My iPod (named iPatch) was a birthday present a little over a year ago. It’s a second-generation Nano; I didn’t need it to hold more music than I could listen to before I had to recharge it again. It’s actually only a 4-gig Nano: I went up to the register and said, “I’d like a green 8-gig Nano, please,” and the cashier said to me, “The 8-gig only comes in black.”
“All right, then; I’d like a green 4-gig Nano, please.”
Eric goggled at me. He’s a gadget guy, so he thought buying the smaller one because it was prettier was the height of insanity. The way I figure it, when he gets his own iPod, he can get whatever color he wants.
And thus I joined the constellation of folks walking around in their own little universes, signaling our fellowship in isolation (and ripeness for mugging, so I hear) by the bright white umbilicals running from our pockets to our ears. But entering the debate about how iPods have contributed to the disintegration of modern society is not my aim here. Instead, I want to talk about my playlists. When I first got iPatch, Sara told me about Smart Playlists and their great flexibility. What she didn’t mention is that they would become the single best way for me interact with my iPod. Here’s how it works:
I knew how I wanted to organize the music on my iPod: I wanted it to play music I love. Since iPatch has not (yet) achieved sentience, I had to tell it what that music was, which meant I had to rate my music. Cue my first Smart Playlist, “Sweeps Week.” (Because it’s all about ratings, you see.) I gave it the following two rules: “Genre is not Podcast” and “Rating is [null].” Then I limited it to the size of my iPod’s memory, with tracks selected randomly, and set it to live updating. When I went out to the bus stop, I would start the music shuffling, rating each track as I listened to it. I used a modified version of my Netflix ratings standard: 5 means I love it, 4 means I like it very much, 3 means I like it, 2 means I don’t like it (and will therefore delete it from my machine), and 1 means there’s been some kind of technical problem, and I need to rerecord the track.
I listened to “Sweeps Week” for a while, dutifully rating every track I owned, until it started to get a little tedious. I had to click through and decide on a rating for every track, and once I had identified a track I really loved, I knew it was going to be pulled off my iPod the next time I synced (sunc?). So I jumped the gun a little on my next playlist, which I named “Greatest Hits.” The rules on that one are “Rating is greater than [3 stars],” “Play count is less than 5,” and “Genre is not Holiday” (Dolly Parton’s Christmas carols kept popping up in August, and while I love her to death, I’m just not up for “Jingle Bells” when it’s 85 degrees out), and again I set it to live updating and random track selection. I added the rule about play count because I had more four- and five-star tracks than could fit on iPatch at one time, so I needed some kind of rotation mechanism. Once enough of the music gets to five plays, I’ll change the rule to ten. I listen to this one on shuffle also.
After not too long I realized that sticking with “Greatest Hits” meant I had a whole underclass of music I liked well enough to keep but wasn’t ever hearing—everything I’d given three stars. I made a third playlist called “Tier 2.” That one’s got “Rating is [3 stars],” “Play count is less than 3,” and “Genre is not Holiday.” (Again, random track selection and live updating; those two settings are standard for me.) “Greatest Hits” is set to take up about two-thirds of the space on my iPod, with “Tier 2” and a podcasts playlist (q.v. infra) filling up the rest of the space. My vague grasp of probabilities told me that music from a playlist that takes up one-sixth of iPatch’s memory would cycle through (rack up play counts) more slowly than music from a playlist that takes up two-thirds of the memory, so I lowered the play count requirement to keep “Tier 2” fresh, too.
My last two playlists are both about podcasts. I’ve got 20-some podcast subscriptions, and my first podcast playlist, “Podcasts,” is just for listening to them. The rules are simple: “Genre is Podcast” and “Play count is 0.” I see it as the podcast version of “Sweeps Week,” because as I listen to a podcast, if I like it enough, I keep it; if I don’t like it enough, I delete it. What I haven’t got around to yet is using my second podcast playlist, “Podcast All-Stars,” which is for podcasts I’ve kept and would like to listen to again sometime (“Genre is Podcast” and “Play count is greater than 0”). That’s basically the podcast version of “Greatest Hits.” Eventually, once I’ve worked down the total of unheard podcasts, I’ll start listening to some of them a second time.
A quick note about shuffling and random selection: With “Greatest Hits” choosing tracks randomly from the available pool, and shuffle choosing a random track order from that playlist, I get basically a radio station playing only music I love. It’s pretty fantastic. The best juxtaposition I can think of off the top of my head was when I went from Sarah McLachlan’s “Fear” to “Let Go,” by Frou Frou. It was great—similar sound worlds, related subject matter, and an honest-to-God emotional arc from the beginning of one song to the end of the other. That‘s why I let random-number generators pick for me.