How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 1: Tagging

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How To Organize Music in iTunes: Tagging | Shuffle Projects

Nowadays, tags are very common to organize or sort all kind of information. In marked contrast to many different software products, which allow us to set all kind of tags, iTunes still doesn’t provide a tagging system to organize music and media.

This is part 1 of a short series about how you could sort your music in iTunes.

Use of “Genre” Input Field

Let’s make a principle decision: We only use the “Genre” input field for tagging.

We don’t want to use the comment section to sort our music, this field is reserved for additional informations about the song, such as recording date, line-up, etc.

I know that many DJs use the comment section to define the song: mood, tempo, energy, etc. It’s up to you!

Use of Genre Abbreviations

A typical genre label in my music library looks like this:

Jazz Sw Bal NO or Jazz Sw Haw Xmas or Jazz Sw Sl West

How A Swing DJ Organize Music in iTunes | Shuffle Projects

As you can see, every label starts with Jazz Sw or Jazz Sw Bal and I use abbreviations to define the genre. While DJ’ing we want to see the genre tab but the visible field should not be too large.

So what do the abbreviations mean?

  • Jazz is the basic genre of the music we are playing.
  • Sw Swing is the basic style for the music and for dancing, this automatically includes Lindy Hop.
  • Bal stands for Balboa or Bal-Swing. As you know, not every song which is great for Lindy Hop is a good Balboa track
  • NO stands for New Orleans style
  • Haw stands for Hawaiian style
  • Xmas stands for Christmas songs

Here are some more ideas:

  • Bl Blues
  • Boog Boogie
  • Char Charleston – I don’t use “CH”, because this stands for Swiss music in my library 🙂
  • Ea Early
  • Gy Gypsy
  • Sl Slow
  • R&B Rhythm & Blues (the early style)
  • West Western

Note: I doesn’t mean you have to DJ with iTunes, but many DJ software are drawing on iTunes!

Now I want to hear from you, how do you label your music in iTunes?

Also, do you have any questions about this system? I’m more than happy to answer them in the comments below!


If you like this post, then check out Swing DJ Resources for more articles for Swing DJs

Read more:
How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 2: BPM & Rating
How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 3: Smart Playlists

Photo credit: plattmunk


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  • Lindyspice

    You can also use tags in the iTunes ‘grouping’ field for this purpose; it might be less confusing than putting that much coded detail into the Genre field (which also tries to sync with CDDB)…

    • Great tip with “grouping” field. It’s the question how many tabs you would like to use.

      I’ve just added a picture to show you how it looks like in my library, you can see it’s that not that much coded detail. But yeah, because it’s my own system, it’s accordingly logical to me.

      Too be honest, I don’t care about CDDB. I need a system that works for my purposes. By the way, CDDB only knows “Jazz” 😉

      • Lindyspice

        At least CDDB doesn’t automatically reassign the genre if you’ve ripped a CD with your own category label anymore!

  • Actually iTunes handles playlists pretty well, so I tend to group songs in playlists and folders. So there’s the Swing folder, then a Balboa Sub-Folder, and then playlists called “Fast Balboa” and “Medium Balboa” and so on. What’s nice is that a song can be in multiple playlists, and with a quick click you can see what playlists a song is in, and therefore what “keywords” it’s essentially tagged with.

    You can *even* make smart playlists based on this. For example if you had a playlist for “200-220bpm” and a “Balboa” playlist, you could make a smart playlist that selects only songs that are both Balboa and 200-220bpm.

    • Hehehe, Byron you’re anticipating what I will show in part 3. I use smart playlists a lot, and that’s one big reason, why I’ve created this tagging system.

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  • I too use grouping as my main tagging field, with a system close to Christian’s. 
    Maybe it’s because it actually work in IT but I just cannot imagine using any system where the info is not embedded in the track itself because it’s a lot of work sorting stuff and should I have a software problem or migration or whatever I want to keep this sorting info safe and in direct association with the tracks, hence the use of the ID3 tags (and not any non-ID3 additionnal field)

    Tagging enables smart playlists, bulk modifications (in case you modifiy your tags), way better searches (too good when looking for tunes around a single theme) and this is just too good to ignore.

