Ask the iTunes Guy: Special tagging issue

A few weeks ago, I wrote two articles about tagging media files in iTunes. The first was about how to tag, and the second about fixing poorly-tagged music files. In this week’s column, I address a number of questions about tags: fixing duplicate artists, adding Year tags, and correcting Genre tags.

When two is too many

Q: I have a number of artists in my iTunes library that show up twice in Artists view. In some cases, a few songs from one album are under one occurrence of the artist’s name, and the remainder are under a second occurrence. How can I fix this?

If the artists have exactly the same name, then this seems to be a problem with tags being corrupted or the iTunes library doing something unexpected. I corresponded with this reader and the files looked fine. There were no trailing spaces after the artist’s name, which can cause duplicate entries. The Album Artist tags were fine and the files were all the same genre.

The solution we found was this: Select all the tracks by the artist, press Command-I to display the Info window, and then change the artist’s name to anything you prefer—it could be the artist’s name with an additional character at the end or something like The Marx Brothers. Click OK. Select the tracks again, press Command-I, change the name back to the correct name, and click OK. This fixed whatever it was in the tags that was causing the duplication.

artist tag

Change the Artist tag for multiple tracks in this window.

Dating your music

Q: I would like to add the composition year to each song in my iTunes library. I have songs dating back to the 1600s and I would like to listen to a brief history of music. Is there a way to do this?

I’m afraid you will have to do this manually. The Year tag lets you add a year to any track. This could be the year a piece of music was written, as you want, but it could also be the year the track was recorded, when it was released, or even re-released for a new, remastered version of an album.

To do this, select a track, press Command-I, enter a year in the Year field, and click OK. You can also do this to multiple tracks. Just select them, press Command-I, enter the year, and click OK.

year tag

I have year tags for lots of my classical music. Enter the year in the Year field at the top right of this window, then click OK.

The real difficulty is finding the years to add as it will require a fair amount of research. Don’t use iTunes’ Get Track Names feature. It will replace all of your tags for the selected tracks, and you probably don’t want that. I can recommend a few places to search for the information. AllMusic has a huge database and has detailed credits for many albums, including names of producers, engineers, and so on. Discogs lists several million albums, with release dates and additional information. It’s community sourced, and you will find a lot of indie albums there. Finally, for classical music, I use Wikipedia, which has extensive information about classical composers and works.

Adding or editing genre tags

Q: I have many songs that are either missing genres or have incorrect genres assigned. I know I can go in and manually edit them, but I am looking for some help. Is there a site that provides genre labels to songs?

I recently wrote about a couple of apps that can clean up your tags. They’re not perfect, but they can help.

Genres are a personal thing. You may want broad genres—such as rock, jazz and classical—or more detailed ones, like progressive rock, bebop and baroque. I’ve written about the over-genrefication of music, which can confuse listeners who are not in the know, but if you know what genres you want, then you can use anything.

My strategy is to use genres that help me find my music. So, within my classical music, I have genres such as Keyboard, Opera, and Orchestral. I only have one Jazz genre and I don’t split Rock into sub-genres. I do have specific genres, however, for certain artists such as Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. I have so much music by each of them that it’s better that they be on their own.

On the other hand, my son, who listens to a lot of electronic music, doesn’t bother to add genres. He just chooses his music by artist. If you don’t browse your music by genre, you may not even want to bother adding any.

iTunes offers a number of genres in its Genre tag, but you can enter your own. Just type a new genre for one or more tracks in the Info window, click OK, and iTunes will add it.

genre tag

Choose one of the genres from the popup menu, or just enter your own, as I did here.

Have questions of your own for the iTunes Guy? Send them along for his consideration.

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