Organizing music collections using iTunes


When I got my first iPod a few years ago as a business gift, I was overwhelmed. The thing was pure cuteness and usability. Then I got a cold shower few minutes later, as I tried to put my mp3s on it. The damn thing wouldn't work without iTunes. Apple's strategy to force software to users is a bit Microsofty, and is in my oppinion one of the worst things the company is doing, getting criticism all around. But It turns out this approach is helping them on their world domination tour that's been going on in the past years, as more and more people are switcing to Apple and Macs.

Switching from Winamp to iTunes got me acquainted to music libraries. Winamp also supports it, but it was a bit in the background those days. iTunes had it in the main and at first I though that's just another stupid thing I had to do for nothing. But the more I went into it, the more fond I was of it. Today I am a power iTunes user and I think my library is a piece of art, with houndreds of hours put into it's organization and optimization. Meta data is very powerful, and having songs classified, tagged and labeled leads to simple and flexible use, after the bigger initial investment.

Here are a few approaches that can help you keep my giant library under control:

  • Labeling and smart playlists: Using correct labels for artists, genres, etc. and rating songs enables the use of smart playlists. I have one main playlists that combines all songs rated more than 2 stars. I have a few similar which focus on specific genres. These are the playlists I use the most. Their biggest advantage is that I can add new songs to iTunes and after I rate them, the automatically go to all the correct playlists, so I don't need to worry about making generic playlists with listenable songs.
  • Using album covers: This feature is very cool for browsing album collections. Instead of having to read what's in the library, you just look for a specific album cover. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words and it's true. By using cover flow or grid view, you can quickly and easily find the album you are looking for.

  • Using folders for playlists: Albums should be organized using folders. In my case, I use a root folder named Albums, which contains sub folders according to genres (Rock, Electronica, Pop, etc.), which contain subfolders according to sub-genres (Classic Rock, Alternative Rock, Indie Rock, etc.). This allows me to easily browse (or shuffle) all albums, if I feel more specific, just albums of one genre, and if I am in a really picky mood, just specialized collection of music from a sub-genre. This structure could be achieved by using smart playlist focused on genres, but then all the singles would also be added to the lists, so I prefer managing this by hand.
  • Using Comment as a tagging tool: Comments can be used as tags, because smart playlists can be configured to play songs where comment contains a word. This means that the system will work even if you put more words (tags) into the comment field. I use comments such as Replace (this song needs a better version), Label (this song is not correctly labeled) and New (this is something new and should be listened to - because date of adding to library is not correct in all the cases) to have a better overview over the songs in my library, and better choice for listening.
  • Making advanced logical statements: iTunes smart playlists only work with ALL or ANY of the rules or conditions you apply to them, which corresponds to mathematical OR or AND statements. I can set the smart playlist to contain ALL the songs of the genre pop AND rated more than 2 stars AND last more than 2 minutes. Another possibility is to set it in a way it contains ANY the songs that have a bit rate of less thant 192 OR have a comment that contains Replace (these songs need to be replaced). But you can't combine both OR and AND statements in one playlist.
    Actually there's a workaround, but you have to put a bit of efford into it and use a folder as a container. All the playlists inside the folder will be treated between themselves as ANY (OR), but each playlist can be configured as ALL. For instance, if you want a playlist of both best and fresh rock songs that will contain (ALL rock songs AND rated at least 4 stars) OR (ALL the rock songs AND made in the year 2009 AND rated with any stars), you just create two separate smart playlists (one for best, one for fresh), add them to a folder and the folder acts as the complex AND/OR playlist, combining both.

These techniques can probably be used also with other music libraries software and can hopefully make easier and better use of music collections. And if you know any other cool tricks, please let me know.

A few more things you might find interesting:

written 2.9.2009 21:32 CET on chronolog
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