent last week. He said he was interested in getting one of the new 16GB iPhones. I didn't know they had 16GB iPhones. My response was that my 8GB iPhone was rarely full. You may think that I have a lame music collection, which may be true, but I do not have a small music collection. So how do I deal with the fact that I have a 30GB music library on my computer but only a an 8GB iPhone? The trick is just keeping the good stuff on your iPhone or iPod.

Smart Playlists to the Rescue

I would argue that a large percentage of any music collection (especially mine) is crap. The trick is just keeping the good stuff in a playlist and then syncing that playlist. iTunes has a really great feature called Smart Playlists. A smart playlist allows you to create a playlist that is automtically updated. In the mood for Madonna? You can make a playlist of all your Madonna songs. Just create a Smart Playlist of all songs where is Madonna the artist. Smart Playlists are dynamic, this means that when you buy that new Madonna album, all those new Madonna songs are automatically added to your Madonna smart playlist. Pretty cool huh?

Rate Often

Of course you don't want to really listen to Madonna all the time. You probably just want to listen to the good stuff in your library. How do you find the good stuff? Originally I solved this problem by creating a Smart Playlist of all songs that were rated 3 stars or higher. You can rate songs while listening to them on your iPod or you can rate them directly in iTunes. This is simple and works pretty well. You just need to spend some time rating songs and anything with a decent rating will show up on your playlist. There are a couple of problems with this approach. You probably have a lot more music in your library than you have time to rate. As a result, the playlist gets stale quickly. For a while I had two playlists, one with everything and another with my top rated songs (rated 3 stars or higher). When I got tired of the top rated lists, I would just listen to all the songs in random order. When I found a song that I liked, I would rate it with 3 or more stars, automatically adding it to my top rated list. This worked when I carried around my big 30 GB iPod with all my songs on it, but it was still annoying because so much of the overall library was made up of songs that I just didn't want to hear. I have a lot of kids music and classical music that I don't typically listen to.

My current solution is based on this article by Adam Knight. It involves four playlists. The first is called the Core 2 playlist. This is anything that you might reasonably care about. I create this by excluding music I know I won't want to listen to on a regular basis. You can see the definition of my Core 2 list below. First I exclude anything that has a one star rating. This allows me to banish a song by rating it with 1 star. This allows new, unrated music, to get onto the list. I also exclude non-music items from this list.

It took me a while to fine tune this list. I suggest creating a similar smart playlist and then looking it over. Try sorting it on Genre and then scanning down the Genres. Are there any weird Genres you don't want to have on your core list? If so, exclude them. You'll probably find a bunch of stuff that doesn't have a Genre setting. You may end up spending some time cleaning up your music collection. Note that you can change the genre of a whole group of songs by selecting the songs in your music library and then typing cmd-I and editing the genre field. (You can probably do the same on Windows by using control-I.)

Now that you have your core list, create two new playlists based on it. One is called Infuser. The Infuser list is made up of songs from your core list that haven't had much play. You can see mine below; it's made up of songs that have been played fewer than five times.

The next list is called Sprinkler. It has songs that you haven't listened to in a while, but you seem to like. My current Sprinkler list has core songs that haven't been played in the last two weeks but have a play count greater than 5. If I've listened to it five times, I probably don't hate it.

Finally let's mix these together to create Adam's Station. You can call yours what ever you like of course. I select songs from either list and order them by least recently played.

Now I setup my iPhone to simply sync the Adam's Station playlist. It will complains a bit since I'm syncing a Smart Playlist based on another playlist which isn't on the phone, but it still works. If I'm listening to a song on the road and I don't like it, then I banish it by giving it a rating of one star. If I find a song I like, I typically rate it with three or more stars, ever improving the old My Top Rated playlist.