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The Ill-Tempered Audiophool

iTunes "Album Artist" tag, classical music, and filesystem hierarchy

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Quote Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
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I let iTunes organize my music library. (In the "advanced" preference window, you can choose to let iTunes do this, or you can choose to do it manually. Manual seems too much like work, but I hate that I cannot customize how iTunes organizes things).

iTunes serves many functions, much to many people's annoyance. It is a bloated monstrosity, and gets more annoying and controlling and arbitrary by the year. But like any disfunctional relationship, one clings to hope like a gerbil on greased teflon, at least until something demonstratively superior comes along. The functions that iTunes provides, in decreasing order of importance to me, are the following:

1. A music file-system organizer.
2. A database management system.
3. A music player.
4. A movie player.
5. A shameless consumerism interface.
6. An iOS management system.
7. A music streamer.
8. A radio player.

The list doubtless goes on. I try to use it mainly for the first two functions. As a database manager, it does pretty well. Certainly, there are quibbles about its limitations for classical music, but they haven't been deal-breakers for me. As a music file-system organizer, iTunes (if you don't disable this feature) will import all of your music into

Code:
~/Music/iTunes/iTunes\ Media/Music/<level_1_subdirectory>/<level_2_subdirectory>
Although you can customize the first part of this path to put the files on an external drive (or elsewhere), the penultimate and final directories are determined by iTunes.

The <level_2_subdirectory> takes the name of the individual album. In most cases, this makes sense. It is the <level_1_subdirectory> that brings me to tears, especially in the case of classical music.

With non-classical music, things work fairly smoothly. For example, you might import an album entitled "Workingman's Dead" by the band called "Grateful Dead." In this case, all of the music files get placed in the following directory:

Code:
~/Music/iTunes/iTunes\ Media/Music/Grateful\ Dead/Workingman\'s\ Dead
A complication might arise if I have two versions of this, perhaps the original version, and then say the 24 bit, 96kHz remaster. If I do nothing, both sets of files might wind up in the same directory. This is easily avoided if you manually change the album name to (for example) reflect the remastered content.

For many consumers, this system works fine, and there is no need to worry about anything. In addition, if you wanted to find or copy your Grateful Dead collection of 52 different albums, they should all be in that same directory, each one in one of 52 subdirectories. Who could possibly object?

The problem begins to arise when one discovers half of the music is in a different directory, perhaps called "The Grateful Dead". Again, this is easily fixed by editing the "Artist" entry metadata tag, removing the word "The". Kind of tedious, but not that bad. But what happens when you get one of those albums that has several different artists? Now files start to get spread all over the place.

Despite having used iTunes for probably 15 years, I never picked up on how exactly the file structure is created, until I looked more closely at it yesterday. I experienced what drunks call a moment of clarity:

The penultimate directory, i.e., <level_1_subdirectory>, takes on the name provided in the "Artist" metadata tag, UNLESS the rather obscurely named "Album Artist" metadata tag is also provided, in which case "Album Artist" takes precedent.

In the case of classical music, the "Artist" metadata field is notoriously ill-defined. Often it makes reference to the Conductor (if any), the orchestra or quartet or whatever ensemble, perhaps the star piano player, or perhaps key figures in the Trilateral Commission. Even worse, it might be the Conductor's last name only, her or his first and last name, or initials, or who knows what else. You can wind up with 10 different directories all corresponding to Claudio Abbado, and they might have half a dozen different composer's stuff within their subdirectories, which might in turn be unhelpfully named "Symphony No. 6".

In terms of a file-system hierarchy, this is a total mess.

I would like all my Grateful Dead albums to be in unique subdirectories under one directory called "Grateful Dead." I don't want to have to use a relational database to find the contents of my music library. I should be able to navigate it just like any other rationally-organized filesystem.

When examining my classical music library the other day, I realized that the "Album Artist" metadata tag seems to be underused. In most cases it was simply blank. In many others, it contained at least a subset of the information already in the "Artist" tag. Maybe if instead of calling this tag "Album Artist", iTunes had called it "Insert your choice for the name of <level_1_subdirectory> in here:", the solution would have been more obvious.

I decided then to re-organize my classical music library, simply by copying the name of the Composer (which I dutifully included in the Composer metadata tag when first importing my music) into the "Album Artist" metadata tag field. In the case of Composers who are proportionately over-represented in my library, like Beethoven, I filled in the field with "Beethoven: Abbado" or "Beethoven: Haitink", and if I possess multiple cycles, I further differentiated this in the album titles themselves. At least now, all of the Beethoven stuff is grouped together when the filesystem hierarchy is alphabetized.

An example is shown in the attached screen-shot:

blogs/wgscott/attachments/20904-itunes-album-artist-tag-classical-music-and-filesystem-hierarchy-albumartist.png

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