I like to create new iTunes playlists for lots of different purposes: for parties, workouts, for a regular day of work. In principle, the smart playlists feature works great for this — just select a couple of criteria like “added in the past 100 days” and “BPM [beats per minute] in the range of 110-150” and you’ve got a selection of recently purchased songs that will be great for running.

Smart playlist based on date added and BPM

But I have eclectic musical tastes, which means that smart playlists don’t work so neatly. If I created a playlist like the one described above, I would end with a playlist full of podcasts, kid songs and showtunes — not what I want to hear when I’m working out or entertaining non-showtune-loving friends (though to be honest, I don’t have too many of the latter).

For years I’ve been working around the problem by adding lots of exclusion criteria to my smart playlists. It’s reasonably effective, but it makes the job of creating a smart playlist quite cumbersome, since I have to add a dozen criteria if I want to exclude everything that doesn’t belong. Inevitably, I end up with some weird genre still junking up my playlist, so have to refine my smart playlist still further:

Smart playlist excludes tracks based on genre or kind

Recently, I hit on a more efficient way of keeping the junk out of my iTunes playlists. I created a single smart playlist that includes all the podcasts, video files, showtunes, meditations and kids’ music I want to exclude from┬ámy other smart playlists. I called this playlist “EXCLUDE THESE” and it looks something like this (there are so many criteria that they can’t fit on one screen):

List of criteria to include songs in playlist based on genre or album

Now it’s a snap for me to create a new smart playlist using just a few criteria. I create my new smart playlist based on whichever criteria I care about, and add in one more criterion: playlist is not EXCLUDE THESE. This means that any track that appears in my EXCLUDE THESE playlist will not appear in my new smart playlist.


Short list of playlist criteria excludes tracks that appear in the "EXCLUDE THESE" playlist

This trick dramatically simplifies the process of creating new smart playlists. If by some chance an unwanted track makes it into a new smart playlist, I fix it by adding that track to my “EXCLUDE THESE” playlist, using as broad a criterion as possible. (E.g. instead of saying include track with “Little Mermaid” I say include anything with “Disney” in the album title.)

If you share my fondness for showtunes or another special interest musical genre, creating an “exclude” playlist can help you make the most of iTunes smart playlists.

Note: Some of you may wonder how to create playlists based on Beats Per Minute (BPM). The best approach is to buy an application that will calculate the BPM of each track in your library. Here’s a great post that reviews the options. These days I use Cadence, but I’ve also had good results from Tangerine. Just remember that you’ll have to run the BPM software whenever you add new tracks to your iTunes library. (This may be easiest if you create a “new tracks” smart playlist and just run the BPM software on these most recently purchased tracks.)