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June 22, 2009

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Is Bob Mould in all four of those categories?

I gave up trying to genre-ify my iTunes library years ago... in fact I barely use iTunes at all anymore, because I don't listen to music on a PC. I use Windows Explorer to organise my mp3s and to put them on a player.

Good post. I do similar things, but not to the same extent. (Since one of my primary traits is laziness.) Somebody should write a program that will do this kind of tagging automatically (aside from the song rating).

I struggle with genres. As much as I would love to have the detail of "garage" and "punk" and "Brit pop" available for sorting, I have a hard time figuring out (1) how much detail to use, and (2) how to classify artists (especially with the whole indie/alternative mess).

I eventually decided to use broader descriptions like: Rock, Country, Pop, Jazz, Blues, Soul. Of course, this puts Buddy Holly in the same category as Radiohead, which really makes no sense and isn't the slightest bit functional.

So we really need a program that will tag specific genres and release dates!

Wow. That is fantastically anal. I don't quite go to that extreme (in part because updating iTunes is a slow process for me, since I have > 13000 songs on it and it's all on an external harddrive, which seems to slow things down), but I do do a little bit of this. For instance, I made a smart playlist of all songs in iTunes that I haven't heard yet (that is, that I haven't heard through iTunes yet; many of them I've of course heard before). Then I shuffle through the playlist, and anything that I don't like, or don't like enough to keep, I rate two stars. With exceptions for unexpected awesomeness, I don't rate much else, as yet.

But I've only recently started doing much of this. Previously, I either listened to artists' full albums, or I shuffled through the entire library. But the size of said library has forced me to make smaller playlists. Your earlier post in which you mentioned your "awesome" playlist struck me as a good idea, but one I haven't taken the necessary time to follow through on. Etc.

I had a moment about a year or so ago when I decided to get this anal, and it required weeks of sifting and sorting through my library (at the time probably around 9,000 songs). Making all the years right was probably the most intensive part, as so many older albums get tagged with the date of their reissue (if given a date at all). But the genre tagging has actually not been that difficult. I started broad and then let the narrowing happen organically. For instance I'd listen to my "indie rock" playlist and get kind of buried in it--it was just such a big category. And I had a phase (still in it, actually) where I just wanted to focus on the old stuff. Not too hard to break out; I just sorted by year and then re-labeled everything that fell into that bracket in one fell swoop, tweaking what does and doesn't belong here and there as I listen to it.

For the older stuff, I have categories for "60s rock" (Beatles, Byrds, etc.), "70s rock" (Bowie, Big Star, Lou Reed, etc.), and "Oldies" (more doo-wop and pre-Beatles pop). So that keeps rough genres separated and keeps Buddy Holly away from Radiohead or Fleetwood Mac.

There are some artists who are hard to pin to a genre - Eno being a great example. I've moved him from "electronica" to "70s rock" and finally to "alternative," none of them exactly feeling like a great fit. But really what it comes down to is when I'm listening to one of these playlists I start to wish I was listening to such-and-such album too, which tells me I ought to consider putting it in that genre. (In Eno's case - Talking Heads was a no-brainer for the "Alternative" category, which led me to think Eno belonged as well.)

Other bands have different albums in different genres--Byrds and Lovin' Spoonful are 60s Rock and Country, Elliot Smith is in Classic Indie and Indie Rock, etc. That's okay with me too.

Richard - I hope to do a future post, maybe this week if I can get on it, about some of my manual playlists, including the Awesome playlist.

Have you considered listing more than one genre for the borderline cases? Using i-tunes "contains" feature for the smart playlist creation (i.e., "Genre contains electronica" or "Genre contains Alternative") you could capture Eno (Genre: "Electronica, Alternative, 70's Rock") in two different kinds of searches.

Does that make sense?

Wait, what? If there is a way to mark a song or album as belonging to more than one genre, I am going to do a cartwheel.

Yes. I just tested it. In the genre box, use commas or spaces to separate the different genres you want to include for the artist. Then, when you create a smart playlist, instead of using the search "genre 'is' electronica," just use "genre 'contains' electronica."

If your i-tunes does not allow you to use "contains" as part of the searches you just need to update the version you are using.

This is good to know, Paul. Thanks.

Absolutely - I have a couple of playlists that I update manually, but this fix would free me of that. Thanks Paul!

I tend to use smart playlists a lot in ITunes, though I'm more of a lumper than a splitter. I don't have a genre called indie rock, let alone subdivisions in it, just a genre called rock that has everything from the Beatles, Bowie usw to Dinosaur Jr. etc.

I'm also absolutely anal about getting release years and other data right, not to mention cover artwork.

One thing I like to do is put a "last played = not in the last seven days" condition on my smart playlists. That way if I shuffle a playlist, I'll only hear the stuff that I haven't heard in the last week. I use this frequently with medium sized playlists.

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