Video Tutorial: How to Create Smart Playlists + Organize Your Music in iTunes

One of the main issues plaguing DJs in the world today is the overwhelming amount of music out there. In the digital world, it’s way too easy to “acquire” too much music and with tracks only costing $1-2 a track, you might find yourself buying a lot more music than when you had to spend $12 a record in the vinyl era. While it’s great to have so much amazing music, it is very easy to get buried in your own music collection and get overwhelmed.

I was a prime example of someone who got lost in my own music, and it got to the point where I didn’t know where any of my good tracks were anymore, and I would show up at gigs feeling unorganized, ears worn out from organizing my playlists for days, and DJing felt like such a chore because I had multiple music “collections”, and thousands of playlists that I was always having to update and I could never keep up on. I found myself spending most of my time organizing and hardly anytime playing, let alone living my life!

I found a solution that saved my DJ Life… SMART PLAYLISTS!

Smart Playlists are playlists that will automatically organize and filter your music for you based on “tags” you write into your tracks such as Artist, Genre, Year, Album, Play Count, Import Date, and Comment. Rather than having to spend hours making playlists, and remembering what you’ve “playlisted,” Smart Playlists do all the work for you. In this example I’ll be using iTunes.

Let me first show you how to make a smart playlist and give you some tips on some smart playlist ideas.

To create a smart playlist in I tunes click on “File” then select “New Smart Playlist…”

Now lets create an artist smart playlist. In the first drop down menu, select “ARTIST.” In the second dropdown menu select “IS”, then type your favorite artist’s name, then click “OK”.  You’ll Notice I Tunes has just moved all of the Artists tracks into a playlist for you automatically.

For a lot of dance music some artists do originals and remixes. You might notice in the Smart Playlist we just created, the artist’s originals are in the smart playlist but their remixes are not. Here is how you can edit a smart playlist and add attributes to it.

To edit a smart playlist, right click or ctrl click on the playlist you want to edit and choose “Edit”. Now lets add another attribute to this playlist. To do this, click the “+” button. Now you’ll have a second attribute you can add. Now select “TITLE” in the first field, “CONTAINS” in the second, then type in your favorite artists name in the third field. The next thing you need to decide if you want the smart playlist to match ALL the attributes or ANY of the attributes. Since you want original tracks by the artist (the artist field is your favorite artist) AND Remixes (their name shows in the title field), you will choose ANY. Also make sure Live Updating is turned on so it will be an Automated playlist. When you click “OK” now you will notice all of your favorite artist tracks are in the playlist as well as “track title (your favorite artist remix) “ are in the playlist as well.

In iTunes, here is what a Smart Playlist and a Regular Playlist look like:

You will find that once you get the hang of doing smart playlists, you will love them so much that you will want to do TONS of them. Before you go overboard with smart playlists, here is how I personally organize my playlists. I use “playlist folders”. The playlist folders are full of Smart Playlists. Here are some examples of my playlist folders:

“Year Playlists” – I have a year playlist folder for 2010 and 2011. These folders contain smart playlists such as  2011 House, 2011 Techno, 2011 Tech House, 2011 Breaks etc. For these playlists I use Attributes like “YEAR IS 2011” AND “GENRE IS TECH HOUSE”.

“Artist Playlists” – Contains Smart Playlists for artists that I frequently play out such as Carlo Lio, Gary Beck,  Kaiserdisco, Marco Effe, Mendo, MiniCoolBoyz, Nic Fanciulli and Stimming. I used Attributes like my example before (“ARTIST IS KAISERDISCO” AND TITLE CONTAINS KAISERDISCO”)

“Genre Playlists” – Contains Smart playlists for each Genre that I play such as Tech House, Techno, Breaks, House, Deep House etc. For these playlists I use attributes like “GENRE IS TECH HOUSE”, or “GENRE CONTAINS HOUSE” (this will get all tech house, deep house, classic house, house, and electro house).

“Color Playlists” – Pioneers Rekord Box inspired me to start making color playlists. Rekord Box is a free download on the Pioneer website that allows you to make playlists that can be read on CDJ 2000’s or CDJ 900’s.

Rekord Box has a very handy column called “COLOR” where you can assign a color to each track. I use this to describe the mood of the track. Here is my coloring system:

RED – My “Love” tracks
BLUE – Club Bombs – for Dark Rooms and Big sound systems
YELLOW – Sunshine tracks
PINK – Models and Bottles – For the ladies
PURPLE – Obscure Banging Techno. Not for the faint of heart
ORANGE – Groovy Stuff, mainly Tech House
GREEN – Trippy Records
AQUA – Pool / Beach / Chill tracks

After coloring all my tracks in Rekord Box, I then select all tracks of one color and write the color into the “Album Artist” field in Rekord Box by selecting all the tracks of a color, clicking the “Info” button, and changing the Album Artist field to that Color. I do this because I tunes doesn’t have a color field. Then I go into I tunes and all I have to do is press play hold my right arrow key down so it goes through all my tracks and updates the tags. Its kind of a process but well worth it in the end!

