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.
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.
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.
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.
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.