[28/7/05 update: I've just added some screenshots of these playlists]
Maybe it's the librarian in me, but I find something enjoyable about organizing iTunes playlists for my iPod.
I have playlists for all sorts of things: driving (some music just does not work in the car), doing the dishes on a mellow evening, cleaning, exercising, good mood music for company (pleasant, but not too demanding or intrusive) and music that usually helps me get to sleep.
But nothing is perfect and there are few things about the iPod which can create a less than perfect music experience.
Firstly, if I am always listening to music for particular moods or circumstances, when I am going to listen and new music and how is that music going to imprint on my present circumstances? By imprinting, I mean when a particular piece of music becomes associated with a particular time/place/event/person in one's life. This isn't always a pleasant thing. Björk's Medúlla makes me recall my time working at Vodafone (not exactly pleasant for me) and reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which is just plain weird). That said, I still think the association of songs in this way provides a helpful musical map to our lives, and that using an iPod can severely dilute this efffect.
The other problem, kind of touched on in my previous iPod playlist post, that it is so easy for good music to buried and lost in an iPod.
Naturally, I have found one answer to these two problems by creating a new kind of playlist. This is a hybrid smart list, containing two other smart playlists. The best thing is that it's self-updating and requires very little maintenance.
Ingredient 1: Smart playlist of recently added tracks. This is simple, choose "Date Added" in the last 3 months - or whichever period you like, it could also be a number of days or weeks. Make sure that the Live Updating box is checked, so that new things are automatically captured and the old ones will drop off.
Ingredient 2: Smart playlist containing good songs which aren't played very often. The first step here is to specify "My rating" as greater than 2 or 3 stars (depending on how picky you want to be). Of course you need to have most of your music rated for this to work effectively. One easy way of doing this is to make an Unrated playlist, containing only the unrated songs - so that you can rate them when you're ever in the mood. The second step is that this must be a limited playlist. For me it's limited to the 25 least often played songs. You might need to tinker with this number at some point to capture the ratio between old and new music which works best for you. Make sure that this list is also live updating.
Ingredient 3: Another smart playlist which combines the contents of the first two lists. At the top of the window, if you'll need to make sure that you choose "Match any of the following conditions", which is basically a boolean OR. Then for those conditions, choose "Playlist" is - and select the other two playlists, i.e. new stuff and good but less played.
At the moment at least, this is my new favourite list. It's not going to replace the others, because there'll always be times when I'll prefer a mood/situation specific playlist. But this hybrid list is a good one to play when I'm not too sure what I want.