In a recent post I wrote about using Playlists and Playlist folders to collect and organize one’s programs. In today’s post I am going to ramble on about how to use Smart Playlists to help visualize your music, and perhaps help create your program playlists.

This post isn’t nearly exhaustive, and is only intended to get one started on using Smart Playlists to help organize one’s radio show playlists, with a few tips on Smart Playlists in general thrown in.

For the rest of this post I will be referring to how to build Smart Playlists. In order to create your own, open iTunes and go to File > New > Smart Playlist.

As time passes and more programs are under my belt, the data I use grows more useful to me, but sometimes the only thing I want to know is whether I have played the song on the air before. Sometimes for the vanity of it all, such as knowing how many unique songs I have played over the years. Sometimes its just to be absolutely sure none of the banned words are in the lyrics. For this reason I use the Grouping field in iTunes to keep track both of songs that I have played on the air, and to mark those I can’t with “EXPLICIT.”

Figure 1. Click to Enlarge
Figure 1. Click to Enlarge

If one buys music on iTunes they are familiar with the red E next to songs with explicit lyrics, but if you ripped your own CDs you may not remember if there was a Tipper Gore label on it or not. This is why any song that has not been played on my program may need to be vetted — either by listening to the song closely, or by searching the web for the song’s lyrics — before it can safely be included in a playlist. I usually do the latter, and then copy and paste the lyrics into the song’s Lyrics field by going to Get Info.

As I come across songs with words the U.S. government feels are not worthy of the public airwaves, I mark them as such in the Grouping field. I started off just adding EXPLICIT to the field but at some point started including the word(s) after, such as “EXPLICIT – shit”. Then it is easy to filter out songs you aren’t supposed to play on the air. You can see how long the list of banned songs is with a simple Smart Playlist (Figure 1). Currently my Smart Playlist has 148 songs in it, but I am sure that number will grow.

Figure 2. Click to Enlarge
Figure 2. Click to Enlarge

0n WFVR (2013-2015)
The rising number I am proud of is the number of songs I have played on WFVR since first going on the air in March 2013 as the first host of The Friday Morning Mix. I am pleased to know the average number of never-before-played songs I play, but this also keep the naughty words to a minimum. This is another simple Smart Playlist which filters against the Grouping field. In this case the filter is checking to see if 2013 or 2014 or 2015 is present. I will eventually rename this to 0n WFVR or 0n WFVR (2013-). Please note (Figure 2) that the Match dropdown is set to “any” rather than the default “all.” This option is only seen once one has more than one rule in the Smart Playlist. [Note: The name of the playlist is not a typo. That is a zero and not the letter O. The zero assures that the playlist will remain at the top of the list.]

Figure 3. Click to enlarge
Figure 3. Click to enlarge

3-5 Stars | < 5 Plays | No WFVR
As you can see I like to be clear when it comes to naming my Playlists. If it isn’t clear this playlist will display songs that have been played less than 5 times, which I have rated as 3-5 stars, and has never been played on WFVR. There are a few ways to accomplish this, but the method I used will take advantage of the previous Smart Playlist, 0n WFVR (2013-2015). In order to accomplish this I created a Smart Playlist (Figure 3) that selects for songs rated between 3-5 stars, has been played less than 5 times, and is not part of the 0n WFVR (2013-2015) Playlist. For good measure I also filtered out Holiday music and songs marked as EXPLICIT.

This playlist would be handy when trying to get ideas for music to add to an upcoming program, and it will change as songs taken from it are played on air as they will then find themselves on the 0n WFVR (2013-) Smart Playlist. It can also easily be altered to suit a mood.

Here are a few easy Smart Playlists that may seem simple, but I hate to assume!

Not Necessarily Smart, but HandyCover Songs – Drag cover songs from your main library as you see them to this playlist. Covers come in handy, in my opinion.

Sound FX – If you have access to sound effects such as helicopters, laughter, applause, etc, that you use in your program, consider having a playlist to keep track of them. One can make this a Smart Playlist and use the Genre field to mark FX as such.

My TOP Rated
This does what it says on the tin. It is a quick way to see your favorite music in one place. Alone it useful enough, but it makes other Smart Playlists filtered against it possible. In the case of My TOP Rated, all I am selecting for is greater than 3 Stars, leaving only songs I have rated as 4 or 5 stars. You can decide if you want to add filters against Holiday music, or other items if you want.

My NOT Rated
This too is pretty simple, but I find it useful. Not just as an indicator of songs that I have played at least once but have not rated, but as a place to look when I am in the mood to give songs another go, or look at what may need to be unchecked or … deleted. [See post on Ratings for more on this.] This goes for my Unplayed Smart Playlist as well. Revisit it when I can, listen, rate, etc.

Best of the Year
Some DJs — myself included — like to create a Best of the Year list to play in late December. This is useful if you are busy around the holidays held that time of year, as it helps give you a theme around which to build a playlist. To set up a Best of 2014 Smart Playlist, choose Year from the dropdown menu and then type 2014 in the field after “is”. Then choose a Rating range (4-5 stars?). That’s the basics. Select against the Genre field to be even more specific.


Holidays/Seasonal Music
It’s a good idea to create either a playlist and/or Smart Playlist (or a combination!) of songs that are considered “holidays.” Whether it’s a beautiful choral arrangement of Silent Night or some Christmas novelty song that is essential to make your season complete, they just don’t fit on the Summer Party Playlist. When it comes to the holiday Genre I like to add sub-genres to help find and filter. So I have Holiday > Christmas, and Holiday > Chanukah and even Holiday > Pagan. I sometimes even add > Instrumental to the end for even more flexibility. And since Smart Playlist options allow me to look for when the field “contains” some text I can use just “holiday” to remove (or include) these songs.

Let’s say you have a very specific set of specifications for a playlist. One that requires both both any and or all rules to be applied. You could probably hack together a long Smart Playlist to accomplish your goal, but perhaps a nested Smart Playlist can help. I’ll admit, nested Smart Playlists are news to me. I was looking for suggestions for this post for useful Smart Playlist and I stumbled upon an article I had read in the print version of MacWorld (when there was a print edition) about a specific, and complex, set of rules to apply. I found the article online, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how one added a nested query. After some research I learned that in more recent editions of iTunes that the nested icon is hidden until one holds down the option key.

Short How-To on Creating Nested Smart Playlists in iTunes from Rick Scully on Vimeo.

The video I have embedded shows me typing up a quick example of a nested Smart Playlist. I didn’t have time to narrate it, so apologies. But you can read this and follow along. The thing to note as being the only real confusing bit, is that I am holding down Option key when you see the ellipsis appear where the + usually is. Also, I found it easier to collect all the things I wanted to filter against before I organized the order of things. I recommend doing it this way.

In the example in the video decided I want to hear music that contains either Indie, Alternative or Rock in the Genre field. Using contains instead of is means that “Indie” and “Indie/Rock” and “Indie/Pop” will be included. Alternative will catch the “Alternative/Rock” as well as “Alternative/Punk”. Rock will catch “Classic Rock,” “Rock,” “Rock & Roll,” “Rock/Jamband,” etc. Next I want to select for ALL of the following: music rated between 3 and 5 stars, but is not either the Grateful Dead nor The Beatles. Then I decide I want to only include music that has aired on one of my WFVR programs.