How to create playlists on an MP3 player

playlists main How to create playlists on an MP3 player

Whenever you get a new device of any kind there’s a lot of stuff to learn to make the most of it, and not all of it is self-explanatory. For MP3 players there are many things to learn if you want to use the player fully, and one of these is definitely playlist creation. Sure you can see there’s a playlist option in the menus, but that list is empty! Read on to learn what to do to fill this magic list.

What is a playlist?

A playlist is basically a small file that lists some or all of the files on the player in a specific order. The point of this is to create lists that fit certain types of moods or situations, like specific lists for working out, relaxing and so on. Playlists only refer to files and doesn’t contain the files themselves, which means that there won’t be any duplicate files taking up space on the player even if you have 200 playlists with the same songs in them.

On-the-go playlists

There are basically two types of playlists that you might have on your player: normal playlists, and on-the-go playlists. Normal playlists are created on the computer as more semi-permanent playlists that you plan and arrange to last. On-the-go playlists however are playlists that can be created on the player itself, to be used as an advanced way of queuing songs more or less. Not all players have on-the-go playlists (or playlist support at all) but some people swear to this functionality as it’s a great way of mixing your music the way you like it without being near a computer.

Playlist formats

This is one aspect that is more confusing than anything else, but since it’s often listed on spec sheets or given as “useful information” by advanced users, it should be covered. Playlists are as I said small files that list your music in a specific order. These small playlist files can however be made in various ways, and so there are different formats that you might come across. .M3U is by far the most used formats, but you might also come across others like .PLA, .PLS and so on. In most cases you don’t need to worry about these formats (at least not if your device connects with MTP), you just need to be aware of what it means when this is listed under technical specs.

Creating playlists: MTP

There are different ways of creating playlists depending on how you device connects to the computer. The most common ways of doing so is via MTP, which means Media Transfer Protocol. This is a Windows system that looks like normal file transfers to and from a removable drive, but it’s somewhat different. It appears in My Computer with the device name instead of a drive letter, has a nice picture of the player, will warn you if you try to transfer files it doesn’t support and so on. MTP drivers come with Windows Media Player, which often leads people to think you need to use Windows Media Player to transfer songs. That’s not the case. It simply means that the MTP software is installed with WMP. If you have an older version of Windows running WMP10 or below, you should upgrade WMP to 11 (for Vista and XP, Windows 7 comes with WMP12) as that also upgrades the MTP drivers and adds some crucial features.

Using software

Once the MTP drivers are up to date you have two ways of creating playlists: with software, or without. There are many applications out there meant for organizing your music, and these can normally also create playlists on your device. The exact steps vary from application to application, but the basic concept is the same: you import your music into the application, create playlists using that application (normally by creating a new playlist and simply dragging songs onto it) and then you sync those playlists onto the device. The exact process and capabilities of various software is described in the individual software reviews linked to above, but it doesn’t vary too much. Using this process, the magic of MTP will make sure the playlists are stored in the correct place so they show up on your payer. They will also transfer any songs needed for the playlist, in case you included tracks that were only on the computer and not the device. That way you don’t have to worry about the playlists referring to songs that aren’t on the player. It’s really very simple, and my preferred way of making playlists- however it can be a lot of work if you have to import the music to the software first, and especially if the files aren’t properly tagged.

Using explorer

You can also create playlists directly using Windows Explorer, as long as the player is connected in MTP mode. Browse to the player and right click a file and you should have the playlist option right there. If not, your version of WMP is too old and you have to update it first. Doing it this way is a bit more tedious since you have to interact with the physical playlist file, dragging songs onto it and so on. The file is created in the directory you are in when you right click to create one, but most players will still see it (and you can make one in the playlist folder if you want to keep track). It’s a lot more inconvenient than creating playlists using software, but it’s still very easy to do and shouldn’t take overly long. Another downside is that while playlists created with software can be easily transferred to other players (since the playlists are transferred with all content required), manually created playlists basically have to be redone if you’re switching players.

Creating playlists: MSC/UMS

MSC/UMS is the same thing and basically refers to mass storage mode, which means the player acts like any other flashdrive when mounted. The computer has no idea it’s an MP3 player, so it doesn’t treat it as one. That means no right-click playlists and crippled software interaction. There are extremely few players on the market today that are MSC/UMS only- some let you choose between MSC/MTP, some are MTP only, but very few are MSC only. For those few players, you basically have to look it up yourself on a forum or elsewhere to see what methods work (if any) to get playlists onto the player. What format, what software to use etc. There’s a chance you can still use software like the ones linked to above to create the playlists, but you might have to do it using files on the player and not the computer, and then make sure to save the playlist onto the device. ANother way of doing it is to keep the playlist file in the same folder as the music files, or the same relative position, then they should work. I doubt that many people will even run into a player that is MSC only and has playlists, but there’s always the issue of Linux and other “speshul” OSes.


