A blog on the use of technology at home and at work (and some other stuff)

Organising iTunes

Cat pawing at iPod

Naming conventions are very useful in business IT. Most organisations have a convention for server names and user logons, and anyone who develops much software tends to have conventions for naming variables, fields and functions. Naming conventions can also be useful away from the office. Being in possession of mildy obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I have invested some time in the last few months in tidying up my iTunes library through the employment of robust naming conventions.

When you load a CD into iTunes, it creates a fingerprint for the CD and uses it to identify it in the Gracenote database. This database is a long-standing example of user-generated content (UGC), started quite a long time before UGC became fashionable as part of the Web 2.0 revolution. I think it was Microsoft’s basic CD Player application (from Windows 98) that started the whole thing off.

The challenge is that no-one polices the quality of the data in the Gracenote database, and if you rely on it alone you will end up with something of a mess in your iTunes library. I found myself in this position. It can get really annoying, for example, when you are browsing through the Artists on your iPod and discover seven different ways to spell the same group. Before I could tidy up, I had to set out my own naming convention and now, because I’m a generous type, I’m sharing it with you.

Name: The name of the song as the artist wrote it. If it is a dance mix the name of the mix follows in parentheses. If the song is ‘featuring’ a vocalist, then (featuring Artist Name) follows. I also use the ‘featuring’ option if an album by a solo artist includes some guest duets, as it means that the list of artists is kept tidy on my iPod.

If it is both a dance mix and has a ‘featuring’ vocalist then there are two sets of parentheses. For example: Groovejet (Solar’s Jet Groove Dub Mix) (featuring Sophie Ellis Bextor).

Artist: The Artist’s name, usually as the artist spells it. Wikipedia is helpful for getting this right, as the fans will make certain it’s spelt properly. The important thing is to be consistent in your library, so that when the files are copied across to your iPod the Artist menu doesn’t have loads of differently-spelled versions of the same thing. For classical pieces I tend to include just the name of the orchestra and/or choir; conductors, leaders and soloist go in the notes. It gets to messy otherwise. I try to avoid ampersands unless the artist uses them in their name and I spell ‘vs’ (as in versus) without a capital letter or period.

For soundtracks, I avoid putting in individual artist names for each piece, unless they are famous people in their own right, and instead use The Cast of XXXX as the artist (e.g. The Cast of Les Miserables).

Album Artist: I don’t currently use it. Apparently it fixes the problem where other artists feature on an album and you want to keep the album together under the primary artist, but I find it easier to put them in the title for the moment.

Album: For conventional rock and pop albums this will be the name of the album. I only use this where the whole album exists in my iTunes database. I delete the album name where I just have a few individual songs for a particular artist.

For compilations I usually delete the album name and track numbers; it’s of no interest to me that a particular song came from Now that’s what I call music 46. The one exception is where the compilation has some artistic value of its own, e.g. where the tracks have been mixed by a club DJ, or it is the soundtrack to a film. In this case, I make sure to select all the tracks on a compilation album and set the Compilation option to ‘Yes’. I also set Gapless Album where appropriate (e.g. dance mix CDs and specially produced pop and rock albums).

I do not put things like (Disc 2) after the name of album, I used the Disc Number fields for that purpose.

For classical music, I follow Tunequest’s convention of using the Album field to indicate the name of the piece with the Name field being used to name the individual movements. So, for the Palestrina mass, the Album is Missa Hodie Christus Natus Est and the Name might be Kyrie or Gloria. By doing this I lose the fact that this mass may have been on an album with some additional motets, but I can live with that. The other downside I have found to this approach is that it can mess up the automated album art feature, but that’s not the end of the world as it is possible to tidy that by hand.

Grouping: Supposed to be for grouping movements in a classical piece, but I leave it empty

Year: for rock and pop songs, the year of release. I find these on Wikipedia usually. For classical pieces, the year of the performance or recording.

