iTunes playlists are a great way to group music (songs, bands, custom mixes) and other media for quick access and playback, or for selectively syncing content to your iPod, iPhone, or iPad.
If you have a lot of playlists, however, it can become difficult to keep them organized. iTunes tries to help you stay organized by letting you create folders to hold multiple playlists; and these folders, in turn, can hold other folders or playlists.
Think of iTunes’ sidebar as similar to the Finder in list view. Any folder can contain as many folders or playlists as you want. To create a folder, choose File -> New Playlist Folder.
If you have nothing selected in the sidebar, or if you’ve selected one of your libraries (Music or Movies, for example) iTunes will add the folder at the bottom of the sidebar. If you’ve selected a folder, however, iTunes will create the new folder as a sub-folder of your selection.
By default, this folder is called—just like in the Finder—Untitled Folder, and its name is highlighted so you can change it right away. (It’s a good idea to do so, because if you don’t, other folders will be called Untitled Folder 2 and so on.)
Once you have a folder, you can move playlists inside it, and create more folders in it as well. Within folders, sub-folders display first, followed by playlists. (One annoyance is that you can’t select multiple playlists to move into a folder at once—you have to drag each one individually.)
When you add playlists to a folder, they are organized with smart playlists at the top, in alphabetical order, then regular playlists below, also in alphabetical order. Since they are organized in alphabetical order, you may want to cheat a bit to get certain playlists at the top of the list, but still retain their names.
For example, if you have two playlists named Dance Faves and Rap Faves, but want the latter to be at the top of the list, you could name it -Rap Faves; the hyphen will be sorted before any letter. And if you want to put your Trance Faves playlist above that one, you could name it --Trance Faves; two hyphens trump a single one. The same technique works to sort folders as well.
You can use other characters as well to force a sort order; the most common non-alphanumeric characters sort in this order:
_ - , ; : ! ? . ' " ( ) @ * / & # % + < = > ~ $
(Note that iTunes doesn’t sort in the standard ASCII sort order, and that iTunes ignores spaces when sorting.)
You probably won’t need to use many of these; just remember that hyphens, exclamation points, and periods sort in that order, and that should probably be enough for your needs. This organization works with folders too.
You don’t have to display all of your playlists if you use folders. You can see disclosure triangles next to the folders in the image above; you can click these to show or hide the folders’ contents. You could have hundreds of playlists, yet have a compact display, only toggling the visibility of the folders you want when you play their contents. And you can even hide all of your playlists if you want by clicking the Hide text that shows up next to Playlists in the iTunes sidebar when you mouse over (or next) to the Playlists heading.
This playlist organization carries over to your portable device as well, at least for those playlists you’ve chosen to sync (if you don’t sync your entire library).
So if you use a lot of playlists, think of organizing them more efficiently. They’ll be easier to find, and easier to use on your iPod, iPhone or iPad.
[Updated at 11:01AM pacific to clarify how to hide all playlists in iTunes 10]