iTunes Genre Overload

I jumped onto the MP3 player bandwagon fairly early with my purchase of the Creative Labs Nomad, in 2000. This was Creative’s first MP3 player (it wasn’t even theirs, it was a rebranded Samsung model) that launched in June of 1999 and was a leading edge device for its time with 32MB of RAM, FM radio and voice recording all for the low low price of $429.

I went on to purchase many different players over the years but finally settled on the iPod which I have been using for some time now. Using an iPod, of course, means using iTunes which I do without complaint. Overall iTunes is a solid management tool and provides all of the functionality I need. That said, I suffer from a terrible problem. Perhaps you suffer from this issue as well; I call it “Over Organization Syndrome”. This little issue extends into many areas of my life such as my computer file system, my physical file system, my photo organization system, etc.

Basically the problem is that I have a proclivity to organize the heck out of whatever it is that I’m working with. That sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, the next stage is get to a point where you’ve created so many buckets to put stuff in that you know longer know where to put anything. The final stage is what I call the “melt-down” which is when you become overwhelmed by your organization effort and have to walk away for your sanity sake!

I decided to write about this topic this week because I’m getting ready for a winter vacation and decided to clean-up and consolidate my music library which had become a bit messy and was distributed across multiple computers. To start, I went out and purchased a USB powered Hard Disk, setup iTunes to use that disk as my library storage location and then started importing my music from its various sources. Everything went off without a hitch and I ended up with 4,461 tracks totaling 17.32 GB. Not the biggest library by any means, but big enough to need good organization.

Once I had all of my music in a single location, I then needed to start the task of cleaning up my library. I didn’t count but I must have had between 30 and 40 genres which, for me, is just way to many. I made a fundamental decision to use the genres as a very high-level categorization to help me roughly place my music but not to use them as a mechanism for creating playlists. With that decision made, I then decided that I would only use the genres that come with iTunes. The side benefit of doing this is that iTunes provides cool little graphic images to go with those genres. If you make up your own, you’ll have to hack in the necessary image support.

To make the categorization of a song as easy as possible, you need as few buckets as possible. Think long and hard about the absolute minimum number of categories you’ll need. When I did this for myself, I came up with a list of twelve.

  • Children’s
  • Christian & Gospel
  • Classical
  • Comedy
  • Country
  • Folk
  • Holiday
  • Pop
  • Rock
  • Soundtrack
  • Spoken
  • World

Once I had my list I started to categorize every single track into one of these twelve genres. Once that was complete I then needed a way to listen to my music in a meaningful way. Let’s take the Christian and Gospel category. I have Traditional Hymns, Southern Gospel, Pop, Rock, Speed Metal and more all grouped together. With my current setup, I can immediately see all of the music that is classified as Christian but what if I just wanted to listen to Traditional Hymns and not a mixture of all of these music types?

The answer lies in a powerful iTunes feature called Smart Playlists. To make this work, come up with a list of subcategories that make sense. Again, the goal is to keep it simple, but the beauty of using playlists alongside genres is that you can assign a song to multiple playlists which you were unable to do with genres alone. In other words, if you think a song belongs in three categories, fine, assign it to all three.

To make this work, I decided to use the comments field that is part of the ID3 metadata associated with every track. You can see this by right-clicking a track and selecting get info from the menu. It is imperative that you ensure that your tags are all totally unique and which point you can start entering them into the comments field. Let’s say, for example, that you want to differentiate your Christian Rock (c-rock) from your non-Christian Southern Rock (s-rock). Find all of the tracks that you would classify as Christian Rock and then enter the c-rock tag in the comments field and then do the same thing for Southern Rock using the s-rock tag.

Now create a new Smart Playlist called Southern Rock and tell iTunes to put songs that contain the tag s-rock in the comments field into the Playlist. Voila! That’s all there is to it. Now you can play only songs that you would consider as Southern Rock even though you don’t have a genre called Southern Rock.

Repeat this tagging and Smart Playlist creation process for each playlist you want to create based off of the metadata stored on your tracks. If you suffer from “Over Organization Syndrome” you’ll find this method a sweet relief!

~GT~

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