Track Number: I take care that these are only included where there is an album name and that they are adjusted to take into account where I have ‘faked’ the album for a classical piece.

Disc Number: Only completed where there is more than one disc, otherwise left empty (i.e. I delete 1 of 1 if Gracenote suggests it).

BPM: I’m leaving this blank for the moment.

Composer: Only used for classical pieces. Surname followed by a comma and then the first name, e.g. Palestrina, Giovanni Pierluigi da. By only using this for classical pieces it becomes possible to browse the classical music very easily on my iPod by selecting the ‘Composer’ option on the Music menu. I use Wikipedia to ensure that I spell the composers name the same each time (there can be a lot of variation with early composers where the scholars aren’t consistent on a spelling). I’m not really that bothered by who composed a particular pop song; your mileage may vary.

Comments: Used in classical pieces to indicate conductors, leaders, soloists, e.g. Conductor: Andrew Davis; Organist: Joe Bloggs. Used in dance mix CDs to indicate the DJ that mixed them, e.g. Album mixed by: Tall Paul.

Genre: I try to keep this list relatively small, with most songs going into ‘Pop’. This includes songs that aren’t really pop (and for which Gracenote might suggest Alternative, Electronica or Rock). The difficulty I have is that it all becomes very subjective and classifying them all as ‘Pop’ meets my requirements satisfactorily. My current list is: Choral Music, Christmas, Classical, Dance, Easy Listening, Musical, Opera, Pop and Sountrack.

Album Art: I let iTunes do this once automatically, and have since gone through and tidied up its, sometimes quite random, efforts. I find Google Image search, the online CD stores (particularly Amazon) and discogs.com useful for this (and, in extremis, I can always scan the album art in myself).

Do you have a different convention? Please comment if you do, I’m interested.

Photo: rainspoo on Flickr. Used under licence.


Comment from Jim
Time: March 27, 2008, 13:46

Thanks for posting your iTunes library conventions, David–A good idea which I should imitate.

I found your blog via the pingback to my site. One problem though: the PB referenced http://www.davidjones.org/blog/2008/03/17/organising-itunes/ which gave me a 404 error when I tried to follow it. (There’s no /blog/ element in the real URL.)

Comment from David Jones
Time: April 6, 2008, 13:46

Ah. I was fiddling about with my permalinks in the blog’s early days. I’ve put in an Apache 301 to fix that.

Comment from Dan Howard
Time: September 5, 2008, 11:51

David, thanks for sharing your ideas. But being a child of the age, I want MORE!! Specifically, is there a way round iTunes’ annoying habit of saving music in folders named by artist? This is a particular problem for classical CDs.

Comment from Rich
Time: December 22, 2008, 17:05

Love the tips about putting “featured” artists into song title, so to keep the artist the same for the whole album. Also, about actually using the “Disc #” instead of putting “(Disc 1)” at the end of an album title.

Also, thanks for sharing your strategy. My only differences are that I put “Various” into the “Album Artist” field when creating a Compilation. This allows the Compilation to have songs with different (individual) artists. Also, I use Comments (might switch over to Grouping, though) to classify SubGenres. Ex: Genre=Rock, Comments=Classic, Dreamy, Metal…etc. (i know, there’s no Metal, Classic Rock).

Does anyone know if there’s a way to use the same image file for artwork instead of having to attach the same image to every song on an album? Since each song stores artwork separately, this space adds up and is redundant.

Comment from Gary Stamey
Time: February 14, 2009, 19:28

This appears to be a very helpful iTunes/iPod site!

My question is:

I need to learn how to make sub-genres and/or groupings.

For example:

I’d like to be able to quickly search my iPod and see:


This would allow me to make genres/sub-genres like this:



Female singers


I hope my question is clear and understandable, so maybe I can learn…

thanks for your time/assistance

Gary Stamey

Comment from Gary Stamey
Time: February 14, 2009, 19:29

btw, I’ve noticed that “groupings” does NOT exist on my iPod, but it does in iTunes…the mystery of it all…

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