How To

Playlists: the key to getting the most from your music collection

Thinking of playing music at your next party? How about making a mix for the gym? Tired of searching through your entire music library for your favorite songs? Most digital media software such as iTunes, Media Monkey, Windows Media Player, and other 3rd party programs allow users to create playlists. Playlists are a collection of tracks that can be played in your media player or PMP that allow you to quickly and easily select the music you want to hear. Playlists are also a great way to gather and listen to music that suits a particular mood or occasion.  But before crafting your next 80s throwback mix, it's important to understand the two types of playlists: manual and auto.

Note: The following is an excerpt from The Love Your Music eBook -- guaranteed to contain “everything you ever wanted to know about digital music” or your money back.

Manual playlists can be created in your media player software by dragging and dropping your tracks from your library into a playlist. This works fine if you know exactly which tracks you want to listen to. Unfortunately, you have to tediously find each track among the thousands you may have in your library when you create a manual playlist.
Auto playlists remove the tedium of creating playlists by using metadata criteria to filter the tracks in your library.  As auto playlists, large playlists can be created in seconds rather than minutes or hours as manual playlists. However, auto playlists have flaws of their own. With auto playlists you sacrifice the minute control you have over the list of songs as compared to manual playlists. This can be rectified by spending time and effort to get good metadata onto your tracks.  Overtime this will increase an auto playlists’ ability to get the right music for the right situation.


Manual vs. auto playlists

Manual and auto playlists both have their uses and I regularly create both types of playlists.
Some media players only have "normal" or "manual" playlists. Others have "auto" or "smart" playlists.

So, what's the difference between manual playlists and auto playlists?

Manual playlists…

  • ...are an ordered list of tracks
  • ...have a set order (set by you), but you can randomize the order in which tracks are played.
  • ...can have any tracks from your collection.
  • ...offer the most ability to customize a playlist.
  • ...are not criteria driven and do not have tracks automatically added and removed from them based on criteria.
  • ...are created by gathering individual tracks and putting them into a list, typically by dragging and dropping them from the library onto a playlist.

Auto playlists…

  • ...are criteria-driven. The contents of an auto playlist are based on the metadata filters that you apply while creating the playlist. The only tracks that appear in the auto playlist meet all of the criteria that you provide. No exceptions.
  • ...are defined by their criteria. What you see on the screen when you look at an auto playlist are the results of filtering your collection by the auto playlist‘s criteria. The software only stores the criteria and generates the result when the auto playlist is viewed.
  • ...automatically update their contents when tracks' metadata change. For example, if you have a playlist that is all of your four-star-and-up tracks, this playlist will automatically add new tracks that are rated four stars and up when you add a new track or change an existing track‘s metadata.
  • ...cannot have arbitrary tracks removed from them. For example, if my auto playlist contains a song that I don‘t want, there is no way to just delete that song from this auto playlist like I can in a manual playlist. I would have to change the auto playlist‘s criteria to exclude the song instead.
  • ...have no set order and cannot be ordered as exactly as manual playlists.
  • ...are created by specifying the playlist‘s criteria to the media player and then having the media player show the results as a playlist.


How to use auto and manual playlists

I use auto playlists for certain categories of music that I expect to change and evolve. For example, I have playlists for:

  • Favorite rock
    • Genre = rock, rock & roll, etc
    • Rated four stars and up
  • Favorite indie and alternative
    • Genre = alternative, alternative rock, indie pop, indie rock, etc,
    • Rated four stars and up
  • Favorite new music
    • Acquired in last six months
    • Rated four stars and up
  • Favorite 80s
    • Release year = 1980 – 1989
    • Rated four stars and up
  • Favorite background
    • Occasion = background
    • Rated four stars and up
  • Need to rate
    • No rating

The "favorite rock" and "favorite indie and alternative" auto playlists will continue to change and evolve as I acquire more rock, indie and alternative music. The "favorite new music" will always contain my newest, highly-rated music, ensuring that I can always be able to listen to my favorite new music. The "need to rate" list will always show me the tracks that are unrated and, thus, need to be rated. If I had made manual playlists of these tracks, they would not change and evolve and would not be nearly as useful.

On the other hand, I mostly use manual playlists for one time events like birthdays, New Year's Eve parties and other special events. I often start with an auto playlist, copy its tracks to a new manual playlist and then edit that playlist. I work on the playlist's order. I add and remove tracks until I get it right. For example, I often start with my favorite dance playlist (occasion = dance, rated four stars and up) and then tweak it for the particular occasion. For family parties I'll have more music from the 50s, 60s and 70s so that all generations feel included. For parties with friends I'll throw in some of our groups' favorites. Then I save the playlist with a descriptive name like "New Year's Eve 2010."

