Organizing iTunes w/ Subgenres & Playlists

Organizing iTunes

For many many years, I have been managing my ID3 tags under the most common genres available. Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul, Pop, Latin, Reggae, Rock, and Country. While this is good for general organization, organizing iTunes by subgenre can open up a lot more avenues of music organizations, especially since so many subgenres cross over into other major genres, and you can have them listed in both places.

So how is this done? And how can you still have major categories as well? This article will break things down to make your lists a little more manageable.

#1. Micromanage your ID3 tags

There is no getting around this requirement. Your ID3 tags need to be on point. There are some online tools that can get you part of the way. Jaikoz is an application that works on Mac, PC, and Linux OSs and while it does cost ~$30 it is a very powerful tool. It searches databases like MusicBrainz and can pull in a wealth of information. However, be warned in some cases it will only pull in the major genre and not the subgenre if a “style” is not listed. To make sure you grab a subgenre in Jaikoz make sure to go into Preferences > Remote Correct > Discogs > and select Always Replace Vales and then choose Discogs Style and then Genere. This should not be the only thing you want to capture, and you should go through each of the fields to determine what works for you.

What should be captured? Well, to keep my data as clean and accurate as possible I always include:

  • Name (Song Title)
  • Artist (This should include featured artists)
  • Album Artist (This should be the primary artist only)
  • Album (Original album released)
  • Grouping (Any special tags that are not easy to identify by genre)
  • Year (Year released)
  • Genre (Identified by subgenre)
  • BPM (filled in by Serato)

#2. Confirm your data

From there if you want the most accurate information, especially with things like subgenre and years, you will need to rely on old fashion searching. The two best resources I have found is Discogs and Wikipedia. There are apple scripts that can help do automate some of the searching, but this is a generally manual process.

GIGO (Garbage In – Garbage Out). These are words to live by here. If the tagging is inaccurate your music will be lost in the abyss.

#3. Make sure it gets organized

Since the id3 field is fairly limited it can be a challenge to figure out what music needs to be organized. So for me I have three methods to make sure I am flagging the media that needs to be organized.

Recently Added: This is set for all media ingested in the past 2 weeks. I sometimes get busy and can’t tag all my music properly as soon as I get it.

Not Rated: This is set for anything that has no rating in the past year. I do happen to have full-length albums from way way back when that I still have not flagged songs that are not popular, so this is why I keep a 12-month history check on it.

Not In Playlist: So what happens if something has slipped through the cracks? You accidentally rated something but forgot to put the genre in? I use this smart playlist to check to see if something does not exist in my subgenre folder (see the next step about more on the subgenre folder).

Note that in this particular smart playlist I have another smart playlist called “Not Music” and it’s exactly as you think it may be. I have some media in my library that are not music so I exclude that out of my filters.

#4. Build a subgenre folder structure

First, you want to create your main genre folders. This will give you the ability to create your sub-genre smart lists inside a single folder structure.

From there you should put in the subgenres that really mean anything to you. In this case, this is what my Pop folder looks like right now:

Notice how some of these subgenres, like Soft Rock, can live in in the Rock folder as well, or how Eurodance can live in Dance. Each subgenre is managed by a very simple smart list.

I don’t do any additional filtering like ratings at this level. I want to be able to see all my music of the subgenre and the higher level genre. So why go through this? Well, let’s say you are at a gig and the only thing that is working in new wave music. Do you want to spend all night remembering artists from 30 years ago that were hot through a large library or would it make sense to say “hey, here is all my <insert sub-genre here> stuff”.

#5. Create complex smartlists

I create is to create new smartlists based off the smartlists of my genres/subgernes. This may be say part of a Classic Rock playlist:

Notice that this is where I start to apply logic to my smartlist. Years, ratings, etc. Since this particular list can list all Rock subgenres I choose the top level folder “Rock – Subgenres” so I don’t have to choose every subgerene manually.

Also note that you can leverage ways to omit music. In this case below I want all R&B music but no “Slow Jams”. So I again choose the highest level folder “R&B/Soul” but then since I group all my Slow Jams I can include or omit with that criteria.

There are also times you just want to see a very top level of an all-encompassing genre like “Urban”. I don’t use this much since it’s such a large list of music but every now and then it can come in handy. But this shows how to select multiple folders into a single smart playlist.

The world is your oyster. What you need to make sure is to create a system that makes sense to you.

#6. Sometimes gotta keep it manual

While smart playlists can be very powerful, there are sometimes just instances where you have to make a manual playlist. For instance I tend to get a lot of requests for Motown and the occasional Stax track. While yes you can always pull from similar artists I like to keep it as accurate as possible. So I manually searched for artists that were part of a label and added them to that manual playlist. While this isn’t often used, it can help out in a pinch if you have some criteria that just goes beyond what a ID3 tag can capture.

#7. Roll it up

I create a folder of the primary genre that will roll up all the subgenres that “make sense” to me. This is what my “urban” folder looks like, which has a break down of the most common groupings I need to jump to.

#8. Keep things up to date

Don’t let yourself get into a bad pattern of adding music and not getting all the data you need. You’ll end up taking more time trying to backfill your database with good information.

2016 Update

You may not believe this but since this article was written I have found a better way to manage my music, and it meant abandoning iTunes. Think I am crazy? Check it out >>>

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