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Revenge of the Smart Playlist: 5 tricks for packrats & power users

The success of yesterday's post on the basics of Smart Playlists makes me think you might enjoy seeing a few more. So, today I want to show you how to get control of a very large iTunes library -- to save space by getting rid of stuff you're not enjoying or listening to, as well as bubble up stuff you may not even realize you like.

If you are an iTunes packrat but feel overwhelmed by your collection (or are simply running out of drive space), try these recipes for Smart Playlists to help you get it together.

Step 0: Backup

Before doing anything too fancy with your iTunes (or with anything else for that matter), always do a backup.

This could be as simple as dragging your library to an external drive, although personally I'd recommend a smarter tool -- I recommend rsync for geeks, and ChronoSync for civilians.

In any case, don't yell at me if you get confused and permanently delete your heirloom recordings. 'Nuff said.

Big and Useless

This is the dullest instrument in our drawer, but if you're on deadline for a video editing project and suddenly realize you have 200mb of disk space left -- well, you need to delete some shit fast.

This Smart Playlist, as you can see, looks for the biggest bang for the buck in terms of deletion. It's the fastest way to find very large files that you aren't listening to much. You could also use something like What Size for this, but, you know, that would be cheating.

Admin Playlist : Big and Useless

Basic Culling

This one's not much more sophisticated, but, if you're doing regular backups, it's my favorite way to quickly and responsibly reduce the disk space used by your library. As with many of these lists, you'll start to see the value of rating your music; in addition to improving the quality of your lists and listening experience, it eventually becomes a quick way to determine which music you can afford to dump in a pinch.

Admin Playlist : Basic Culling

Old Podcasts

Man, if you aren't careful, podcasts will eat your lunch. Although iTunes provides useful tools for managing the number of eps you keep, per podcast series, you'll be amazed how quickly old episodes will fill up your drive.

This little fella does something insanely simple but critical; it pulls up any podcasts that you've already listened to, making it easy to select them all and delete quickly (without lots of COMMAND- clicking in the "Podcasts" window)

Admin Playlist : Old podcasts

Sure you really like that?

This simple auditor calls you on your ratings. It looks at your higher-rated songs and sees if you're skipping them often -- a good sign you don't like them as much as you claim. Very helpful way to refactor if you realize you've gotten too enthusiastic with the 5-star ratings.

Admin Playlist : Sure you really like that?

Rate these

This does something like the opposite of the previous list -- it pulls up songs that you've listened to a lot but have never rated. Again, if you're going to get the most out of your Smart Playlists, it pays to rate stuff you have a strong opinion about. This is one of the fastest ways to do that.

Admin Playlist : Rate these

You get the basic idea at this point. By tagging the crap out of your songs, adding correct genres, and rating rating rating, you can produce a library that is both more enjoyable and way more manageable. Even if you save every track you've ever added, you can always benefit from the history of your behavior that iTunes has collected and exposed.

CK's picture

Ironically, I struggled with finding...

Ironically, I struggled with finding a good way to start this task not only because the idea of rating over 8000 songs seemed hellish, but because I couldn’t get my head around a balanced rating system. Initially, it seemed like only three stars would be needed, though five allows for a bit more nuance. This got me up and running fast, but requires some long-term vigilance in order to fine tune. Here’s what I did:

First, bulk edit any artists or albums you like to listen to at any time with three stars automatically.

Four stars are reserved for your favorite bands. Think of it as an automatic extra star for just being the Pixies. Hello Pixies.

A five star rating is a “break glass in case of emergency” song. These are ice-cold awesome songs so powerful (or classic) that deserve special treatment. A good way to determine what constitutes a five is to sort by rating. For instance, as much as I may love The Misfits’ “Astro Zombies,” it is not in the same league as “Everlong.” You should not have too many fives. At most they should constitute around 10% of your library.

Promote and demote as needed along these lines. A “meh” song on an otherwise great record? Give it a two. A great song on a three star record gets bumped up to four. One star ratings are reserved for songs that are only worth listening to for that cool high-hat fill in the bridge.

TV themes, novelty tunes, comedy records, and whatever’s left over get no rating. This allows you to weed the suckage out of your smart playlists pretty quickly and gives you a nice chunk of unrated junk to check out at your leisure. And since iPods allow you to rate songs as well, you can save some of the detail work for the road after synching up.

Coupled with correct genre tags and (I’ve found) year tags, you’ll have a pretty good ability to quickly pull some sweet playlists together.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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