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The right way to tag everything in iTunes

Imagine what your iTunes library would be like if all your songs just had random characters for their song, artist, and album names. You’d never find what you want to listen to. But even if your iTunes library’s tags are mostly correct, any erroneous tags may prevent you from finding your music. If an artist’s name is spelled wrong, for instance, or if there’s a typo in a song name you won’t find your favorite tunes when you search in iTunes. And if you’ve left some tags blank, some of your music won’t display in certain views.

For all these reasons it’s a good idea to take a look at your iTunes library and ensure that your tags are filled in and correct. To do that, simply select a track or video and press Command-I to bring up the item’s information window. The Info tab within this window contains many of the item’s tags, but other tabs carry additional tag fields—the Show and Episode Number tags within the Video tab, for example. Or, if you want to apply the same tag to multiple files, select all those files and press Command-I to produce the Multiple Item Information window.

You needn’t enter metadata in every tag, but some of them will help you manage your music and find what you want to play. Here are some ideas for the tags you should consider checking.

Pop, rock, hip-hop, dance music, etc.: If you’re a casual listener of popular tunes, you don’t need to worry too much about more esoteric tags. You need the Name tag for all songs, of course, but also the Artist and perhaps the Album tag. You may also want to use the Album Artist tag. Many popular songs have “featured” artists—a Beyoncé song with Jay Z, for example. These should have the Album Artist tag set to Beyoncé so it stays grouped with her latest album (assuming you’ve purchased the entire album). But the Artist tag could be Beyoncé & Jay Z. or Beyoncé (feat. Jay Z.) so you can find music by that duo when you want.

You may wish to fill in the Genre tag if you search for music by genre. If you like to sing along, feel free to add lyrics as well in the Lyrics tab. And if you’re serious about your classic rock collection, add the year that the album was recorded or released so you can more easily pull up all your songs from the 60s, 70s, or 80s.

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To edit tags for a single track, select it then press Command-I. The various tabs in this window let you change different tags and settings. Most of the ones I discuss in this article are in the Info tab.

Jazz, show tunes, soundtracks: In addition to the above, you may want to enter more information about your music. The Album Artist tag is an important one for these musical varieties. For that Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall album, for example, you have a couple of options. You could set the Artist to Thelonius Monk or to Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. And you could assign Album Artist to either Thelonius Monk, The Thelonius Monk Quartet, or Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. Or you could leave the Album Artist blank. It all depends on how you classify such an album. Is it a Monk album with Coltrane joining in or is it a Monk and Coltrane album?

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To edit tags for all the tracks of an album, select those tracks, then press Command-I. Again, most of the tags I discuss in this article are all on the Info tab.

The Composer tag can also be important for this type of music. When using this tag, decide whether you want the composer to be LastName/FirstName or FirstName/LastName. So it could be Thelonius Monk or Monk, Thelonius. Again, use the one that is more natural for you.

You may also want to add the year to this type of music—either the year the music was recorded or the year it was released. This is especially useful for creating smart playlists by year. In the above example, I’ve set the year to 1957, when the concert was recorded, even though the album wasn’t released until 2005.

For songs with vocals, why not add lyrics? And, if you’re a detail-oriented music fan, use the Comments field to add such information as precise recording dates, musicians, record labels, and producers.

Classical music: For classical music, you’ll want all of the tags I’ve mentioned (particularly the Composer tag). You may also wish to think about how you enter genres. You can stick with the one-size-fits-all Classical genre or use custom genres such as Chamber Music, Keyboard, or Opera. Just type in any text you desire in the Genre field and iTunes will save it as a genre listing.

And don’t forget about the Grouping tag. This tag groups tracks under a work’s name. For example, you can select all the tracks of a specific recording of Sibelius’ String Quartet in D Minor and name them in the Grouping tag. Use a tag similar to the way you would an album. For instance, I might tag that work String Quartet in D Minor – Emerson Quartet. While you can’t view music by grouping, you can use the Grouping tag in smart playlists.

Movies and TV shows: iTunes includes specific tags for videos in the Video tab of the Info window. For TV shows, put the name of the show, the season number, and episode number. Doing so will make navigating through multi-season shows much easier with an Apple TV. Movies don’t need such information but you can add details about the movie in the Description field within the Video tab. Unfortunately, there are no Director or Actor tags for movies. But you can put either of these in the Artist field and, if you want to note specific actors, place their names in the Comments field within the Info tab.

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Tag TV shows to make them easier to find on an Apple TV.

With this in mind, you could run through your iTunes library and check your media’s tags. But if you have a large library this can take a long time. In a follow-up article, I’ll look at apps and scripts that can help streamline that process.

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