iTunes Library Management [Part 2] – Tagging

Here’s a few scenarios:

a) You just got a DVS platform like Serato and you’re looking for a way to logically organize your music into digital ‘crates’, just like your vinyl. b) You’re an experienced DJ who has since been organizing your music conventionally, like in folders named ‘Hip Hop’, ‘New ‘, etc., but your folders are just getting too damn large to find something to play in a reasonable amount of time; c) You’re not even a DJ, you just have tons of songs that you want to listen to on your iPod but seem to always listen to the same stuff or just can’t find what you’re looking for.

This should help all three of you guys out, but just to be clear – it’s really just a system that I taught myself to follow and has since become very useful to me in multiple environments – DJing or just simply listening to music. I can’t guarantee that it will do the same for you. Everyone is different, so by all means this is not only way to organize digital music. The first step involves tagging.

Whether your iTunes library is completely empty and you’re starting fresh or you’ve got thousands of songs in there already, this is probably the most important step and should be treated as so. It involves the most work, but provides the foundation for making things run much smoother in the future thereafter. Don’t forget that most DVS platforms offer iTunes support / compatibility, which provides the flexibility of using your iTunes library for pleasure and work. The immediate benefit of tagging your music is to take full control over your music library. If you love music as much as I do, you’ll understand that each song in your library should deserve the same amount of notation, regardless of its sentimental value. And if you’re anything like me, this process will be a life-changing experience, and cause you to become anal when you see other peoples’ poorly maintained libraries.

Start out by making sure you have a recent version of the iTunes software. At the time of writing, 7.6.2 is the latest version *(Serato users, I’ve read on a few forums about some bugs with 7.6.2, so if you’ve got 7.6.1 than stick with it for now).

Importing all of your CDs first is much less time consuming, so I would suggest leaving your vinyl out of the equation at this point, until the CDs are done and you’re comfortable with the system you’ve built for yourself. Since this isn’t an iTunes tutorial, let’s assume that we all know how to import music at your own preferred bit rates.

Tagging Genres

In my experience, the best way to organize digital music was to visualize myself following the same system I used with my record crates back in the day. Basically, each one of my crates held specific genres. Within each crate records were sorted by sub-genre. The easiest way to achieve this basic system within your iTunes library is to narrow down your genre selections to their most basic form. For example, Hip Hop, R&B, Rock and Electronic, just to name a few. Yes, in some cases some songs can be considered more than one genre. When that problem arises, find a compromise that you can live with – either give in and choose one genre, or create a new genre – like Electronic Rock for the sake of argument. This initial categorization will give you the basic means to further customize your files as you please down the line. Make sure you are consistent with your tags. Hip Hop for example, should remain Hip Hop throughout the library, not Hip-Hop, or Hip Hop/Rap. The quickest way to tag your files is to perform Group Edits. Select as many files as you’d like within your library, right click, select Get Info. From there you will be able to edit the genres in batches. This process is very timely, but worth it. Trust me.

Tagging Groupings / Sub-Genres

After you have successfully sorted all your music by Genre, you could stop there. Theoretically, you should have a fairly easier time finding your music and playing longer, effective sets, by genre. But why stop there when you don’t have to. ID3 Tags have evolved to over time to capture much more useful data than they used to, including a tag named Groupings. This tag allows you to group songs together based on specific criteria, like sub-genres. What’s a sub-genre? Hip Hop has many sub-genres, here’s a few: Underground, Hip Hop Jazz, Conscious, West Coast, Crunk, Boom Bap, Hip-House, etc. R&B can include New Jack Swing, Neo-Soul, Hip Hop Soul, etc. You get the point. Groupings can only be captured with songs assigned with Version 2.3 ID3 Tags. Here’s how to convert your songs just in case:

a. Select your entire library (Edit –> Select All, or CTRL + A)
b. Right click, select Convert ID3 Tags
c. Select Version 2.3, press OK.

