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I want your best iTunes organization hacks
October 22, 2004 8:42 PM   Subscribe

What are some strategies and tips for better managing your music collection in iTunes?
posted by mhaw to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
 
For one, visit Smart Playlists. It'll give you ideas.

I use is Synergy in addition to smart playlists which have songs with no plays within the last 90 days. I listen to the playlist and use a keyboard shortcut within Synergy to rate from any application on the fly. From there, I can use other smart playlists with music I like. This helps me filter listens from do not listen.

Any albums which are part of my core library I give a "Favorite Album" grouping (in the song info) and use a smart playlist to select them.

Good question, mhaw. I'm interested in other peoples' techniques too.
posted by pedantic at 8:59 PM on October 22, 2004


Here is somewhat related question... is there a definitive authority for music genres... i.e. what bands/albums fall into what genre?
posted by mhaw at 9:10 PM on October 22, 2004


Genre is entirely subjective. I would call--my favorite band, Camper van Beethoven--"Folk Rock", even though I despise the term and know it not to be true because I have seen them live and they are absolutely a rock band.

Also, the Flaming Lips; some people I know think of them as geniuses of "pop". I think they're a rock band, albeit one that was sent back to us from the future.
posted by interrobang at 11:34 PM on October 22, 2004


Because I am a complete music nerd, I have subdivided my music into about two-dozen genres. These are things like: "Rock/Pop - Shoegaze, Psych," "Rock/Pop - Punk, Art + Post," or "Electronic - Glitch + Micro." There are also old standards like "Rock/Pop - Rock." This took a long time, but was really fun, and now it's really easy for me to find *exactly* the music I want. I also have this really well-developed internal taxonomy of what my music collection 'is.'

My other plan, which is slowly coming to fruition, is to give each record a year, so that I can construct smart playlists along the lines of "all the songs in 'Rock/Pop - Factory' and 'Electronic - Kompakt' from 1987–89 and 2000–2002, shuffled.' My only wish is that iTunes let you tag songs the way you can tag links at del.icio.us--that would be AWESOME.
posted by josh at 5:23 AM on October 23, 2004


Never change anything about a track OUTSIDE of iTunes. This includes folder location, IDx information, or filename. This will cause iTunes to "lose" the file and you'll have to reimport it.
posted by luser at 6:30 AM on October 23, 2004


I've pretty much given up on the whole genre thing. The only way it would work for me is if I could replace the traditional set of words (e.g. "rock", "pop", "hip-hop") with an n-dimensional vector space, where genres are defined as arbitrary subspaces. The hard part would be finding a basis for this space.
posted by Eamon at 7:25 AM on October 23, 2004


My only wish is that iTunes let you tag songs the way you can tag links at del.icio.us

I just stuff keywords ("tags") into the comment field, separated by spaces, and make up smart playlists based on Comment > contains > $string. It is rawk.
posted by gleuschk at 7:39 AM on October 23, 2004


I originally had very elaborate genres, but I realised I never used it. Now I just mark instrumental music different from that with vocals.

I just stuff keywords ("tags") into the comment field, separated by spaces, and make up smart playlists based on Comment > contains > $string. It is rawk.

I do this too, but if I open several files for editing that have different info for a given field, it displays it as if they have no entry for that field, making overwriting very easy.
posted by Utilitaritron at 8:53 AM on October 23, 2004


Although it's sort of a misuse of its intended purpose, I've been using the newish Group field (which none of my music would use anyhow) to insert my own tags. I've defined a handful of tags, and have created applescripts (sorry, Windows people) that insert the tag on a keypress when the song is playing. Then I use smart playlists to assemble these based on the tag name. For me, these are more situational tags than anything else, eg "good road-trip music", that sort of thing. I agree that tags are more useful than categories (genres).

It would be possible to modify my approach so that one could type in new tag names on the fly, but this works for me.
posted by adamrice at 10:18 AM on October 23, 2004


This is long. I was on a roll. This covers theory more than mechanics.

My goals in listening to music on iTunes are directly related to my listening habits on my iPod, so I will treat them as the same subject.

My guiding principles in organizing my music are:

-- There are few tunes I want to hear more than once.

-- New is favored over old, strange over familiar, challenging over staid, non-rock over rock.

-- I like to hear all of an artist's work more than I like to relistening to hits. This and the goals above are what have kept me from regularly listening to commercial radio for 10 years.

-- Maintaining the song order on an album is not important to me.

-- Music should influence mood.

-- I do not use music as a memory cue to remind of happy times or other days.

-- All genres of music are welcomed. I do not have "except country" or "except rap" clauses.

-- I do discriminate on other factors: against bad music, against agenda-driven music, against jokey or wacky tunes, against intentionally irritating work (such as one "song" which had chewing-lip-smacking-swallowing noises set to electronica).

-- Some music is for travel. Some is for working. The two often do not overlap.

