March 08, 2003

iTunes Top 20 Smart Playlist Strategy

iTunes has one play-tracking limitation that, if fixed, would yield some very cool playlists: the ability to see how many times a song has been played recently. But there's no timestamp saved for each play; it just increments the playcount and records the last playdate.

Nevertheless, it is possible to determine which music is recently popular and find your recently favorite music. I've made some new playlists that I believe improve iTunes' ability to accurately represent my real Top 20.

Right now my Top 20 has the following criteria:

  • Five Stars, AND
  • Last Play is in the last 2 weeks
  • Limit to 20 songs selected by most played
I set it this way so that if there was a song that used to be popular and had a ton of plays, but that I was sick of and had stopped listening to, it would drop off the playlist.

However, I noticed that sometimes when playing randomly from all my five-star music, some of this music that was highly-played but not so well-liked anymore would still get played once in a while - as often as any other - and then jump back into the Top 20.

I realized that I didn't have a way to capture recently popular music, music that I'm currently obsessed with, and give them a chance to get more plays to catch up with the list. I also noticed that I was so intent on not giving the Top 20 a false advantage that I was avoiding playing from the Top 20 playlist, and wasn't giving recently popular Top 20 music a priority in my actual listening rotation.

So here are three new playlists I've devised to help me catch the music I actually love and give recent obsessions a chance to rise to the top.

Favs - Hot

  • Five Stars AND
  • Last Played is in the last 3 days
I usually start this playlist on Shuffle once a day, and I'll skip any song I'm not in the mood to listen to. This playlist includes some of the songs on my Top 20.

Favs - Recycle

  • Five Stars AND
  • Last Played is not in the last 1 week
  • Last Played is in the last 2 weeks
When a song falls off the "Hot" list, it goes MIA for a cooling off period of four days, after which it appears on this list. I'll check this list every few days, more than once a week, and give it a shuffle-play, again skipping the songs I don't want to listen to. Songs that I listen to are therefore immediately promoted back to the "Hot" list. Songs that aren't heard for two weeks then fall off this list as well. Note that if this song is on the Top 20 list, it also falls off the Top 20 at this time.

Favs - Forgotten

  • Five Stars AND
  • Last Played is not in the last 4 weeks
When a song falls off the "Recycle" list, it goes MIA for a longer cooling-off period of two weeks. At that point it reappears on my "Forgotten" list. This list contains all my five-star music that I haven't listened to in the last four weeks. Every once in a while I will give this a shuffle-play and go through the whole thing, skipping the tunes I don't want to hear. After getting through the whole playlist that way, I can look at the tunes that haven't been played in the longest amount of time, and consider demoting them to four stars.

I think this is a great system because now I can use my Top 20 as purely a reference, perhaps to export the playlist, or the occasional playthrough for friends. There is no need for me to listen to my Top 20 directly and risk falsely rewarding songs simply for being on the list. All my recent favorite music is now on my "Hot" list for rapid playcount climbing, and if any fall off before I'm ready, I can just promote them a few days later from the "Recycle" list. Overall, a much better system to find and reflect my current favorite music.

Current Top Five:

  1. Josefin's Waltz by Dervish (At The End Of The Day)
  2. Little Born by Curt Siffert (piano prelude)
  3. Chinese Invade by Phillip Glass (Kundun Soundtrack)
  4. Escape to India by Phillip Glass (Kundun Soundtrack)
  5. Ode To A Butterfly by Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)

Posted by Curt at March 8, 2003 11:32 PM


well, in my opinion iTunes actually misses on some other things in the smart playlists section. For instance a Top rated playlist sorted on rating, will sort on artist for equally rated songs, instead of having the option of adding a sub sorting function (and a sub-sub ... ), which most likely everybody wants to be random. If you want to call those playlists smart, make sure they are really smart ..

Posted by: ozy at March 12, 2003 05:46 PM

Yes, I agree - I do wish that Smart Playlists had a few other capabilities. The one I mentioned at the top is the one that would actually require new data storage, though.

Other features I'd want would be:

1. sub sorting
2. true boolean (and AND or in the same search)
3. ability to use other playlists as criteria (like, only play songs from this other playlist, but with these added criteria)

#3 would be extremely difficult to engineer though because of the possibility of infinite loops.


Posted by: Curt at March 12, 2003 06:53 PM

oh yes, as a matter of fact, the one thing I don't like about iTunes is that there is no way to change the list of currently playing songs. What I encouter a lot is that I am listening to an album or albums and then I would like to switch to another album, but without killing the music. Or switch playlists or whatever, there is just no obvious way to do that, while in all other mp3 players this is a capability they get for free, because the playlist you see is the playlist they play. In my opinion there should be a 'play queue' playlist, unlike any other playlist, this one has limeted capabilities and is always playing, it will visualize what iTunes already does internally, it holds the songs enqueued to play.

So for example, if I double click an album, making iTunes play it --assume no repeat, no random--, then the 'play queue' will hold the album, but as soon as the first song has stoped playing it will dissapear from the play queue. Now imagine repeat, then it would have been reinserted on the bottom, instead of falling off.

I can do a lot of stuff with this queue playlist, but it will always play the first song on that list. Basically this is no change in iTunes, merely a visualisation of its internal workings. But now the trick, you *can* add to this playqueue, for instance by dragging something unto it. Or change the placement of the songs.

Now, why not use playlists, which already work the same way? Because that only works when you started off with a playlist, which I personally never do. Plus it makes it easier to understand that if you have a view of your songs in iTunes (the songs currently selected), and press play, and then change the view of your songs (by selecting another album, or even if you add to the current view with a shift select), then iTunes will continue to play the old view, until it stops playing, you have to (re)start playing before the new view will start playing. And there is no way to get back to the old view, if it was a complicated one, except by repeating the same steps that created your old view.

Posted by: ozy at March 14, 2003 01:47 AM

In my case, I use a weekly top 20 that goes as follows:

My Rating is greater than ***.
My PlayCount is greater than 10.
Last Played is in the last 1 week.
Limit to 20 songs selected by most often played.

Posted by: Allan Rojas at February 8, 2005 01:24 PM
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