The Perfect iTunes Playlist?

The Perfect iTunes Playlist?
Girl with headphones

Since Barney, my beloved iPod, came into my life twenty months ago, I've been trying to concoct the perfect iTunes "smart playlist" to match my default listening preferences, and after much tinkering and experimentation, I think I finally have it.

See, whilst my friend John is happy to listen to the entire contents of his iPod on shuffle mode, that's just a little bit too random for my liking.  Besides, there are now a whopping 12,660 tracks on Barney, so some kind of filtering is necessary in order to avoid listening to the rubbish and focus on the good stuff whilst still raising my awareness of new or long-forgotten tracks.  It's proven to be a difficult balancing act.  I also wanted to automate the process as much as possible - previous attempts have relied too much on me keeping a standard playlist of "current faves" or "new stuff" up to date, which was too time-consuming.

So, what I've done is identified the "categories" of track I generally want to listen to (of which there are four), created a smart playlist for each, and concatenated these into one über-playlist.  Think of it as four SQL queries combined with a UNION!

Category 1 - New Music (to me)

First and foremost, I like listening to the new music that I've acquired most recently, so I set up a playlist to filter out all the tracks that have been added to our iTunes library within the last four months, with a few caveats:

  • The tracks have to be in my master sync list (this determines which of the 15,023 tracks in our iTunes library are copied onto my iPod, and prevents me from having to listen to any of Jocelyn's purchases!)
  • No tracks which I've rated as a mere one-star or two-star.
  • No Christmas music.  It's May!
  • No Classical or Post Rock - when I'm in the mood for these genres I'll listen to them, but it just doesn't work for me to hear a lengthy Beethoven or Godspeed! You Black Emperor track sandwiched between pop songs of a more standard length.
  • Nothing that I've listened to within the last couple of days.  Variety is the spice of life.

Category 2 - Other Recent Music

This playlist is designed to find more music released in recent years which doesn't get picked up by the first playlist.  So, I have set up a playlist to identify those tracks released in 2005, 2006 or 2007.  This playlist then pulls out a random sampling (currently 200) of these, as long as they aren't already in the first playlist, and haven't been heard within a week:

Category 3 - Stuff I Like

Listening to new music all day long can be exhausting - occasionally I need to hear something familiar, so this playlist draws out a random sample (again, currently 200) of my collection which I've rated three-star or higher, and which haven't already fallen into either of the first two playlists.  Again, I apply the usual genre restrictions, and avoid choosing anything which I've heard within the last week:

Category 4 - "Never" Heard

Finally, the fourth playlist is designed to expose me to a random sample of 200 tracks which I've "never" heard before (as far as iTunes is aware - in reality this might be more likely to contain tracks from old CDs which I've not listened to since importing them into iTunes):

That's it!  Once combined together into yet another smart playlist, this is, from my point of view, as close to a perfect playlist as I've been able to devise so far.  It was this playlist that generated (with the exception of the initial Hanselminutes Podcast) my lengthy listening experiences of 16th April.  In fact for the past month I've been listening to this more or less exclusively.

Whaddya think John - beats a simple shuffle, surely?