So, to meet these goals I do this:

Because the genre is so variable, I find it's the best space for me to customize the music. This substitutes for making numerous mood-based playlists, since I can always just play from the genre list, although I do have a couple non-genre mood-based playlists: Mellow and Upbeat, which are catch-alls for few tunes I can stand to hear more than once. This way I can just create smart playlists for whatever categories I've decided to use in the genre field, without having to constantly customize. It is superior in one way over using the comment field and Applescripts because the genre field auto-creates a drop-down list, so I can be sure I am always using the right categories.

Also, this method allows me to defeat the jackasses who like to upload bullshit to the CDDB. Maybe it was funny or ironic once, maybe a million years ago, to label John Vanderslice as "Polka" or Lenny Bruce as "Blues" or to put "Fucking Rocks!!!!" in there. But I doubt it. I change all genres on all my music to get rid of this stupidness.

My genres are more like categories. For example, the African category includes many, many different genres and languages, all from Africa, but it excludes north African music which is lumped in with the Middle Eastern/Arabic genre, except for some of the Algerian music which is lumped into the Francophone category because it seemed to fit better there. The Portuguese genre is separate from the Brazil genre, though the first is actually a language designation (and includes some African music, to further confuse things), and the second is a source designation (so I do not have to get to granular when distinguishing different genres of Brazilian music). There is an inherent internal logic which is difficult to explain.

All of my playlists are set to random. I do not want to train myself to always expect songs to play in a certain order. On top of that, my iPod is set for random play, too, so it's like double random. This is necessary because setting a playlist to Random means it is random in iTunes, but once loaded on the iPod, the order is static unless you turn on random, there, too, so if you go back in the same listening session to a playlist on the iPod, without iPod's Random it would start over from the top with the same songs you already heard.

My main playlist is called Random. It has more than 6000 songs of more than 2 and less than 7 minutes in length which have not been played in more than a year. Excluded that playlist it are certain artists who I cannot listen to, or can only listen to alone. One in the first category is the Pixies which have been overplayed for years. One in the second category is Tom Waits, who can only be listened to every few years when a rare mood strikes. Also excluded from the Random playlist are non-music genres such as Comedy, Lectures, or Audio Books.

The Random playlist is sized in such a way as to not have to constantly adjust it to fit everything on the iPod. I pretty much can just do one sync in the morning and not futz with anything.

Other playlist are set to relieve stress, to get a psychic boost before going out, to set a steady-as-she goes tempo for doing work, or to set me off-balance in order to break out of boredom, tedium, or a feeling of persistent sameness. For example, I have a "Mellow Pop" playlist which is mostly girlish pop: Dido, Sarah McLachlan, Carole King, Frou Frou, Everything But the Girl, the Cardigans. That one is a de-stresser. Women singing are cinch to take off a little tension.

A more popular smart playlist is just called "International," to which I often work. It extracts from the big Random playlist any tunes which are in any of my international genres. This extraction means, again, I don't have to worry about trying to load too much data on the iPod, or constantly reapportion limits to playlists. It's usually about 800 tunes. It includes Cuban, Middle Eastern/Arabic, Galicia, Fado, Italian, Francophone, Portuguese, African, Subcontinent, general International, Hispanophone, Zouk, Brazil, and others. Because the lyrics are not in English (usually), my mind is not constantly catching and listening to those words, so I can work. However, as I understand French very well and Spanish fairly well, I have a second playlist which is Portuguese + Fado, which I can work to without being distracted. It also pulls from those randomly selected tunes already in the Random playlist. The Subcontinent and Middle Eastern/Arabic genres are also good for this: because of my tagging method, I can just choose those genres on the iPod or in iTunes without having to create a custom playlist.

I add new music as often as I can. I try to do it as legally as possible, or at least under what I consider a fair application of Fair Use. Many of my friends are musicians or are in the music business, so I have an opportunity for free new music all the time. I also record directly off streaming radio. Charlie Gillet's shows, the top 10 Bollywood hits from BBC Asian Network, hours at a time from Radiorama and Beirut Nights (although I find his voice irritating and he has the bad habit that almost the entire non-Anglophone world seems to share: their disc jockeys talk over the music, and not just at the beginning). I regularly explore Public Radio Fan looking for new shows. All of the streaming radio (including four hours of news, two of the BBC and two of Radio France International, recorded overnight) automatically go in the Audio Hijack genre. I try to always have more new recorded programming than I can possibly listen to in a day: a half-hour subway delay suddenly becomes perfectly pleasant if I've got the BBC turning out the Daler Mehndi hits for me with commentary.

Although my tastes tend toward the strange, I have plenty of well-known music. It's just that I don't listen to it on purpose. It is no more preferred than anything else. If an INXS song comes up, as "New Sensation" has just this moment, I can really say I probably haven't heard it in a long time. It's kind of fresh. And now I won't hear it again for a long time (except in places I don't control).

Songs I don't like get deleted. There are few second chances and I bedgrude the data space taken by substandard work. I distinguish between "bad" and "does not fit my mood at this time." I just use the forward button to skip songs not right for right now, which is fine, since iTunes only marks them as played at the end of the song, which means they'll stay in the Random playlist (which only includes songs which haven't been played in a year).