    • Thanks for your comment! I fully agree what you are writing about tagging.

      The grouping field seems to be very popular as well among the readers. I use it differently (see upcoming part 2 about BPM and rating).

    • I think it’s based on my work in IT that I don’t like breaking conventions. “Genre” isn’t supposed to be a dumping ground for tags or keywords. I do agree that there are advantages to putting information about a track in the file itself but “genre” wouldn’t be my first choice.

      Also I’m aware of the advantages of having all of your music totally sorted, but to be a really great DJ most of that info needs to be in your head.

    • I think it’s based on my work in IT that I don’t like breaking conventions. “Genre” isn’t supposed to be a dumping ground for tags or keywords. I do agree that there are advantages to putting information about a track in the file itself but “genre” wouldn’t be my first choice.

      Also I’m aware of the advantages of having all of your music totally sorted, but to be a really great DJ most of that info needs to be in your head.

      • Byron, to be honest I absolutely don’t care about what is supposed to be, I just need a system that is easy (in my opinion) and that works. I have to take what’s there: I just need a field, if it’s genre or grouping or what ever doesn’t matter.

        I totally agree, as a great DJ you have to know your library well, the sorting system helps to find the music faster.

        It’s the same with a book, I can know it very well but when I need it in my hand to quote a text passage and I don’t know where to find it in my library, it’s useless.

  • Mike Guzzo

    I recently started using Genre tags to list the type of music, though I keep the preferred dance style in my comments section.  I also use a folder called ‘Danceables’, and put a series of smart playlists for Balboa, Lindy, Westie, etc.

    • I also use folders and playlists. I will write about it in part 3.

      • Mike Guzzo

        I look forward to seeing how you do it.

  • Here is my view of tagging. I don’t organize my collection totally according to this system but i try to go to it.

    I think that it’s important to fix (and i try to fix) next details for every song:

    – BPM
    – genre (blues, charleston, swing (can be divided to LH and Bal) etc.)
    – sub-genre (difficult tag – it can be “swing-boogie” and “swing-modern” – i still haven’t decided everything about it)
    – style or feeling (calm, gentle, bright, energetic etc.)
    – rating
    – difficulty (i usually use only one tag “hard” for difficult songs, and it doesn’t matter what the tempo is)
    – vocal (i use tags woman. women, man, men – it can be useful when you trying to find songs for competitions – they often should be without vocal)
    – vocal style (i use this info only in the case when vocal spoils a song – it can be “sweet”, “white” or any marks you can understand)
    – record quality – for old records i have to make remarks in this field

    also i put sometimes a special tag “live” which means – this song is live or broadcast record, it’s easy to understand for everybody, it has normal quality, it’s cool and if we have a dancehall with good acoustic and a lot of dancers – go ahead and play as much these songs as you can – the crowd will rock 🙂

  • Twintone

    What do you do when  a song  does fit in more than one categorie?

    • I’m not sure, if I understand your question correctly. I can put as many tags as necessary, so it’s easy to cover several categories.

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  • I use djay for all my music, but I can’t figure out how to permanently change the BPM. I manually enter the BPM of all my songs in iTunes, but once I put a song on my djay turntable, it automatically recalculates the BPM to what it thinks it is. I am able to double or half the time temporarily, but if I ever want to play the song again, it goes back to the original calculation. Any tips?

    • Hi Nick, it’s annoying, I know. I found this workaround: calculate the BPMs in djay and then put those into iTunes. If they’re the same, djay usually don’t change them anymore (it still happens, but it’s rarer). Hope that helps. Christian

      • What if djay doubles or halves the BPM? Do you have to put the doubled/halved BPM into iTunes?

    • AnnaCamille

      iTunes has a great extension (or, it used to when I used it 3 years ago) called ‘BPMtapper’. You can just have it in the background when you’re DJing and tap along with the song for 5-10 seconds, and it will automatically fill in or update the BPM field with the right value.

      So useful, and it doesn’t destroy your DJ flow.