This conversion process will take some time to complete. Afterwards you can be assured that all your songs can hold Groupings tags, as well as Album Cover Art. At this point you can proceed to go buck wild with categorizing your songs into sub-genres. At this point customize groupings into whatever you wish, but keeping things simple and consistent should always be the priority. A few examples of other non-subgenre groupings can be Region – (West Coast / Dirty South) or Cliques – (Ruff Ryders / Roc-a-Fella, etc.)

By this stage, you will start to visually notice your library becoming much more categorized and cleaner. Basically all we’ve done up to this point is taken our CDs and records, dumped them on the floor, and put them together in a logical way.

Release Years

Whenever possible, don’t ignore the option to tag your music with its release year. This will only help you further group your music into specific eras. There are several online databases that offer accurate release years, my favorite is Discogs. One gray area is the problem that arises when dealing with compilation albums, like Greatest Hits. Compromise will be needed here again. For myself, I date compilation albums in the year that they are released, regardless of when the tracks themselves were released. This is so the album release date itself is accurate.

Now that your music is sorted by genre, grouped by sub-genre, and tagged by release year, the next step involves making all this hard work beneficial to your sets and listening pleasure. Keep in mind that if you are not up to this very tedious task, there are many third party applications like Tag & Rename that can automate this tagging process for you while you watch Youtube videos. But in my experience, nothing is more satisfying than knowing that you are in full control of your music.

Part 3 covers Smart Playlists, or ‘Smart Crates’.

iTunes Music Library Management [Part 1] – Intro

One of the well documented benefits of today’s DVS (Digital Vinyl System) platforms is their ability to eliminate the physical task of carrying around your precious records, while still having the luxury of your entire collection safely stored on your laptop or external hard drive. These days an internal hard drive can hold upwards towards 250GB, while the common affordable externals can hold up to 500GBs. The TB (terabyte) era is looming though, and will probably be more realistic when Christmas rolls around.

First of all, with virtually unlimited storage capacity, how much music is necessary? Kind of a subjective issue, can’t really touch on it. It’s just a preference for every DJ – some can get by with the same amount of songs as they did with records, while others have taken full advantage and insist on a ridiculous 36,000 songs at their disposal for every single gig they play at. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that with more space and free downloads everywhere people are gonna have tons of music. And bringing more music with you to a gig, or anywhere for that matter, is to your advantage. The better you organize your music library, the better you will play. Plain and simple.

Some DJs still support the old adage, ‘less is more’ – quality of what you bring vs. the quantity (or as I like to put it, bringing the more relevant, impactful music and leaving the G-Unit albums at home). I may have agreed with that statement when I used to lug record crates up stairs and ladders, but not these days. With a properly organized digital database of music you can bring all the music you want, play longer/better sets, and not have a problem of finding something with so much music in your way.

Since this post serves as an introduction to a more elaborate music library organizing series, let’s take a step back for a sec and reminisce. To put it figuratively, where most DJs used to bring 3 or 4 crates of records with them to a party, I would try to bring the equivalent of 6 crates, using 3 raggedy, cracked recycling bins. This was only so I could be prepared for anything that came up, if I felt like changing up a regular set or filling a rarer song request. If I played a song that I wouldn’t have played with my regular set and it set the party off, I was happy. But then again, one day a few years back I was caught off guard when I went to go see Kid Capri play at a local club here in Toronto, and he had 13 crates behind him.

Back to the story…the key is keeping yourself organized. Milk crates or digital crates, without organization, there’s no point. There’s a very common cliché in the DJ world, ‘know your music’ – This applies to not only bringing the right music, but also to knowing where your songs are and creating unique sets to diversify yourself from others.

There’s no question that there are several library management tools across the board for the various DVS platforms. Some have more sophisticated interfaces than others. But most, if not all of them utilize iTunes library integration. iTunes support is fully integrated in Serato Scratch Live, MixVibes (Remix Edition), Traktor Scratch & Cue, which in effect gives you a bundle of options without having to sacrifice your existing library structure if you dare switch over platforms. In the meantime back to the reminiscing.

Buying an iPod a forced me to start using iTunes, and since then have stuck with it. Look for Part 2 (Tagging) up next.

Vinyl is Heavy but Pretty