For Music Fetishists Only

My fellow music fetishists are going to love this one. Want to thank me? Then just follow my advice. Because if you do, then, musically, your world will become a much better place.

For years now, pretty much every major MP3 player has featured some kind of “smart” playlist. Recently, Apple introduced “Genius” playlists, which, while nice, are pretty much BS. However, I recently came up with “Brilliant” playlists. And you need to start using them, too.

If you haven’t already, you’ve got to rate your music. And whatever you do, don’t be generous. Five stars should be reserved for your Desert Island songs — the ones you never, ever get tired of hearing. Four stars is for songs you really like, but could burn out listening to if played too often. You like a song OK? Then it gets three. Two stars for songs you might skip past more often than not when they come up. A single star for stuff you actively dislike, but have on your iPod for when your wife needs to hear some Bon Jovi at a party.

With this system, I’ve found that — quite accidentally — my music library is rated on an almost-perfect bell curve. 5% with five stars, 20% with four, 50% with three, 20% with two and 5% with one. And that’s a library of nearly 8,000 songs.

But what’s this about a Brilliant Playlist? At last, I can explain.

I am the undisputed King of Smart Playlists. I tag my songs with keywords to make building lists easier, such as “Melissa” for songs my wife likes, or “Explicit” for songs I don’t want my son to hear. I have smart playlists based on ratings, most-played songs, places I used to live, semesters at school, even a couple to take me back to particular weekends. But my go-to list, the one I used most every day, was just songs rated four or five stars which hadn’t been played in 30 days.

It was a good go-to playlist. It never played anything I didn’t like, and it never played something I had heard too recently. Well, mostly. Problem was, I was listening to the same 1,500 or so songs every 30 days. And my desert island songs weren’t playing often enough, and I was starting to burn out on the four-star stuff. But if I added in the 3-star songs, then the playlist jumped to 5,000+ songs, and I hardly ever got to hear the really good stuff.

There didn’t seem to be a solution. Either the iPod spewed out too much Barely OK stuff, or would wear out the better stuff. Then about a month ago I came up with Brilliant Playlists.

A Brilliant Playlist is made up of other playlists. Four of them, to be exact. Think of them as Placeholder Playlists, from which you can extract most anything you like, with a perfect blend of variety and hot rotation each and every time.

Keep bearing with me here while I keep explaining. You’ll get it shortly.

First Smart Playlist (for iTunes users; others will have to adapt). Five Star songs only, haven’t been played in the last 1 day; limited to 250 songs; Genre is not Christmas or Children’s Music.

Second Smart Playlist. Four Star songs only; haven’t been played in the last 45 days; limited to 250 songs; Genre is not Christmas or Children’s Music..

Third Smart Playlist. Three Star Songs only; haven’t been played in the last 60 days; limited to 200 songs; Genre is not Christmas or Children’s Music..

Fourth Smart Playlist. Two Star Songs only; haven’t been played in the last 180 days; limited to 50 songs; Genre is not Christmas or Children’s Music..

Now for the Brilliant Playlist. Set the rules for “Any” and build the Brilliant Playlist out of the four placeholder lists above. What do you get? 750 songs. A third of which is stuff you could listen to every day. The other third is stuff you really like, but don’t want to burn out on. Another near-third is just OK, but you haven’t heard any of them in months. And finally, a handful of items you might otherwise never hear, and wouldn’t want to hear more than once or twice a year.

Not bad, eh?

And here is where you’ll see just how brilliant this system is. You can pull a perfect blend of most anything you want out of your Brilliant Playlist. Try making a new playlist with three rules: Genre is Rock, year is before 1980, playlist is Brilliant. Now, you’ve got a Classic Rock playlist with the same perfect blend of tunes. Or: Artist is Frank Sinatra, playlist is Brilliant. Now your iPod will serve up plenty of the Chairman of the Board without you ever getting bored. Or: Year is in the range of 1983-1987, playlist is Brilliant — and suddenly I’m back in high school. Or: Comment contains “Melissa,” playlist is Brilliant — and I can play stuff Melissa likes while we rock in the kitchen, but without too much of her stuff I can’t stand.

Oh, and starting the day after Thanksgiving, I’ll temporarily remove the rules excluding Christmas songs — and I’ll get Christmas music added into the mix, but not so much of it that I’ll be sick of “Sleigh Ride” before Christmas rolls around.

And the Brilliant Playlist constantly updates itself, every time a song is played. It’s a perfect blend, no matter what, whether you’re playing it straight or pulling sub-playlists out of it.

You can change up the numbers, the frequency, or the ratings to suit yourself — but you get the idea. I find that having about 10% of my library for my iPod to choose from works well — and I can’t take it too much higher because I have fewer than 400 songs with five stars. You should adjust yours according to your own library and tastes, but the concept — the brilliance! — is endlessly adaptable.

Now crank it up to 11.