In summary, manual playlists are best for situations where you want exact control over the content and order of a playlist and never want it to change. Auto playlists are best for situations where you want a playlist to grow and evolve over time and the order doesn't matter. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages and provide great ways for you to get the most from your music collection.

Adding lyrics to your tracks -- why you need to do it and how to get it done

[This is an update to a blog post that ran on January 12, 2010]

Adding lyrics to your MP3 files’ ID3 tags makes the lyrics available for you to view and use in your media player software (including iTunes, MediaMonkey or Windows Media Player).

There are at least three great reasons why you should add lyrics to your mp3 files' metadata.

The 25 Links of Christmas

Prepare to have more Christmas cheer than this guy. I've rounded up a bunch of Christmas music from Napster, Rdio and Rhapsody.
Even if you don't have subscriptions to any of these sites, they all give you the ability to at least try out/preview their stuff. So don't be shy, grab a cup of 'nog and give some of these a whirl.
Playlists from Napster:

Easy Holiday Music

If you want to whip out some quick and easy holiday tunes, here are some sites to check out.

  1. Pandora's holiday stations. (Make sure to click on "Holiday" to see all of the holiday stations).
  2. Track-in-the-box's music advent calendar.
  3. Last year's blog post on an incredible array of holiday music options.

Happy Holidays!

Your perfect radio station

What would your perfect radio station look like? It would probably include you favorite music along with news on your interests, sports reports about your favorite team and weather from your area all without any commercials. It certainly wouldn't look like commercial radio with it's tiny number of tracks in rotation and lots of ads. But it also wouldn't be your portable media player, which only plays music and the occasional podcast. While driving and traveling I end up listening to my portable media player and when I am at my desk I listen my music collection on my computer. That's great for listening to music, but find I can end up feeling disconnected from daily events when I don't listen to the news. Enter new website The idea behind it is simple -- a radio station that is tailored for you; your music, your news, your region, your interests and do it without any commercials. 
I've been playing around with BYO for over a month and while it isn't perfect yet, it is good and I listen to it regularly. In fact, the idea makes so much sense, yet seems so simple and straightforward that I wish I would have come up with it first!

How to make a mashup -- interview with DJ Alex Nieto

Since we've been talking about sampling, mixing and mashups lately, I decided to bring in an expert on the subject: DJ and my friend, Alex Nieto.

Alex recently made a ridiculously fun, highly danceable, Prince-meets-electro-house mashup called "When Doves Get Scared."

Listen to the podcast to:

  • hear "When Doves Get Scared"
  • find out how he made it
  • find out how you can make mashups

Listen to the podcast.


To fully appreciate the mix, make sure to listen to the two pieces he combined.

Prince - When Doves Cry

How to go from Raffi to Cannibal Corpse in just two clicks!

GrokMusic is a very cool site for seeing how artists are related to each other. I found out about them today over on the Digital Noise blog. GrokMusic shows a visual map of artists near similar artists. If I type in "The White Stripes", a band that I like, it shows a map with The Strokes and The Pixies who I also like. It also suggested a band called Placebo, who I had never heard before. I listened to a few of their tracks and I liked them. Cool! A way to find new artists I like.

Besides helping you find new music, GrokMusic can also help you try my new favorite hobby: connecting completely different artists to each other a la Six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Subscription music -- listen to Oscar nominees too

Right on the heels of my post about listening to Grammy nominees online, Napster has posted links to the Oscar-nominated music that you can listen to on their service.
See it on their blog.

Why Grammy season is a good time to have a music site subscription

One of the best reasons to have a subscription to a site like Napster, Rhapsody or Zune is because you get access to most of their catalog for just one low monthly fee ($7-$15 a month). This allows you to listen to entire songs for which you wouldn't normally be willing to pay at no extra charge. This is in contrast to download-to-own sites like iTunes, where you can only listen to the whole track if you buy it (99 cents - $1.29 each).
A great time to be a member of a subscription site is during Grammy season. I don't listen to a lot of pop and top 40 music, but I am still interested in hearing the Grammy winners. I wouldn't want to buy most of these songs though. If you want to keep your fingers on the pulse of the music industry's popular favorites without shelling out a lot of cash, get a music subscription.
Take a listen to the Grammy nominees on Napster: Award Nominees 2010

eMusic adds Warner Music Group artists including REM, The Cure, The Talking Heads, Paul Simon

One of my favorite music download sites, eMusic, has added music from Warner Music Group. eMusic offers the cheapest MP3 downloads of any legit site out there (it ends up being about 40¢-50¢ a track, a third to half the price of iTunes), but their album catalog has some holes in it. Well they plugging the holes. This week they added over 10,000 new albums! If you are a fan of Aretha Franklin, The Ramones, The Cure, The Replacements, Depeche Mode, R.E.M., Neil Young, Paul Simon, The Talking Heads or Joni Mitchell you should check it out. Read more on eMusic's blog Download 25 FREE songs at!

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