SteveW on January 2, 2010 1:02 PM

I have four different players that I use as “MSC only”. They are the Samsung YP-Z5, Sansa Clip, Sansa Fuze, and Sansa Clip+. I have not made playlists on the Clip+ yet, but I moved the micro SDHC card from the Fuze to the Clip+ and the playlist on it worked perfectly, so I figure it will be the same.With all players, this is what I do.1. Copy songs to player.2. Load songs from player to Winamp.3. Adjust playlist as necessary.4. Save playlist to player.IT WORKS PERFECTLY every time. And, for me at least, couldn’t be any simpler. No editing the playlist, or anything else. I believe I read on the forums that the same process also works with MediaMonkey.Steve

Andreas Ødegård on January 2, 2010 1:37 PM

@SteveW: Yup thats the way to do it on most MSC players. The difference between that on with MTP is as I wrote in the article that with MSC you have to refer to the files on the player itself. You can’t make a playlist referring to files on the computer and then transfer (unless you have software that will correct it for you).

joe on January 2, 2010 4:47 PM

MTP playlist creation sounds great, until you find out Microsoft made it and thus doesn’t acknowledge the fact that there are other formats out there other than wma and mp3.

Paul on January 2, 2010 5:27 PM

@joe:When your player is connected in MTP, it gives the software your using a list of all the formats supported by the player itself. That means that if you use Winamp, Media Monkey or any other app that supports something else than mp3 and wma, the songs will transfer correctly.

joe on January 2, 2010 6:18 PM

But the playlists will not, which is like the whole point of it.

Nicko on January 2, 2010 8:21 PM

What’s the point of this article!?I don’t get it.You don’t mention any software which will let you create playlists compatible with a MSC device!I’m sorry but this article is pointless.MTP devices sync playlists in Winamp/WMP it’s a piece of cake.MSC is where the headaches start.

Andreas Ødegård on January 3, 2010 3:31 AM

@Nicko: I think you should read the article again before you start complaining. MSC is where the headache starts indeed, because there is no universal method of doing it, which is why you have to look up the method for every player individually to see what methods people use. It might work with the same software that MTP uses, software that is linked to in the article, using the method that is described in the article. Or you might have to look up other methods of doing it, depending on what the player requires. This is exactly what it already says in the article.

Nicko on January 3, 2010 5:39 PM

Sorry. I jumped the gun there. Apologies.

SteveW on January 4, 2010 10:48 AM

Ummm, I have four different players (ok only two manufacturers, one Samsung and three Sansa) that I use in MSC mode, and the exact same method works for all of them. Unfortunately, I don’t know about other players, but the method is so basic, why wouldn’t it work elsewhere?Steve

Andreas Ødegård on January 4, 2010 5:34 PM

@SteveW: It normally works, but there is no standard for playlists on MSC devices, so it might not. What playlist format, where to store them etc. For the 1.5 years I had a Cowon D2, I wasn’t able to get playlists on it in any mode, MTP or MSC. Some player’s are just stubborn.

Skinjob on January 4, 2010 5:37 PM

As long as the MSC player supports m3u/Winamp style playlists (nearly all do), playlist creation is incredibly simple and can be done with a mulitude of different tools.For example, in Winamp, just drag some files from your player into Winamp’s Playlist editor, arrange as desired, anNot sure why this myth persists that MSC is somehow more difficult that MTP. I find it to be the exact opposite. MSC is simple, reliable and incredibly open and flexible. MTP is problematic, closed and very inflexible.

