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iTunes Tune-up : Create a yearbook of song

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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If you’re into music from a certain time period – like your high school years – you can use the iTunes® program on your computer to easily create a smart playlist of the era. And because it’s a smart playlist, once you’ve set it up, iTunes can keep the list updated automatically. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Set up a new smart playlist.

  • Open iTunes on your computer.
  • In the lower left corner of the window, open up the folder options (marked with a “+”).
  • Select "New Smart Playlist."

When the window opens, choose "Year" from the menu.

Enter the year of release you want the smart playlist to match. It can either be a single number, or a range of years (like the four years you were in college, for example).

You'll probably discover that many of your tracks already have the Year field filled in, and your smart playlist will instantly be populated with tracks. If they're not, move to step 2.

Step 2 - Fill in the "Year" field on your tracks. Select "Music" from your Library options. If your tracks aren't already showing the Year field in your Library display, go to the "View" menu and open up "View Options" and check the "Year" box. You'll quickly see which songs are missing Year information.

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If a song you want in your smart playlist is one of them, just highlight the track and select "Get Info" from the File menu. This shows you the text and graphic info for the track. Click the Info tab to reveal the Year field. Just enter the appropriate year, and hit "OK."

If an entire album needs fixing, don't worry. That's step 3.

Step 3 - Multiple item shortcut. There's an easy way to simultaneously enter the same information for multiple tracks. First, sort your selections so that all the tracks you want to update are together (sorting by artist or album is usually the best way).

Highlight the first track on the list, and hold down the shift key. Highlight the last song of the list, and you should see all the songs between the first and last highlighted as well.

Select “Get Info” to open a Multiple Item Information menu. Fill in the Year field and select "OK." That information will automatically be entered into the track information for every song in the group.

Note. Songs imported from CD collections often have the year the compilation was released automatically entered, rather than the year the song was released. A song from 1966, for example, may have a year of 2010 entered if that’s when the compilation it’s on was released.

Step 4 (optional) – Fine tune your smart playlist.Depending on the music in your iTunes library, just sorting by year or a range of years may call up only the songs you want. Some unwanted tunes can also appear if they match the year range. If you want the hits from your high school days, for example, you might not want classical tracks, or holiday tunes, or other genres spoiling the mood.

You can easily filter out those unwanted genres (or artists, or albums, or any other data field). To adjust additional parameters on your smart playlist, first highlight the smart playlist in the navigation bar.

Then select “Edit Smart Playlist” from the File menu.

Click the + button to add filters. In the example below, we’re excluding two genres. But you could just as easily choose to include genres. So your playlist could be exclusively rock tracks, or country songs. Want both rock and country? Just add the parameters to select both.

Step 5 – Setting the playlist for automatic updates.While you can set up a smart playlist to pull every track from a particular range of years, you run the risk of always hearing the same songs every time you select the playlist. Even randomized, it’s possible the list won’t sound as varied as you like.

If you set a limit on the number of tracks in the playlist, then iTunes can refresh it as the criteria shifts. Set the playlist to pull 25 of the least frequently played songs that fit, for example. Every time a song is played, it no longer qualifies, and iTunes will drop it from the list and replace it with another. The result is every time you listen to the playlist, you’ll hear a different mix.

Just as in Step 4, open up the smart playlist’s edit window.  Select the “Limit to” option. You can define the maximum number of songs, total playing time, even the playlist’s file size. That can be handy if you want to use the playlist on a portable such as an iPhone® or iPad® with limited memory.  

The final step is to determine how the smart playlist is to select the content. If you choose random, then iTunes will select a random group of songs from the filtered list. “Most recently added” will ensure your newest tunes always replace the oldest entries.

Most recently played looks at the play count for each track, and adjusts accordingly. When you select “Live updating,” then the playlist will be continually refreshed. So if you want your 25 songs to be the ones most recently added, then every time you add more songs to your iTunes library that match, the smart playlist will update itself.

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