Taming iTunes — Ratings And Smart Playlists

Over the years, iTunes has become an Apple fan’s go-to application. Sync devices, buy apps, download movies, or listen to music; it’s the central hub for everything iOS and media related. It’s actually an extremely powerful tool, but not a lot of people know how to use it. Here at Macgasm, we’ve started a new Taming iTunes series, finding ways for you to take back control.

As a lifelong musician and lover of music, I’ve acquired quite a bit of songs over my lifetime. Over 21,000 at the time of this writing, and always climbing. For years, I struggled to find a way to organize the songs I really enjoyed, and weed out those I didn’t like. I used to drag-and-drop onto a “Favorite Songs” playlist, but if I forgot, I was hosed. About a year and a half ago, I came up with a great solution: use ratings and smart playlists.

Here’s what I do. Every song that I acquire gets set with a three star rating. Then, as I listen to a song, I rate it up or down depending on how much I like it. Four and five stars for songs I like or love, or two and one stars for songs I don’t like or songs that make me want to jab ice picks into my eardrums. I’ve then created smart playlists looking for songs with the various ratings, and use those to enjoy my listening experience.

Here’s how to set it up:

1) Enable ratings for your playlists. (View > View Options…, select Ratings)

2) Establish your beginning rating. I started by doing a select-all, right-click, Rating > 3 stars. If you have songs you know are your favorites already, you can assign them 4 or 5 stars as desired. Same with songs you don’t really like.

3) Make your playlist. I’ve got three that are my “baseline” playlists.

The first is my “top rated” playlist, which I referenced back in one of my first Macgasm articles. Anything with four or five stars goes in here, and it’s what I listen to a lot of the time.

The second is my “decent music” playlist. This contains four and five star songs, as well as three star songs. Since the bulk of my library is three stars, this is good for helping me work through my library and find more songs I love.

The last one is my “recent additions” playlist. I added the XXX to drop it to the bottom of the list and isolate it (my pinky sucks, so ZZZ is hard to type). Anything new that doesn’t have many plays gets added here.

And there you have it. Now your music is more organized, allowing you to enjoy your listening experience more! These are obviously just baseline settings, and you should feel free to tweak this setup to customize your own desires. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use an app like Keyboard Maestro to assign short keys to each rating, allowing you to assign ratings on the fly. I use Ctrl-F1 to F5.
  • Add playlists that cater to specific genres. I have a playlist that filters out only music good for playing at church, so I have something to go on the sound system as people walk in on Sundays. Conversely, I have a playlist that has everything except my church music on there.
  • Add a “bad songs” playlist, sorted by artist. Find the groups you don’t like to listen to, so you can easily prune your collection.
  • Use 0 stars for songs you’ve never listened to, and set up a custom playlist with just these songs. That way, you know exactly what songs you need to rate.

The possibilities are endless, and my tips are just a starting block. How do you organize your library? Let us know in the comments.

Also: do you have another idea for a topic for Taming iTunes? Drop us a comment or hit us up on Twitter so we can cover it!

Nic Lake
Nic is a technology enthusiast with a passion for good music, good coffee, and good conversation. He is not responsible for your lack of a sense of humor. He can be found blogging on his website or tweeting way too… Full Bio