Over quite a few posts now, I’ve gone through my rather large music collection. And, in summary, my top 40 artists would be Queen (top of my list, including solo work), The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Light Orchestra, Madness, Monty Python, ABBA, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, Eagles, Hank Marvin, The Shadows, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Blondie, Suzi Quatro, Slade, Sweet, T. Rex, Judas Priest, Guns N’ Roses, The Police, Ace Of Base, Fleetwood Mac, Free, Bad Company, Cream, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Ian Dury, Chas & Dave, Murray Gold, Kerry Ellis, The Kinks and ZZ Top.
So, to round it all off, I thought I’d write about how I keep it all organised in iTunes on my computer, which has ended up being quite a long post in itself. Ultimately though, the obvious beauty of having music files stored digitally means you can rearrange them and tag them however you like. You’re not limited to how things are presented to you on CDs or as downloads, you can organise things in whatever way suits you, if you have the time and inclination for it. So over the years I’ve gradually customised my collection in ways that are sometimes different from the original albums I started with.
I know iTunes gets mixed reviews from some people online, as with any software product really, but I happen to like it. It has its little quirks of course, and not every single update they do is good, so it’s not perfect. But I find it a very effective way of organising and listening to my music, it’s never given me any problems so far.
Maybe one of the reasons I haven’t had issues with it is because I haven’t signed up to things like Apple Music or iTunes Match – any features where Apple tries to take over the organisation of your music for you, uploading it to their servers to find better copies and stuff like that. I don’t need Apple to re-sort my collection for me, I’m perfectly happy and capable of doing that myself. The only bit of self-organisation I allow iTunes to do is deciding where to save files on my hard drive ( under Preferences > Advanced > Keep iTunes Media Folder Organised). This organises music files in artist folders and album subfolders, based on what I enter in iTunes, which keeps things tidy.
So for every album I get, there are certain fields I’ll always check and update, to ensure my collection is consistent and tracks are easy to find:
I try and make sure this is consistent with other instances of the song in my collection of course. If it’s an alternative version from the main recording (e.g. a remix, demo, live performance, etc), I’ll add that info in square brackets so it stands out e.g. One Vision [Wembley Stadium, Saturday 12/07/1986]. I don’t use normal brackets, as many songs use those to show secondary title information e.g. Life Is Real (Song for Lennon), where “Song For Lennon” is in brackets as a dedication. Both those songs I’ve mentioned are by Queen if you’re wondering.
Obviously this is vital as well. But I will shorten some album names if they’re really long. For example, I’ve shortened the Doctor Who soundtracks to say something simple like Doctor Who – Series 8, rather than all the stuff about it being the official television soundtrack, as I know that already. Similar, I tend to remove phrases like “Deluxe Edition” or “Special Edition”, as I don’t need to know it.
Artist Name (Song & Album Artists)
For each individual song, I try to keep the artist name consistent with other tracks by that artist in my collection, as there can be slight variations occasionally. For entire albums, meanwhile, the Album Artist field is very useful for keeping all albums by a particular artist together, especially when they have other artists involved as well. For example, The Who’s Quadrophenia soundtrack has a few tracks by other artists, but the whole album is still by The Who, so I silll want to see it all when I select that band. And Queen’s Hot Space album has Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie, but the artist for the whole album is Queen. For compilations, I usually enter Various Artists as the album artist – unless it’s a soundtrack album with a collection of different artists (e.g. the X-Files Movie Soundtrack), in which case I will call the album artist Soundtrack instead.
I’ve tried to ensure this is consistent for the classical music tracks I have, as composers can be expressed in multiple ways (e.g. Johann Sebastian Bach, J S Bach and Bach are all standardised to simply Bach). I don’t worry about it for other genres though, I’m happy for iTunes to fill it in. It doesn’t matter if it means there’s a huge variety of inconsistent composer entries, as I never search on that field.
The vast majority of tracks are in a combined genre called Rock & Pop. I never split tracks into just Rock or just Pop, as there are lots of tracks which arguably have elements of both in them, so it’s not easy to assign them to one or the other. So it’s simpler to just combine the two, it’s enough for me. I do use other genres as well though e.g. Classical, Comedy, Christmas, Speech, etc. Or I use Soundtrack for songs on soundtrack albums (as they can sometimes be a mix of genre types).
