Random, And Not Repetitive

| posted in: life 

In Random Is As Random Does, I talked about how I configured some smart playlists in iTunes to provide a better random sample of the music I most wanted to hear from my MP3 collection.  Basically I created smart playlists for the least played tracks, the least recently played tracks, the most played tracks, the most recently played tracks, and random tracks that weren’t already part of the first four playlists.  These five playlists are combined into one massive list, and that list is in turn filtered through the list I spend the most time listening to; one that grabs only 25 tracks at random provided they haven’t been played in the last 3 weeks.

This scheme has worked out surprisingly well except for one small beef.  While the ordering of the songs is random, and does represent a nice cross section of my favorite songs, it was surprisingly repetitive.  The pool of songs, those with 3 or 4 stars in my rating system just wasn’t large enough to produce freshness in the playlist as well as randomness.

Until today I had used the rating system rather haphazardly.  When I started with iTunes I imported some 400 MP3s from WinAmp and gave them all 4 stars.  Many of these titles were ones that I no longer had the CD for, and I wanted to keep them segregated from any new imports, purchases, or rips.  3 stars were given to new favorites outside of the original 400.  Songs that I grew tired of were demoted to 2 stars, and since you can’t remove stars from a track once it has been assigned any, 1 star is for those tracks I don’t wish to hear, but are unwilling to delete.  5 stars were used for a while to create playlists for my iPod, but that scheme hasn’t been used in a long time.

The Shuffle playlist used only songs with 3 or 4 stars as it’s universe, and as it was rather underpopulated, produced repetitiveness.  A quick scan of my library revealed some 3789 tracks that either had no stars, or hadn’t been played for one reason or another.  Time to include them in the lottery.

First I added 2 stars to all the tracks that didn’t already have 3 or more stars.  Scanning down through this new list of tracks I quickly eliminated several I don’t care to hear (but keep for completeness sake) by giving them 1 star.  My new and improved star scheme looks like this:


Next, I created two new smart playlists to include a much larger swath of my collection in the shuffle.  First I made a list of tracks to avoid.  Audio books, holiday music, and some children’s music that I don’t want in my daily rotation.  This list is called P:Avoid, and uses the genre tag to eliminate tracks.

The second new playlist is called P:Obscure, and it grabs all tracks with a rating of 2 stars or higher that aren’t in the P:Avoid list.  The P:Obscure list is included in the shuffle composite list, bumping the universe of songs from 1675 to 3975.

Over time I expect I’ll be able to increase the “not played in x days” value to something much higher than 21.  For now I am getting to hear lots of music I haven’t heard in a long time.  There have been a couple of tracks I’ve wanted to banish to the 1 star level already, but I’m resisting the urge until they come around on the playlist a second time.

Here are the playlists that make up my Shuffle:


A composite list, made up of the 250 songs selected in the six underlying lists is next. Finally a smart playlist that you actually listen to, Shuffle, which selects songs from the composite list provided the song hasn’t been played in the last 21 days.  Hopefully, even after I’ve chewed through the new tracks in the shuffle universe, the larger universe of tracks will eliminate the repetitiveness that had started to plague the previous shuffle.


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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.