In which I explain how to easily tag tracks in iTunes

iTunes Tuesday: Groupings

I love covers. There’s just something thrilling about hearing someone sing someone else’s song. My favorite part of a concert is always when the band plays a cover. (How awesome was it when Pearl Jam played Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down? Or when Less Than Jake plays Cheap Trick’s Surrender?) I’ve got just about 300 tracks in my iTunes library tagged as covers.

Tagged? What do you mean by, “tagged as covers,” David? There’s no “tagging” in iTunes!

Silly rabbit. I know that technically there’s no tagging feature in iTunes. But there are groupings. And groupings serve no purpose — as far as I can tell — other than to allow you to tag tracks. Let me explain.

Groupings let you add tags to further categorize your music.

Every track in your iTunes library contains a ton of “metadata”. The title, artist, year, and genre are all examples of metadata. Most of these are defined by the song. The artist associated with A Day in the Life is The Beatles. (Or “Beatles, The” if you are as obsessive compulsive about your music as I am.) You don’t want to change that; it wouldn’t make sense. But some of the metadata fields are for you to customize. The genre field is an example of a field that you can — and should — customize. I have lots and lots of Irish drinking songs, for instance, and I created my own genre of — you guessed it — “Irish Drinking Songs” so that these songs aren’t included in playlists which are supposed to be composed of country or rock.

The grouping metadata field is probably the most liquid. You can type anything you want in there! That makes this field exceptionally well-suited for tagging. Tagging is a taxonomy, an organizational system, that you create to arrange things the way you want them arranged. You might recall the term taxonomy from high school biology class. Remember all that stuff about kingdom, phylum, class, and species? Humans are categorized as Homo Sapiens sapiens. Lions are Felidae Panthera leo. Is this ringing any bells?

iTunesThink of tags as a way to sub-categorize things even more. Felidae Panthera leo is fine for a biology textbook, but in real life you probably want to tag the King of the Jungle as “cat”… and also maybe “ferocious”, “meat-eater”, “brown”, “mane”, “hairy”, “fangs”, or any other combination of keywords to help you find one.

Note: I originally explained how to use the grouping feature in iTunes in my post Five Tips for Smarter Playlists.

The same thing is true for your music collection. “Irish drinking songs” and “Country” are top-level classifications and they’re great for generally keeping things from getting all tangled in a big blob. But if you’re looking for country music, there’s a big difference between a love song and a shit-kicking dance song, between a song about how hot your girlfriend is and how mean your wife is. This is where groupings get to be useful.

Groupings let you add tags to further categorize your music. You can add data to the groupings field in whatever way floats your boat. Here’s one example of how you could tag You Never Even Call Me By My Name:

drinking, women, trucks, trains, mama

But you could also tag the same song this way:


Or you could do it like this:

drinking - women - trucks - trains - mama

Or even:

alcohol dirge depressed country ballad

The point is that the grouping field is your taxonomy. You can do anything you want with it. I use periods to delineate my grouping tags, but that’s just the way I do it. You can use anything you want. I find periods useful because if I tag a song with .alcohol. then when I do a search it will only find songs that I’ve explicitly tagged that way (and not the Barenaked Ladies song “Alcohol” or songs by the band Alcoholic Monkeys; although that’s not really a good example because I do have “Alcohol” tagged as .alcohol. and to the best of my knowledge there is no band named Alcoholic Monkeys!) Periods just don’t usually appear in song titles or band names, so they make it easier to demarcate tags.

Every time I add a song to my iTunes library that’s a cover, I tag it with “cover”. I have a Smart Playlist called “Covers” that has as its only criteria that the grouping field must contain .cover.. That way I can listen to nothing but covers, or I can quickly find a cover without having to remember anything about the song other than, “it’s a cover”.

There are 3 comments on this post

  1. Yay! I’ve been looking for this exact thing.
    Thank you 🙂

  2. Went to a Concert in the Park, bought each of the 4 artist’s CDs, upon importing into iTunes, noticed the Groupings heading and wondered if I could use it to customize my own music. (I have exclusive use of my own iMac for first time in 5 years – kids gone!) Searched google for “how to use grouping for itunes,” clicked on your link first and so very glad I did. I especially like your use of, and explanation, for the periods. Brilliant!

  3. I was looking to do this, but have a huge library and to deal with the multiple tagging seemed like quite the hurdle.

    But I found a useful windows script to make this possible: KeywordsToGrouping
    Found here:

    It does the same thing as David suggests but uses ‘/’ as a separator (I think it’s easily changed in the script.), unfortunately it doesn’t conveniently put it on both ends. but if i add the keyword ‘/’ it’ll put ‘/’ at the beginning (or I’m sure you could modify the script).

    Now I feel comfortable to start using the grouping field!
    Hope this helps others who stumble onto your post looking to do this as I did.
    Thanks, and great explanation!

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