I’ll use this for studio albums, live albums and Greatest Hits compilations, as it helps to keep releases by artists in chronological order, especially when used in conjunction with the Album Artist field. When you click on the Album column heading in the songs list, it will first sort albums purely by name. Clicking it again will sort the albums by artist. And clicking it a third time will sort it by artist and year, which means I could listen to all the albums by a particular artist in order if I wanted to.
Track & Disc Numbers
If an album spans multiple discs, I’ll usually renumber the tracks from disc 2 onwards so they follow on from those on disc 1, allowing me to eliminate the disc numbers altogether and have just one long album. Having separate disc numbers in iTunes isn’t important for me – you’re not limited as to how long an album can be, like you are with physical CDs. That said, the Queen albums I have are downloaded as special iTunes LP files, which have extra features that link back to specific tracks, so I’ve allowed iTunes to use disc numbers 1 and 2, in case I break the links by changing them. But otherwise I don’t need disc numbers, the track numbers are fine for keeping things in order.
Compilation Tick Box
I tick this for compilations, as it keeps them together nicely – not just in iTunes itself, but also in the media folders on the hard drive.
This is individual to each song of course. If there are duplicates of a song in my collection, one will be rated and the other copies will be left blank (that way, if I were to create a playlist of, say, my 5-star tracks, I won’t end up with all the duplicates). I may occasionally change the ratings of songs over time as well, depending on my mood. Sometimes I may not like a song much at first, then I’ll listen to it again some time later and find it resonates with me more for whatever reason. And for all songs with a zero rating, I’ve also ticked the Skip When Shuffling checkbox, so I don’t hear them when shuffling my music.
The one irritation I find about ratings is that iTunes has a habit of randomly applying Album Ratings to entire albums, as an average of all the ratings you’ve given to the songs on it. I know it’s trying to be helpful, but it can give misleading ratings to some of the tracks (e.g. giving 3 or 4 stars to tracks I might not like), which can mess up things like smart playlists that use ratings to pick their tracks. The only way to remove the album rating is to go into Album view and zero it out, which then makes your proper song ratings count properly again (thankfully it doesn’t actually remove those).
I’ll use this field for other random things I might want to search on. For instance, I’ve added the word Instrumental for all tracks that don’t have vocals, and Vinyl Recording to all the tracks I’ve recorded from vinyl records. It’s a handy field for putting in random stuff like that.
With downloads the artwork usually comes automatically. If I’ve moved tracks between albums for whatever reason, then I’ll change the artwork accordingly. If it’s a track I’ve ripped from a CD, then I can usually find the artwork through Google Images and copy it from there. I’ve also used an app called Scanner Pro to scan in the booklets from my CDs, which I’ve stored in the iBooks program on my Mac, along with other digital booklets I’ve had downloaded with albums. That’s really helpful, as it means I can zoom in on them and read them properly, whereas reading physical CD booklets can sometimes be really hard when the print’s so small.
I’ve left this to last as I use it extensively. It’s a very handy way of grouping and filtering certain types of album. I can then combine this information with other fields and get very specific – e.g. I could sort the albums by artist and year, and then limit it to only studio albums, and then select a specific artist, allowing me to listen to all of that band’s studio albums in order, without anything else getting in the way. So each album in my collection gets put into one of these groups:
- Studio Albums – Original studio albums by specific artists. If, on other compilations or box sets, I get demos, remixes or other tracks that relate to a particular album, then I will usually move the track to that studio album, to make my own bonus tracks and keep it all together. It makes the album all the more interesting to listen to then, because I’ve got everything connected with it in one place.
- Live Albums – These are live concert performances, either by specific artists or featuring multiple artists, some of which consist of audio ripped from DVDs when it’s not possible to purchase a proper live album. If there are live tracks featured on studio albums, as can sometimes happen as bonus tracks, I will often move them to a live album instead – either one that the track closely relates to, or creating my own live compilation albums for certain artists. It just makes sense to have all the live tracks in one place.
