Last month there were a couple mammoth-sized posts about iTunes and how to get started organizing and optimizing your Library for the utmost listening and iPodding experience. The first was philosophical-ish, and the second more practical. You may want to check them out first and then come back to this one later, but they aren’t exactly prerequisites, so you won’t be lost if you don’t.
Here they are:
How To Deal With Genre
If you’re at all like me, you get your music from a ton of different sources, and your genre column in iTunes is really messed up. There might be twenty different variants of Alternative (even misspellings!), a ton of empty tags, along with some crazy stuff that has nothing to do with genre whatsoever.
My advice? Simplify.
Rather than tag each album with an ultra-specific genre, go through your library, select a ton of tracks at once, right-click and use Get Info to tag them all “Rock.” Then do the same for Classical, Jazz, Country, R&B, Hip-Hop/Rap, Soundtrack, and Other. You can modify these a bit depending on the contents of your library (for example, if you have mostly Electronic music, you can pick some big sub-categories like Ambient, House, and Trance to use as your main genres). The important thing is to keep it simple. Really simple. If you have more than ten, you might be overdoing it unless you have a pretty diverse library.
Another good way to get started (which I use personally, because I do have diverse interests) is to grab the list of twelve categories used on EMusic (this adds a couple like Spiritual, International, and New Age). The benefit here is it forces you to discipline yourself, which is really important, and you don’t have to think about it because they’ve already done the work for you.
Now, you’re thinking, “But Math Rock is nothing at all like Indie Pop, and they’re all together in my Alternative genre. I don’t want to hear Mogwai right after Puffy AmiYumi!” Of course you don’t, and you shouldn’t have to.
The way to fix this isn’t what you think, but it works really well.
Trust me. First, you’ll want to make Smart Playlists for each of your major genres. Do that by clicking File > New Smart Playlist and then setting it to “Genre is ________.” Make sure the checkmark for Live Updating is checked.
Bam! You’ve got convenient lists of your major genres. Cool.
Now for the fun part:
Make a ton of playlists. A ton.
Name them as specifically as you want. Go crazy with it. Make one for Art Pop, one for Avant Garde Experimental Pop, One for Alt-Country, and one for Hollywood Country. Whatever you think an album is, make a playlist for it. The benefit to this method is you can easily (really easily) drag a whole album or a whole bunch of albums, or even a single track within an album to any and all of the playlists that are appropriate.
Why is this cool? Well, just because Boston is a classic rock band, it doesn’t mean all of their songs are loud and heavy and blues-influenced. Wouldn’t it be nice to have “Amanda” or “More Than A Feeling” in a Power Ballads list, too? Or the Guitar Hero playlist, even, because you know you need to keep those tracks together so you can bust out your awesome air guitar-controller moves when you’re alone. Dragging and dropping tracks is a lot easier than typing or selecting a genre for each one, and it lets you mimic the functionality of “Tagging,” popularized by Flickr and Del.icio.us, and in use on this site, and tons of blogs, too.
Clean things up a bit with folders.
So you’ve got tons of playlists now, but it’s making the sidebar look like a toddler on speed blasted through? Well, make some folders. How about one for each of the big genres you picked earlier? And then drag the specific playlists into the correct folders. If you want to get really specific, you can also dual-list your sub-playlists under multiple genres. It’s not as easy, but very doable. Say you want to have your Alt-Country list under both Alternative and, well, Country. Just make a new playlist called Alt-Country 2, select all the tracks in the original list, and drag them to the new one. Then move each to its rightful place and feel the Zen kick in.
EDIT: An anonymous comment has a better way of doing this:
Or, you can only drag tracks into the Alt-Country list and place a Smart Playlist in the Alternative folder. Name that "Alt-Country 2." For the criteria, use: Playlist = "Alt-Country." Make sure that Live Updating is checked, then feel the Zen kick in.Ah Zen. We like that here at FrivMo.
By far the best part about this method is how simple it is to manage new additions to your library. Don’t have a ton of time to sort everything specifically? You can give it a general category for now, and get more specific about it when you’ve had a chance to listen through the album. Like rating your tracks, getting the genre just right takes time, and is more an art than a science. The more you live with your music, the more you’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. This playlist method makes it easy as pie to change your mind. Which you inevitably will.
Extra credit for overachievers:
Once you’ve rated a bunch of stuff and made some genre playlists, try making Smart Playlists for each major genre or for multiple related subgenres that include only your four- or five- star tunes. Major control over your listening experience is now becoming a reality. Sweet.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!