Now that all my colors are in the Album Artist field in I tunes, I have smart playlists for color. The attributes are “ALBUM ARTIST IS BLUE”. I can even break it down to “ALBUM ARTIST IS BLUE AND GENRE IS TECHNO”.

“Comment Playlists” – It is the comments field that turns my music collection into a Google style smart playlist machine! For every track I listen all the way through and write every word that I can think of that describes the track. Here are some examples of terms I use in the comments Field:

Groover, Chiller, Banger, Peak, Classic, Closer, Opener, Deep, Jazzy, Progressive, Sexy,  Techy, Tribal, Vocal, Models and Bottles

Once I have all the comments written into my tracks, I can then make smart playlists based on comments. I can also take it to the next level and make creative smart playlists that mix my comments with genres. For example: “COMMENT CONTAINS GROOVER AND GENRE IS HOUSE” = Groovy House or “COMMENT CONTAINS BANGER AND GENRE IS TECHNO” = Banging Techno.

“KEY PLAYLISTS” – These are smart playlists based on the Mixed In Key software and the Camelot Sound Easy Mix System.

Mixed in Key is a program that costs only $50 and will go through your entire music collection and write the keys of every track into whatever ID3 tags you choose in the mixed in key preferences. I choose to write the keys before the “Comments” field as well as into the “Initial Key Tag (viewable in Traktor).

You can choose for Mixed In Key to write the actual key of the track (ex. Am, B, C) or the Camelot code (Ex. 8A, 9A, 10A).  These numbers refer to a certain key (4A= F Minor, 5A = C Minor), and if you know the Camelot code, you can follow the Camelot Easy Mix Chart, which will tell you what keys are compatible with each other. If you want to learn more about this, check out my Harmonic Mixing Tutorials.

Once I have the keys written in before the comments in I tunes, I then make smart playlists based on key.

Here are some attributes I use to make smart “key playlists”:

COMMENTS START WITH 8A – Makes a playlist of all tracks in A Minor

COMMENTS START WITH 8A AND GENRE IS HOUSE – All House Tracks in A Minor.

Once you have all of your Smart Playlists made, the next step is sorting your playlists. One of the best features in I tunes is that you can sort each playlist separately. You can sort your playlist by clicking on whatever field you’d like to sort by. I personally like to either sort my playlists by “Date Added” so the newest tracks show up at the top, or by “Comment” so the playlist is sorted by key.

Hopefully this article gave you some ideas about what you can do with Smart Playlists. These are all just examples of some Smart Playlists I use. I would play around with the different Attributes and experiment with making different playlists that suite your needs and your workflow. Once you have your smart playlists done, you will feel much more organized, and will be able to find those tracks you love much faster, and will spend more time DJing and less time organizing. Here’s to a more efficient DJ Life in 2011!

23
  • Adrien
  • 8/16/2011

Thanks for this post, very interesting.
I’m not convinced by the “Color Playlist” as you have to use two different software to build your playlist, but the idea is good. I also use colors to sort my tracks, but with color labels of the Finder on my Mac. The problem is that I can’t retrieve this information on iTunes…

For Mac users, you can also use Automator with AppleScript to create playlists. For example, I made a script which automatically import my tracks into a monthly playlist (e.g January 2011) on iTunes when I put them into my music folder. Very usefull ! I save a lot of time.

  • Endo
  • 8/16/2011

Hey Adrien, I see your point, however using Rekord box is a different environment to take my music into and makes me see and hear it differently, rather than just using I tunes and Traktor full time. It keeps things fun for me.

Thanks for the apple script tip. I’ll try that!

  • Drix
  • 8/16/2011

Great article and inspiring to read.

I’m not a Mac user though, and iTunes doesn’t work too well with large collections on PC. It’s slow and a drag to use.. Are there any other programs that makes smart playlists that you or anyone alse can recommend?

Thanks!

  • Endo
  • 8/16/2011

Glad the article inspired you! For Windows check out Windows Media Player. In Windows Media player you can make a smart playlist by right clicking on the playlist folder and choosing “Create Auto Playlist”. You can then add attributes and criteria in the Auto Playlist window.

  • Kenneth
  • 8/16/2011

Thanks for sharing this great tip! I have been looking into Smart Playlists, but haven’t gone this far with it yet, but now I want to try :)

But how do you use these Smart Playlists in Traktor? I mean, of course you can access them through Traktor as regular tracklists, but I reckon that you also add your tracks to the Traktor collection and maybe have playlists there aswell. But Traktor doesn’t read newly added tracks in a iTunes Smart Playlist, right?

@ Adrien

Can you please explain what exactly you did with Automator to make it add your January 2011 tracks to a specific playlist?

  • Endo
  • 8/16/2011

@Kenneth – iTunes is built into Traktor so you can view all of your smart playlists inside the iTunes node inside of Traktor. You can right click – windows (or ctrl click – mac) on an iTunes playlist and choose “Import to playlists” and it will make a duplicate Traktor playlists, however the Traktor playlists won’t update automatically if you add new songs in the iTunes playlist. I just use strictly iTunes playlists when I DJ now. iTunes will re-update each time you open Traktor, however there is a handy trick you can do to get your Traktor’s iTunes to update while Traktor is open. Ctrl Click on the Itunes icon in Traktor and choose “refresh”.

