Friday, February 13, 2009

Auto playlists and music libraries

When i first got my ipod, i was disappointed a little. I had expected itunes to have some really cool syncing utility to get the best music on my ipod. Several things irked me about it though: if i tried to sync more music than would fit, nothing would get synced onto the ipod. At that point, i had to start building smart playlists that would get only 8GB of my music (actually a little less to account for games, photos, videos, etc.). I was also disappointed to find out that itunes didn't know which music i liked. I guess i've been spoiled by yahoo! music which learns the music i like based on my ratings and on how often i played or skipped the song. Out of the box, itunes did nothing to put my favorite music on my ipod. It was all manual! Being the perfectionist i am, i set out to make a set of auto playlists that would mine through my library and find my favorite music. I listen to my music on my ipod as well as on my laptop at work, so luckily those play counts sync. So, here are the playlists that i've created to do what i thought itunes would do for me. They're not perfect lists, but they get the job done.

First, i had to decide on a couple rules: If a song was rated with 4 or 5 stars, it is probably one of my favorites and should be on my ipod. If a song was unrated, that doesn't mean that i don't like the song, rather it means that i haven't gotten around to rating it. So, i needed a way to easily identify songs that i don't like (i've collected a lot of music over the years that i don't like and would like to weed out of my library). I decided that any song that has only 1 star should be considered a song that i don't like and a candidate for removal from my library. I also have to consider the fact that i have christmas music mixed into my library that i probably don't want this whole mechanism to apply to. Most of these playlists will filter out any music in the Christmas genre. I also consider global filters to exclude podcasts, movies, audio books, etc., but i haven't necessarily implemented them on all these playlists.

Playlist #1: Whitelist - this list contains any song that has been rated with 4 or 5 stars. I don't put any size limits on this playlist, this one contains my absolute favorites.

Playlist #2: Liked Songs - this list should contain any songs that i like based on play count. So, i look for any songs that aren't in the Whitelist and have a playcount of more than 10. This number is adjustable, i started with a value of 3 so that this list would have something in it. As my playcounts get higher and higher, i raise this number, but only once or twice a year. No size limits on this playlist either.

Playlist #3: New Items - this list should contain brand new items so i make sure to give them a chance at getting in my Whitelist or Liked Songs list. I look for any songs that have been added in the last month. I don't filter out items that make it into the Whitelist or Liked Songs list. The reason for this is that i often want to find some song that i recently acquired. This list contains those items whether or not it's been promoted to one of the other lists. Itunes isn't going to copy the song twice onto my ipod, so it doesn't take up any more space on the ipod. This list doesn't have any size limits either.

Playlist #4: Never been played - I needed to add this list later on because i discovered that songs that had never been played didn't get into the mix enough. I ended up having the same songs over and over. This list ensures that unexperienced music gets presented. If i like it, it will end up in the whitelist or liked songs list. If i don't, it'll end up in the blacklist (read on). No size limits on this list either.

Playlist #5: Other - This list is the catch all for all songs that don't appear anywhere else. It looks for any songs that aren't in playlists 1-4 and aren't blacklisted. This one does have a size limit. These first 5 playlists will comprise what ends up on the ipod. So i set the size limit to whatever will fit. If itunes freaks out and says it can't sync because i'm trying to put too much on my ipod, i simply reduce the size of this list.

Playlist #6: iPod List - This list simply contains all the songs that appear in any of the first five playlists. There's no need to limit the size of this playlist, but if you want, you can apply a limit that is the same as the capacity of your ipod. I don't like to do this because this is the list that i listen to when i'm listening to music on my computer.

Playlist #7: Blacklist-Auto - This is half of the blacklist. This is an attempt to identify music that i probably don't like based on skip count. It looks for any songs that have been skipped more than once, have a rating of less than 2, AND a playcount of less than 3. I had to tweak these numbers to meet my own tastes, but they work pretty well for me. The thing is, itunes doesn't increment the play count for a song until the end of the song. So if you only listen to half a song, the play count doesn't go up. Also, itunes doesn't increment the skip count until 4 or 5 seconds after the song starts playing. So if you quickly skip through a bunch of songs, none of their skip counts actually get incremented. It's actually fairly difficult for songs to get into this list because of this behavior.

Playlist #8: Blacklist - this is the other half of the blacklisting system. This playlist includes any songs that are in the auto blacklist OR have a rating of only 1 star. The idea behind this playlist is that i can look at this list and see items that i either want to save or delete. They are on the proverbial chopping block. If i want to save it, i need to give it a rating of 3 or above. If i want to delete it, just highlight it and press Delete while holding down the shift key. I only have to check this list every or every other month.

Sync all these playlists to your ipod (you have to put the blacklists on there too because the other lists depend on them). I numbered the first 5 playlists so they would show up in order of preference on my ipod. You could put a 0 at the beginning of the ipod list so that it shows up at the very top.

Anyway, i'm open to suggestions. The cool thing is that this method can be applied to an itunes library even after you've been using it for years. In fact, i'd be interested to see how well it identifies music preferences when applied to an older library.

You should be able to apply this method to a windows media library since it keeps play counts and skip counts and has a rating system. You'd just have to make sure that your portable media device synchronizes the ratings, play counts, and skip counts to your library.

Liked Songs

New Music