How to create a Smart Playlist in iTunes for running

itunes-playlist-criteria

I mentioned it briefly in my first post, but since I’ve been saying that one of the things I like the most about creating running playlists is rediscovering old music, I thought I’d explain how to create a smart playlist in iTunes it in a little more detail.

What is a Smart Playlist?

In iTunes, a Smart Playlist is one that’s generated based on pre-defined criteria. You define this criteria and iTunes automatically fills it to match. Smart Playlists are also “live”, meaning they’ll change automatically if the criteria changes.

A good example is the “Recently Added”, or “My Top Rated” playlists that come pre-built into iTunes. The content of these will automatically update based on what you do. Add new songs and the “Recently Added” will pull them in. Rate a song 5 stars and it’ll be automatically included in the “My Top Rated” playlist.

How to create a Smart Playlist for running?

If you want to use beats-per-minute (BPM), which I recommend, you first need to add this data to your songs. Unfortunately, songs you purchase don’t come with this information embedded, so you have to figure out a way to add it. I explained how I added BPM for free here. Other than that, it’s really simple:

1. Open iTunes and select ‘Music’ from the Library dropdown on the left and click on ‘Playlists’.

itunes-library-playlists

2. In the lower left, there’s a ‘+’ (plus sign) next to a gear sign. Click on the plus sign and choose ‘New Smart Playlist’. A new window will open where you can select the criteria for your playlist.

itunes-playlist-criteria

In the example above, I’ve chosen:

  • BPM is in the range of 160 to 170
  • Genre is Electronic
  • Plays is 0
  • Limit it to 45 minutes

Note that at the top I checked to match ‘all’ of the following rules. This is important as otherwise it’ll pull songs that match any criteria, not necessarily all.

The BPM will ensure all songs are at a high and consistent tempo. You don’t want to be listening to a very fast song and then get a ballad when you’re in the zone. Genre is self explanatory. Plays at zero means it’s a song that hasn’t been played before. As I mentioned, I have a lot of music that I haven’t gotten around to listening (or that I haven’t heard since I put them in iTunes), and I like to run to music I haven’t heard in a while. The limit ensures the playlist is contained to a certain amount of time.

That’s it. Click OK and a new playlist will be created in your Playlists list in iTunes.

Since the BPM is unfortunately not always correct, I tend to create playlists with more music than I need and then delete the ones that don’t work for running. To do this, just change the limit. For example, if I want a 45 minute playlist I’ll limit it to 60 minutes, giving me a few extra songs.

If I find a playlist that I really like I just copy the songs into a normal playlist and that way they’ll never change.

So there you go. If you were wondering how to create a smart playlist in iTunes, specifically for running, this is a good way.

Add BPM to songs in iTunes – BPM Tapper

Yesterday I explained how to add BPM data to iTunes using beaTunes. That works well, it’s free and can batch process your entire library. But I also explained that it sometimes gives weird results. When this happens you can manually assign BPM to individual songs by simply tapping to the rhythm.

Today I found a very cool (and free) app for Mac called BPM Tapper. You basically play a song in iTunes and tap away at the rhythm for a few seconds. Then click a button and it adds the BPM to iTunes.

Simple. Accurate. Cool.

Here’s what the developers say about it:

This free little buddy is used to get BPM’s for your songs into iTunes. Just tap the big button along to the beat of the music and a precise BPM will be given to you. Just tap and all will be revealed. This is your start into a world of perfect BPM playlists.

And here’s a video that shows it in action:

I downloaded it and have been playing with it all day. And I love it.

Get it at the developers site or from the Mac App Store.

BPM in iTunes – How to add BPM to songs in iTunes with beaTunes

There are basically two ways of creating playlists of songs that match your running pace, and one requires you have Beats-Per-Minute in iTunes:

  1. You can manually drag in songs by hand
  2. You can automatically add songs using Smart Playlists

If you’re like me and have several thousand songs in your iTunes library, option 1 doesn’t sound too appealing.

I started manually adding songs myself, but after a while it does become a drag. I either ended up just picking the songs I listen to most often, or started going through them in alphabetical order but got bored before I finished the A’s.

So I set out to find a way to do this automatically.

To do this, you need to know the rhythm or cadence of each song. In iTunes that means knowing the Beats-Per-Minute, or BPM. Now, I’m sure I’m not using the correct terms (rhythm and cadence might be completely different things) so if you’re a musician, please forgive me. This is how I understand it best and I’m not really interested in semantics.

Why do you need BPM in iTunes?

Having accurate BPM values in iTunes for all your songs will allow you to do Smart Playlists quickly and easily. I explained roughly how to do this when I posted my first running playlist in JoggerTunes.

 

Latin music playlist itunes running

Basically all you need to do is set BPM as one of the rules in the Smart Playlist to the range you want to run to. Then just add other rules like genre, maximum time, artist, etc. as you wish.

So how do we add BPM in iTunes?

There are several ways, some free and some paid. We’ll explore several in the future, but for now I want to explain how to do it for free and automated.

I did it using a software called beaTunes.

beaTunes is a paid app by Tagtraum Industries, but they offer a 14 day trial that allows you to add BPM values to your entire iTunes library. Just download the app, install and run it. It’s fairly simple and self explanatory, but here are the steps (or you can check the detailed description on their site)

  1. Start beaTunes
  2. It’ll ask if you want to analyse the library. Click yes.
  3. In the Analysis Options dialog box that appears, tick Estimate BPM and Replace existing BPM if you want.
  4. Click Analyse and wait.

And I do mean wait. My iTunes library has just under 14,000 songs and it took several hours. Not sure exactly how long it took to process as I did it at about 6pm and left it all night. It had finished all my songs when I woke up the next day.

It worked well, however, I did find a few discrepancies with beaTunes putting different BPM to songs I had repeated in my library. I spoke about this before. Overall though, it’s been great creating random playlists using BPM in iTunes.

This is a Mac solution though, not sure about Windows options yet. There are a lot of possible solutions for both Mac and Windows here.

BPM in iTunes – Conflicting results

Getting beats per minute, or BPM in iTunes is a pain in the butt.

I’ve been playing with different applications and widgets to help me do this, but I’ve had very discouraging results so far.

I’ll give you an example of how screwed up my BPM in iTunes are.

At some point I must’ve ripped the Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack CD twice into my iTunes Library. Not sure how or why, but it’s happened a couple of times so I’m guessing I wasn’t that organised back then. However, the fact that I had 2 identical albums in my Library proved a good test for the software I used to automatically calculate and insert BPM values to my songs.

Well, after running the software to add BPM in iTunes, some songs match exactly, which is what you’d expect given they’re the same song. But some are completely different. It’s just ridiculous.

How can the software calculate different BPM in iTunes for the same song, ripped from the same CD.

For example, Local God (track #2) has a BPM of 111 in one album and 56 on the other one!

Then Little Star (track #12) has a BPM in iTunes of 153 in one album and 77 in the other one. Similar with Pretty Piece of Fish (track #4), with 183 in one and 91 in the other one.

The strange thing is that most of the other songs have exactly the same BPM.

I’ll keep testing different ways of getting the BPM values into iTunes and will post my findings here on the blog.

(UPDATE: I found a better, and free way to add BPM in iTunes)