  • Marc Reck
  • 8/16/2011

Nice tutorial Endo.
@ drix – Media monkey is great for pc and especially for large collections. Has all the functionality like smart playlists, and you can drag and drop from mediamonkey straight into traktor. Theres a load of plugins to get even deeper with it. Highly recommended.

  • Adrien
  • 8/16/2011

@Kenneth – Hi! Sorry for the late, I didn’t see your post.
In Automator, I use a “Folder Action” in the Templates and choose my music folder (So each time I put a file into it, the script runs).
Then, I just add the “Import Files into iTunes” action. I select “New Playlist” and in the input field I put 2 variables: “Current Month” and “Current Year” (you can find it in the Variables tab) so that all my music files are imported into the playlist of the current month.

  • Kraik
  • 8/16/2011

Sorry for quoting this but it rings so true…

“I was a prime example of someone who got lost in my own music, and it got to the point where I didn’t know where any of my good tracks were anymore, and I would show up at gigs feeling unorganized, ears worn out from organizing my playlists for days, and DJing felt like such a chore because I had multiple music “collections”, and thousands of playlists that I was always having to update and I could never keep up on. I found myself spending most of my time organizing and hardly anytime playing, let alone living my life!”

Glad i´m not the only one going stir crazy! :o/

I like the idea of creating smart lists for genes rather than trying to stick everything into gene playlists & being able to search by key, definately going to use that. I have also been using Bea tunes from the start for BPM & Key (100% of my 250GB collection has now been analysed that way) however i have just downloaded Mixed in key and want to start using the harmonic mixing feature offered, so i was wondering how i was going to go about that with itunes – tried replacing the meta data were the key & bpm were tagged in front of the track but i didn´t like the way it rearanged my itunes library + i had to re-search for lost tracks as it changed the meta data in the ID3. Positioning the data in the comments field sounds better and Serato should pick this up too. Got a bit of re-organising to do now but looking forward to implementing some of your recommendations, here´s to having a life again! lol =D

Great advise!

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  • dee
  • 8/16/2011

feel like going to dubspot and shaking your hand bro. i appreciate this

  • samms
  • 8/16/2011

thanks big times!!!!!

  • ArtificialTunes
  • 8/16/2011

Thanks for the tips! Have any tips on how to wrangle separate iTunes libraries? I keep my giant collection on a network drive in my house and a separate library on my laptop – but iTunes does not make it easy to switch and swap songs. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Daniel Silva
  • 8/16/2011

Hi Endo,

Thanks for the post, excellent one. Wondering why you’d use Recordbox… can you give more details?

Thanks,

Daniel

  • Pierre de Lux
  • 8/16/2011

thanks a lot!!!! I feel lost in my music right now! This is perfect for me!

  • Graeme
  • 8/16/2011

“I personally like to either sort my playlists by “Date Added””

Since you seem to like iTunes gizmos, check this out. It lets you add music to iTunes so that when you sort by “Date Added” it also sorts by album and track ordering without getting things mixed together. It’s freeware, works on mac and windows.

http://graemebell.net/tools/software/add-my-tunes

  • RecordNow Music Lab 10 [Download] | DJ Software Review
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[...] player. That’s just for starters. With RecordNow 10 it’s easy to get more out of your music.RecordNow 10 is the easiest way to, rip, convert, transfer and enjoy music on your computer. Expand …or create smart playlists for your portable player. That’s just for starters. With RecordNow 10 [...]

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[...] Lees dj Endo’s blogpost over dit onderwerp op Dubspot [...]

  • Ordenen van je digitale muziekcollectie: Itunes smart playlists! « Bram de Winter
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[...] dj Endo’s blogpost over dit onderwerp op Dubspot Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInE-mailPrint Geplaatst in:Muziek ← Gifter: Next [...]

  • James
  • 8/16/2011

Great article! Smart playlists work like a charm, thanks!

  • Endo
  • 8/16/2011

@Adrien – Another thing worth mentioning about the color playlist is I actually think about different clubs when I’m coloring my tracks. Like Blue are my techno / afterhours bombs. When I’m playing an afterhours club I’ll go right to my blue playlist. Orange are my groovers. Aqua are my chillers / openers. They are very helpful for getting to the tracks you need rather than making playlists for each gig which can take days / weeks to do. By the way I don’t use Rekord Box any more. I just write the name of the color in iTunes now.

  • Charles
  • 8/16/2011

I’ve been looking for tips to create list and manage my music between iTunes and Traktor. This has to be by far the best and most comprehensive I’ve found. Thanks!

  • Breaking the Vinyl Habit - 5 Way to Ease Your Transition into Digital DJing | Dubspot Blog
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[...] We’ve covered this subject previously in our Tips for DJs series and DJ Endo’s thorough breakdown of iTunes smart playlists, but we want to reiterate this point if you’re making the transition from vinyl/CD to laptop [...]