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Create and Configure a Playlist

Before we put any music and videos on your iPod, let's organize them in iTunes. Doing so will make it far easier to find the music and videos you want, both in iTunes and on your little portable pal. The best way to organize that material is through the use of playlists.

A playlist is simply a group of tracks and videos that you believe should be gathered together 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 create a playlist based on tracks that contain the letter z and a prime number. And you can organize your videos by director, actor, or TV series. In the case of music videos, you can plunk those videos in with music tracks by the same artist. As far as playlists are concerned, you're the boss. Let's look at ways to create those playlists.

Standard playlists

Standard playlists are those that you make by hand. To create one in iTunes, follow these steps:

  1. Click the large plus-sign (+) button in the bottom-left corner of the iTunes window, or choose File > New Playlist (Command-N on the Mac, Ctrl+N in Windows).
  2. Enter a name for your new playlist in the highlighted field that appears next to that new playlist in the Source list (FIGURE 3.6).
    Figure 3.6

    Figure 3.6 Naming a 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. After you've dragged the material you want into your playlist, arrange its order: 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 is the order in which 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 in which 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. Select the songs and/or videos you'd like to appear in the new playlist.
  2. Choose File > New Playlist from Selection (Command-Shift-N on a Mac; there's no keyboard shortcut for this in the Windows version of iTunes).

    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 albums or music tracks and videos, a new playlist bearing the name "untitled playlist" will appear.

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

Smart Playlists

Smart Playlists are slightly different beasts. These playlists include tracks that meet certain conditions you've defined—for example, OutKast 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 click the Gear icon that replaces the Plus button 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.

    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 5 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-sign (+) button next to a criterion field, you can add other conditions. You could create a playlist that contains only songs that you've never listened to by punk artists whose names contain the letter J.

iTunes includes six Smart Playlists: 90's Music, My Top Rated, Recently Added, Recently Played, and Top 25 Most Played, and Music Videos. These playlists have the Live Updating option enabled, which makes it possible for them to update dynamically as conditions change (when you rate more songs, play different tunes, or play other tunes more often, for example).

To see exactly what makes these playlists tick, Mac users can Control-click (or right-click) a Smart Playlist and choose Edit Smart Playlist from the resulting contextual menu. Windows users simply right-click a playlist to see this command.

Organize playlists in folders

You can also file playlists in folders. By invoking the File > New Folder command (Shift-Option-Command-N for the Mac and Shift+Ctrl+N in Windows), 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).

Folders don't translate to the iPod, however, as it's incapable of creating nested folders. When you move a folder full of playlists into the iPod, all the songs within all those playlists appear in a single playlist that bears the folder's name.

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