All music newly arrived in the last 30 days is in a Recently Added smart playlist. That playlist, plus Upbeat and Mellow, together create a Current Rotation playlist. This is a safe playlist, in which new unheard music is surrounded by songs I like. This means the new stuff can really suck but I'll put up with it. There are about 400 tunes in this list at any time.

By choosing "Artists" on the iPod and pressing play without entering the artist listing, I can skew the listening experience toward the Current Rotation playlist, but still get a huge range of songs to come up. For example, I recently added a lot of dancehall. I don't really want to listen to 150 dancehall songs in a row, but by playing at the Artists menu, they come up every hour or so.

You can get an idea of what I listen to by checking out my Audioscrobbler page, although it's a little skewed, since I play music far more on the iPod than I do in iTunes, and Audioscrobbler does not track songs played on the iPod.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2004 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about a related phenomenon (is this interesting enough to be a separate AskMe question?): how many people listen to whole Albums on their iPods? I do this almost exclusively. I have almost no playlists. I have genres (classical, jazz, musicals, pop, filmscores, spoken word, misc), and after navigating to a specific genre, I choose an album and listen to it start to finish. I rarely pick and choose tracks from albums. I rarely create playlists.

But I'm pretty sure I'm in a tiny minority. My guess is that most people grew up listening to music on the radio (and on MTV). In those forums, songs are continually mixed.

As a kid, I rarely listened to the radio. Instead, I grew up in a house filled with thousands of LPs. My dad had a huge collection, and he was always playing albums. I inherited his taste.

To me, track one makes me immediately want to hear track two. I tend to think of them as part of an overall composition. I tend to really love artists who compose entire albums as conhesive works.

Am I as alone as I think I am?
posted by grumblebee at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2004


Try keeping this rule in mind: genre belongs to the song, not to the album or the artist.

Wow on the comments-as-tags field idea. Much more elegant than overloading other fields (e.g. Grouping).

I have a smart playlist called Never Played that I rock on shuffle. This helps me to unearth songs and albums whose existence had fallen off my cognitive map.

Also, make sure your songs are tagged well. An untagged song is a song you will never find. To do this, create a Recently Added playlist (is it there by default? I forget) with parameters like:

Date added is in the last 365 days
Limit to 200 songs
Live updating
Sort by Date Added

Keep them clean as they come in, and your tags should stay solid.
posted by tomharpel at 5:02 PM on October 23, 2004


Oh, and grumblebee, 95% of the time, I listen to my music an album at a time.
posted by tomharpel at 5:03 PM on October 23, 2004


Mo Nickels, I want to deal with your post point by point, because I think you make a lot of interesting points.

-- There are few tunes I want to hear more than once.

I am so the opposite here. There are many tunes that I need to hear over and over and over again until I am completely sick of it. I love it when a song sinks its teeth into me (ex. the song "Wake Up" by the Arcade Fire has 23 plays this week)

-- New is favored over old, strange over familiar, challenging over staid, non-rock over rock.

Again, I don't make these sorts of dichotomies - new is great - sometimes - old is great - sometimes. Familiar can be great (I was listening to The Smiths earlier today - probably my most familiar band). Challenging music is great - but not always. Sometimes stupid, catchy songs are as deep and beautiful as challenging. Lastly - rock always over non-rock.

-- I like to hear all of an artist's work more than I like to relistening to hits. This and the goals above are what have kept me from regularly listening to commercial radio for 10 years.

I certainly agree - but sometimes the hits are great. I used to have a "non greatest hits" rule, but then I found that many bands (especially of a certain era) the hits were the only things worth listening to. ie. I just got a cheapie "Tommy James and the Shondell's" Greatest Hits package and I am pretty sure that is the only Tommy James I could ever want. Some bands deserve to have everything listened to (ex The Pixies, Steely Dan, Radiohead - The Beach Boys - but others - not so much)

-- Maintaining the song order on an album is not important to me.

Maintaining the song order on an abum is always important. Some songs do not work out of context of their surrounding songs on teh album.


-- Music should influence mood. -- I do not use music as a memory cue to remind of happy times or other days.


If music influences mood, then how can it not trigger memories? A nice ideal, but harder said than done.

-- All genres of music are welcomed. I do not have "except country" or "except rap" clauses.

100% Agree (except classical)

-- I do discriminate on other factors: against bad music, against agenda-driven music, against jokey or wacky tunes, against intentionally irritating work (such as one "song" which had chewing-lip-smacking-swallowing noises set to electronica).
Bad music is subjective, and I think most all popular music has some redeaming qualities - for example the hook in the chorus in that "JoJo" single is great - but the rest of it is pretty bad. The rest I agree with mostly.

-- Some music is for travel. Some is for working. The two often do not overlap.

I totally agree.
posted by Quartermass at 6:25 PM on October 23, 2004


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