Get Smart with iPod Playlists

Everyone knows how to use an iPod, but that little box of joy and its software can do a whole lot more if you spend time tweaking that ever-expanding library of songs. Smart playlists grow and change depending on your listening habits, including what music you haven’t heard in a while and even what tunes you’ve skipped recently.

The first step: Rate all of your music with iTunes’s five-star rating system. If you haven’t done this yet, select all of your music and make everything three stars (“average”). Pick some favorite songs and artists to jack up to five stars, and one-star things like holiday music or podcasts that you don’t want in regular play. From here, tweak more ratings, or if you have a fairly new iPod you can rate any song you’re listening to (click the center button until stars show up), and the new ratings will transfer to your library when you sync.

Once you’ve done that homework, the fun can begin. In iTunes, select “File” and “New Smart Playlist,” then go to town. Clever combinations of factors will yield very cool results. Here are some examples:

- Secret Favorites: A smart playlist with a rule of “Rating is less than 4,” then “limit to 25 items selected by most often played.” These are songs you haven’t rated highly but you’ve still listened to the most. Maybe they deserve an extra star?

- Semi-Love Songs: Only one rule: “Name contains ‘love.’” Now you’ll get every song that has “love” somewhere in its title—usually with comical results!

- Ultimate Radio: This will end up giving an awesome mix that bounces between newer songs and older favorites you haven’t heard in a while. First, make a “Radio New Adds” smart playlist with rules of “Play Count is less than 5” and “Rating is greater than 2,” then “limit to 200 items selected by random.” Then make another smart playlist called “Radio Old Hits” with rules of “Play Count is greater than 4,” “Rating is greater than 3” and “Last Played is not in the past 2 weeks,” and “limit to 200 items selected by least recently played.” Finally, make an “Ultimate Radio” playlist set to “Match any” of two rules: “Playlist is ‘Radio New Adds’ ” or “Playlist is ‘Radio Old Hits.’ ” The end result is 400 songs that blend new and old, plus it’ll change constantly as you add new songs, rate them and listen to them.