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Creating and Configuring a Playlist

Before you put any media files (music or video) on your iPod, organize them in iTunes. Doing so will make it far easier to find the media you want, both on your computer and on your iPod. The best way to organize that material is through playlists.

A playlist is simply a set of tracks and/or videos that you believe should be grouped in a list. The organizing principle is completely up to you. You can organize songs by artist, by mood, by style, by song length . . . heck, if you like, you can have iTunes automatically gather all your 1950s polka tunes with the letter z in their titles. Similarly, you can organize your videos by criteria including director, actor, and TV-series title. You can mix videos and music tracks within playlists as well, combining, say, music videos and music tracks by the same artist. As far as playlists are concerned, you’re the boss.

The following sections look at ways to create playlists.

Standard playlists

Standard playlists are those that you make by hand, selecting each of the media files you want grouped. To create a standard playlist in iTunes, follow these steps:

  1. Click the large plus (+) icon in the bottom-left corner of the iTunes window, or choose File > New Playlist (Command-N on the Mac, Ctrl-N in Windows).
  2. In the highlighted field that appears next to that new playlist in the Source list, type a name for your new playlist.
  3. Click an appropriate entry in the Source list—Music, Movies, TV Shows, or Podcasts—and select the tracks or videos you want to place in the playlist you created.
  4. Drag the selected tracks or videos to the new playlist’s icon.
  5. Arrange the order of the tracks or videos in your new playlist.

    To do this, click the number column in the main window, and drag tracks up and down in the list. When the iPod is synchronized with iTunes, this order is how the songs will appear in the playlist on your iPod.

    If the songs in your playlist come from the same album, and you want the songs in the playlist to appear in the same order as they do on the original album, click the Album heading.

Playlist from selection

You can also create a new playlist from selected items by following these steps:

  1. Command-click (Mac) or Ctrl-click (Windows) songs or videos to select the files you’d like to appear in the new playlist.
  2. Choose File > New Playlist from Selection (Command-Shift-N on a Mac, Ctrl-Shift-N on a Windows PC).

    A new playlist containing the selected items will appear under the Playlists heading in the iTunes Source list. If all selected tracks are from the same album, the list will bear the name of the artist and album. If the tracks are from different albums by the same artist, the playlist will be named after the artist. If you’ve mixed tracks from different artists or combined music with videos, the new playlist will display the name untitled playlist.

  3. To name (or rename) the playlist, type in the highlighted field.

Smart Playlists

Smart Playlists are slightly different beasts. They include tracks that meet certain conditions you’ve defined—for example, Cowboy Junkies tracks encoded in AAC format that are shorter than 4 minutes. Here’s how to work the magic of Smart Playlists:

  1. In iTunes, choose File > New Smart Playlist (Command-Option-N on the Mac, Ctrl-Alt-N in Windows).

    You can also hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Shift key on a Windows PC and then click the gear icon that replaces the plus icon at the bottom of the iTunes window.

  2. Choose your criteria.

    You’ll spy a pop-up menu that allows you to select items by various criteria—including artist, composer, genre, podcast, bit rate, comment, date added, and last played—followed by a Contains field. To choose all songs by Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello, for example, you’d choose Artist from the pop-up menu and then enter Elvis in the Contains field (Figure 4.5).

    Figure 4.5

    Figure 4.5 The inner workings of a smart playlist.

    You can limit the selections that appear in the playlist by minutes, hours, megabytes, gigabytes, or number of songs. You may want the playlist to contain no more than 2 GB worth of songs and videos, for example.

    You’ll also see a Live Updating option. When it’s switched on, this option ensures that if you add any songs or videos to iTunes that meet the criteria you’ve set, those files will be added to the playlist. If you add a new Elvis Costello album to iTunes, for example, iTunes updates your Elvis Smart Playlist automatically.

  3. Click OK.

    A new playlist that contains your smart selections appears in iTunes’ Source list.

You don’t have to settle for a single criterion. By clicking the plus icon next to a criterion field, you can add other conditions. You could create a playlist containing, say, only songs you’ve never listened to by punk artists whose names contain the letter J.

Folders for playlists

You can also file playlists in folders. By invoking the File > New Playlist Folder command, you can lump a bunch of playlists into a single folder. Folders are a great way to keep your playlists separate from your spouse’s or to gather groups of similar playlists (All My Jazz Playlists, for example).

At one time, folders didn’t translate to the iPod; however, the 3G and 4G iPod nanos and the iPod classics do offer nested playlist hierarchies. The iPod touch doesn’t. Instead, when you move a folder full of playlists into the iPod touch, all those playlists appear as separate entries in the touch’s Playlists screen.

Genius playlists

If you’re the kind of reader who starts at the beginning of a book and plows through to the end, you’re aware, from the previous chapter, of the Genius feature on the iPod. iTunes 8 and later can also create Genius playlists—playlists of music that iTunes believes to be related to other music in your library. You get those playlists this way:

  1. Switch on the Genius feature.

    When you install iTunes, you’re offered the choice to turn Genius on. Doing so requires an iTunes account. If you don’t have one, no worries. When you start the Genius process you’ll find an option for signing up for an account. If you neglected to turn on Genius, you can do so by choosing Store > Turn on Genius. If you’re connected to the Internet, iTunes will ask you to sign into your iTunes account.

  2. Wait while iTunes configures Genius.

    iTunes gathers information about your music library—specifically, the songs it contains—and sends that information to Apple’s severs anonymously. That information is compared with similar data from other users and placed in a database. A database file that contains the relationship data is sent back to your computer.

  3. Create a Genius playlist.

    Select a track in your iTunes Library, and click the Genius button in the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window. iTunes will create a new playlist of 25 songs (by default) that should go well with the track you selected. You can ask Genius to create a longer version of this playlist by making a larger choice from the Limit To pop-up menu at the bottom of the window; your choices are 25, 50, 75, and 100 songs. You can also click Refresh to ask Genius to try again.

  4. Save the playlist.

    When you click the Save Playlist button at the top of the window, iTunes creates a playlist named after your source track—A Common Disaster, for example. You can return to any Genius playlist you’ve created and change the Limit To settings as well as refresh the playlist.

  5. Expose the Genius sidebar.

    Click the Sidebar icon in the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window to display the Genius sidebar, which is designed to recommend related music from the iTunes Store (Figure 4.6).

    Figure 4.6

    Figure 4.6 The Genius sidebar.

At the tip of the sidebar, you’ll find entries that include top albums by the currently playing artist, top songs you’re missing, iTunes Essentials collections that include the artist, and a list of tracks by related artists. Next to the Top Songs You’re Missing and Recommendations selections you’ll see both a Preview button (denoted by an eighth note) and a Buy button. To audition 30 seconds of a track, just click the Preview button. If you like what you’ve heard and would like to own the track, click Buy. In the resulting dialog box you’ll be prompted for your Apple ID and password. Enter that info and click the Buy button, and the track downloads to your computer.

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