Changing the order of songs in an iTunes playlist can be frustratingly difficult or impossible depending on the situation. There are a few key reasons why you may be unable to reorder tracks in a playlist:
The playlist is a Smart Playlist
Smart Playlists in iTunes are playlists that are automatically generated based on set criteria like genre, artist, release date, etc. The order of songs in Smart Playlists is determined automatically by iTunes and cannot be manually rearranged. If you want to create a playlist with a custom order, you will need to create a regular playlist instead of a Smart Playlist.
The playlist was published to Apple Music
If you have published a playlist to your Apple Music account for sharing, then iTunes locks the order of songs to match what was published. This prevents the publicly shared playlist from getting out of sync with your private version. You will need to unpublish the playlist from your Apple Music account first before you can rearrange the order in iTunes.
The playlist contains downloaded Apple Music tracks
iTunes places restrictions on reordering songs that are downloaded from the Apple Music streaming catalog. This can affect playlists that contain both downloaded Apple Music tracks alongside tracks from your personal library. To freely rearrange a playlist, you will need to contain only tracks from your personal library.
You have iTunes Match enabled
iTunes Match is an iCloud based service that matches tracks in your personal library with high quality versions available on Apple Music so you can access your music from any device. A side effect of iTunes Match is that it can lock the order of songs in playlists, preventing manual rearranging. Try disabling iTunes Match and see if your playlist order becomes editable again.
You do not have editing permission for the playlist
For playlists shared on the same iTunes library between multiple users, editing permissions can be limited. Playlists default to allowing rearranging, but the owner may have disabled editing capabilities. You will need to confirm with the owner of the shared playlist that you have permission to manually reorder tracks.
If you are encountering one of the above restrictions that is preventing you from reordering songs in an iTunes playlist, here are some workarounds:
Copy the playlist contents into a new playlist
Create a brand new playlist in iTunes, then add all the same songs into it from the original playlist. Make sure the new playlist does not fall into any of the special categories above. You should then be able to freely reorder the duplicate playlist.
Export the playlist and reimport
iTunes allows you to export playlists as .m3u files. Export the stubborn playlist, rearrange the order of songs directly in the .m3u file with a text editor, then reimport the file back into iTunes as a new playlist.
Rearrange songs on a per-disc basis
For very large playlists, iTunes may still allow reordering songs within each individual disc. Put the playlist into album view mode, select all songs on a given disc, and use the Sort By > Track Number menu to reorder. Repeat disc by disc.
Edit song info to force a change
As a last resort, select all tracks in the playlist and make a trivial edit to each song’s info, like changing a single letter in the title. This will trigger a playlist refresh when you are done that forces a reorder based on the new info.
Why iTunes Restricts Reordering Playlists
iTunes places restrictions around rearranging the order of songs in playlists to prevent different issues and inconsistencies:
Maintain integrity of Smart Playlists
Letting users manually override the order of Smart Playlists would undermine their purpose. Smart Playlists automatically reorder themselves based on user set rules. Allowing manual rearranging would create confusion when the Smart Playlist reverts to its programmed order later.
Avoid sync conflicts with published playlists
Playlists published to Apple Music are synced across devices and users. Letting you locally rearrange a published playlist could create conflicts and overwrites from other devices trying to sync their version.
Honor licensing restrictions
Downloaded Apple Music tracks have different licensing rules compared to songs purchased from iTunes. Locking their order prevents activities that conflict with the Apple Music Terms of Service.
Prevent confusion with iTunes Match
iTunes Match streams your personal library from the cloud. Locking playlists helps avoid inconsistencies between downloaded and streamed versions if local changes were allowed.
Maintain shared library integrity
In shared libraries, different users organizing the same playlists could create disorder. Honoring owner permissions prevents unintended overwrites.
Allow under-the-hood optimizations
Restricting certain changes gives iTunes flexibility to implement performance optimizations like caching playlist data or deferring updates to batch process.
The Benefits of Locked Playlists
While iTunes restricting playlist reordering can be inconvenient, in many cases it is ultimately for the benefit of the user experience.
Playlists as precision instruments
Locked playlists guarantee that a playlist you create always plays back with absolute precision as intended every single time. No anomalies from manually tweaking order.
Reliable access to shared playlists
Friends can enjoy your published playlists knowing the song sequence is protected from disruption. You hear the playlist the way the creator designed it.
iTunes playlist restrictions help keep order consistent across devices, whether listening on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, HomePod, CarPlay, etc.
Convenience of automation
Smart Playlists reshuffle themselves automatically based on rules. Maintaining integrity of their order avoids unpredictable behavior if manually overridden.
Support for cloud syncing services
Locking down certain changes allows sync technologies like iTunes Match to reliably mirror playlists across devices.
Tips for Managing iTunes Playlists
Working within the constraints of iTunes’ playlist restrictions, here are some tips to effectively manage playlists:
Name playlists descriptively
With the order locked in, use playlist titles that capture the theme, mood or intent so others can understand the cohesive idea.
Limit playlists to 100 songs
Shorter, focused playlists are less likely to need reordering. iTunes even provides a shortcut to auto-generate 100 song playlists from any selection.
Use Smart Playlists more
Embrace letting iTunes automatically generate playlists based on metadata and behaviors over trying to manually micromanage giant lists.
Revisit playlists periodically
Deleting unwanted tracks or refreshing song selections in an existing playlist gives a sense of rearrangement without really reordering per se.
Explore album and disc view
Viewing playlists by album or disc offers alternate ways to loosely group songs that you can shuffle between.
iTunes restricting reordering of songs in playlists can be occasionally frustrating but ultimately serves positive goals like upholding creative intent, preventing conflicts, and enabling advanced cloud syncing capabilities. The limitations encourage developing better metadata and focusing on shorter, targeted playlists. With the right mindset and techniques, you can happily thrive within the smart playlists paradigm iTunes pushes.