Smart Playlists Suffer Because of Logical Limitations

One of the best techniques for using an iPhone with a large iTunes library is to use Smart Playlists to automatically select tracks from your library according to logical rules. I discussed this in Use Smart Playlists for Endless Combinations of Christmas Music. I wanted to provide an update because I see a problem with this technique.

I have some Smart Playlists for rock music that I listen to sometimes when I'm running. However, I picked up some music as part of the Lance Armstrong: Run Longer workout (available from Various Artists - Lance Armstrong: Run Longer) that's actually part of the "Alternative" genre that I want to include in these playlists.

The problem I ran into is that Alternative and Rock music go together in my mind, but they didn't end up together according to the way I had my rock-related Smart Playlists defined. The rules for my "Rock Favorites" Smart Playlist were:

  • Match all of the following rules
  • Genre contains Rock
  • Rating is greater than ***
  • Limit to 25 items selected by most played

If you want to add the Alternative genre, you can't just add a second genres rule in iTunes without changing the selection criteria to "Match any of the following rules", and then you lose the rating criteria.

The only way to choose two or more genres and include rating criteria is to exclude every other genre but the ones you want. This was discussed by Merlin Mann from 43Folders.com in 2006 in an article called "Music Only" for your iTunes playlists.

In order to add the Alternative genre to my Rock-related Smart Playlists, I had to exclude the following Genres:

  • Children's Music
  • Classical
  • Soundtrack
  • Vocal
  • Country
  • Jazz
  • Easy Listening
  • Holiday
  • Folk
  • Miscellaneous

You might have to exclude more genres if your iTunes library is more diverse than mine.

I can see why Apple would design iTunes so that there is a simple one level logic to selection criteria for Smart Playlists, but the problem of how to combine music in closely related genres is made more complicated by iTunes' simplicity.

If I find a better way to select the same music into my Smart Playlists, I'll let you know.