- Greatest Hits – Greatest Hits compilations for particular artists. Naturally I’ve ended up with various albums called Greatest Hits, so in cases like that (and other instances where 2 artists use the same album name), I add the artist name after the title in square brackets e.g. Greatest Hits [Guns N’ Roses]. It distinguishes each album nicely then. However, for artists where I have most or all of their studio albums already (e.g. Queen and Status Quo), then I’ve created my own Greatest Hits compilations instead, using playlists, as I’m able to pick my own personal favourites, and use the full versions of tracks rather than edited single versions. After all, there’s little point buying Greatest Hits compilations full of tracks I already own.
- Compilations – General compilations by various artists. Over time I’ve accumulated a lot of compilations representing different decades (especially 60’s, 70’s and 80’s), along with things like Rock and Comedy compilations. But many of them have duplicate tracks, as you’d expect, and it doesn’t make sense to have lots of separate compilations when I can bundle them all together into one. So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve created dedicated compilations for each decade, as well as compilations for Rock Hits, Comedy Songs, Classical Music, etc, removing all the duplicates in the process. I’ve not bothered with track numbering either, so all the tracks are in alphabetical order. I have a few other compilations as well, which couldn’t be divided up in that way, but those are certainly the biggest ones.
- TV & Radio – Soundtrack albums for shows like Chuck, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc, are all in this group. It also includes a large compilation album of theme tunes that I’ve gathered over the years.
- Film – Soundtrack albums for movies like the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings series, etc.
- Theatre – Soundtrack albums for stage shows like We Will Rock You, Oliver, The Rocky Horror Show, etc
- Cover Albums – Albums dedicated to cover versions of tracks by other artists. I mainly use this for albums covering Queen songs, but there are a few other little oddities I’ve ended up with as well (James Last Plays ABBA, Marching With The Beatles).
- Remix Albums – There’s another huge self-made compilation here, this time featuring remixes by various artists (12-Inch Mixes, club mixes, etc). There are also some Queen remix albums a few people have made, and other bits and pieces.
- Library Music – Tracks I’ve downloaded from the Youtube audio library, Epidemic Sound and other services for use in my videos.
- Games – Soundtracks to games, such as the soundtrack albums to GTA Vice City, and the soundtrack to the old Motorhead game I had for the PC many years ago. Back then, when PC and Playstation titles came on CDs, you could occasionally put the game discs in your CD player and listen to the music like a normal album. You would often have to skip Track 1, because it was the data track, which generated horrible white noise, but after that it could be very rewarding.
- Olympics 2012 – I ended up getting a lot of the albums relating to the Olympic and Paralympic games that year, including Isles Of Wonder for the main opening ceremony. So it made sense to group them all together.
- Videos – Video clips by Queen, The Beatles and a few other artists that I’ve ended up with, because they’ve been downloaded as bonus tracks with albums.
- Xmas Albums – Because I’m only interested in Christmas albums once a year, naturally! By using the word Xmas (and not Christmas), it stays at the bottom of the Grouping list out of the way. I also use a Smart Playlist to gather together all the Christmas tracks I’m happy to listen to. It searches for all tracks in the Christmas genre to which I’ve given a 5-star rating. I can then highlight them all at once, right-click to open their properties, and toggle the Skip when shuffling checkbox. In December, I will untick the box, allowing iTunes to include the tracks when shuffling my music (which is generally how I listen to everything in the background). But for the rest of the year, I’ll tick that box so I don’t hear them.
I also use the Grouping feature for audiobooks – grouping things like Abridged Books, Unabridged Books, Dramatisations, etc. This is mainly for my mother rather then me, as I’ve created digital copies of all the books she’s bought on CDs in the past (which means she can now listen to them on her portable Victor Stream MP3 player). But I have comedy audiobooks and other things for myself as well. I listen to music way more than books though.
So that’s how I organize my music. I normally listen to my collection on Shuffle mode in the background anyway, but when I want to find specific songs or albums to listen to it makes things very consistent and easy to search through. It’s just the case of sticking to the same way of doing things for each new album I get. It’s also natural for many visually impaired people to want to organise things in a certain way, so they know where they can find things, and that certainly applies to me. 🙂