SteveW on January 5, 2010 1:22 AM

Skinjob:I think the problem is the word “sync”. Many users seem to want to “sync” their music (& playlists) to their players.Based on msgs I have seen in the forum, “sync”ing is sometimes synonomous with “sink”ing.Steve

Defaultluser on January 5, 2010 2:44 PM

@Skinjob:The m3u playlist works great for me too – that is, until you try to create a playlist that includes files from both internal and external memory.This needs to get fixed, but there’s no obvious ways for manufacturers to go-about it without forcing users to go MTP. That, or else they need to make it clear to users what the full internal path to memory and SD card are.

lestatar on January 6, 2010 2:17 PM

Andreas:Happy New Year!Don’t know if you remember me – we interacted recently on the abi Sony forum on a thread about ditching WMP in favor of great apps like MediaMonkey and Winamp, etc in order to manager your DAP.This article is a great basic primer on playlist creation. In combination with your recent excellent review of the top media managers, these two articles together would go a long way towards solving many of the most basic questions new DAP users would have.2 suggestions for you:- consider bulleted points in this primer to stress significant items [we live in a PowerPoint world], but stressing points such as “WMP is not required” would be helpful to inexperienced users.- consider posting prominent stickies on the abi boards linking to these articles. The first step most users with tech problems/questions take is to search Google for answers. Many of the results will be links to threads and posts in web forums – folks will follow those links directly to the forums and post their questions there. The sad part is that this method usually means they end up bypassing the main abi site completely and likely may never see your articles. Stickies on the forums linking back to these articles would help alot IMO, especially with prominent titles like “Playlist Basics” or “Alternatives to Windows Media Manager”.These steps would surely go a long way towards helping confused newbies with the most common types of issues on the forums.In this way, the forums and regular users there would be freed up from too many of the same types of posts asking for the same basic help and instead concentrate on the next level of questions/more esoteric problems.Just some thoughts…cheers,-lestatar

UndergroundMp3Fan on January 6, 2010 3:23 PM

To be honest, I never really understood the need for playlists. But, I think that’s because I’ve had mp3 players that supported folder browsing. So, if I wanted to listen to all hip-hop, all rock, all lounge, whatever…I would simply create folders for these genres.Now that I understand that there “won’t be any duplicate files taking up space on the player” I just might make a playlist for my favorite cover songs. These songs go across genres, so instead of taking up unnecessary space by creating a folder for them, a playlist would save the day. :) Thanks for posting! :)

crd88 on January 10, 2010 12:26 PM

I both modes are useful, just in different purposes. In my case I ‘m using a Cowon S9 that supports both modes.MSC/UMS: I like this mode for transferring songs. This is because I can use explorer, bash, KDE, whatever shell I want directly without the need for software. For example I have a folder for Trance and a Pimsleur’s Japanese. I simply drag n drop the folders onto the player in the directory I want and boom, I’m done.MTP: I like using the media transfer protocol for creating playlist. After transferring the content with MSC, I can simply R-click the folder and create playlist(again in the shell). This is the most convenient for me because I’m not working across multiple folders, 1 playlist per folder. I could see where that might be an issue though for others. Finally I like using MTP for video transfer. This is because video can be tricky(bit-rate, format, sampling size, reference frame, FPS, bit-rate type) Unless I want to manual boost a spec, leaving it to MTP to convert transfer the video is much easier.

Eistein on September 22, 2010 12:43 PM

I don’t get why mp3 players can’t just have a add song, currently playing, to specific playlist feature… It’s so annoying that you have to spend a lot of time infront of the computer, every time you want to extend your permanent lists.

My player have a feature that allow tracks that are not currently played to be qued up in a ‘on the go’ list that I can later save and name, but I can’t add tracks to lists already made. Also I can’t always remember the names of the tracks I want to add, so I have to listen to them first, but then the ‘on the go’ list I’ve made so far goes away… It’s so stupid!

Joe Linux on February 2, 2011 5:29 AM

As a Linux user connecting to an S9, I find this article to be without merit. Having read it, I still don’t know how to create a playlist for the S9 with Linux using just a simple text editor. In my opinion that should be all that is required. You would think the author would have given some tips on how to do it in what he refers to as “Special OSes.”

To be honest saying, “Do a Google search for you particular player,” seems a bit lame.

Dena Cunningham on May 19, 2011 3:06 PM

I have a Mobiblu w-10 how do I download music on to it?

Ge on July 28, 2011 2:59 PM

Einstein, Rockbox firmware on my Sansas (c250 & e280′s) allows me to load any playlist on the player & then add music to it either browsing the folder structure or the database then I can save it under it’s current name or a new one. With the database browsing I can add music based on the tags, i.e. by artist, album, song, genre, etc.

Christopher on December 22, 2011 4:56 AM


I recently got a Sony, Walkman (MP3 player) and was wondering if you could give me step by step instructions on how to create a playlist


Comments Closed. Please continue the discussion in the forums