How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 2: BPM & Rating

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Thank you so much for all the comments and emails you have sent me after publishing part 1: Tagging in iTunes.

I'll post some of the ideas I've got from my readers in a wrap-up post after this small series is finished.

So, let's start with part two.

We need two more parameters to have an idea about the music in our library: the tempo of the song and a personal rating system.

Detecting BPM (Beats Per Minute)

As you know, the tempo is defined in BPM or beats per minute.

Detecting BPM is manual work and it takes a lot of time. By my own experience, all automatic BPM detectors are not useful for jazz/swing music (tell me, if I'm wrong), because they usually only count every second beat. Then you get a number like 96 although the song has 192 bpm.

Helpful Tools to Manually Detect Beats Per Minute

Online Tool

  • Tap for Beats Per Minute BPM This tool runs in your browser. Just tap any key and get the BPM. Disadvantage: There is no function to write the detected BPM in iTunes.

Tools for iTunes
If you use iTunes as your basic library, then here are some tools for you.

  • ltjBPM for Mac (link Apple App Store USA | App Store EU). The one I currently use. Very small application window. Standalone tool to detect BPM by tapping a shortcut. Lets you export measured BPM directly in iTunes. Many more functions like skipping to next song, rating, etc. all controlled by shortcuts. Costs: $ 2.99 / CHF 3
  • Cadence BPM Tapper for Windows & Mac (link App Store USA | App Store EU). Standalone tool to detect BPM by tapping a button. Lets you export measured BPM directly in iTunes. Costs: Free.
  • Turnover for Mac (link App Store USA | App Store EU) Another BPM tapper. Many functions, also controlled by shortcuts. Actually, developped by a runner for runners. Costs: $ 4.99 / CHF 5. (Note: I haven't tested the software so far. I you have any experiences, please share them with us).

Rating System

Beside the tagging system, I also have created my own rating system which I would like to share with you today. The rating basically refers to the danceabilty. In other words, when the song gets a bad rating it doesn't mean it's a bad song, rather it's not suitable for swing dancers.

Let's have a look.

***** 5 Stars
Great song for dancing, safe winner, no pre-listening required (by myself as DJ)

****4 Stars
Great song for dancing, pre-listening required/preferred

*** 3 Stars
Average song for dancing, I usually don't play these songs at (main) events. But sometimes, I come back to the 3-star songs, because I need new inspiration or because my music taste has changed in the meantime and I would rate some of them higher now.

** 2 Stars
No-go. I never play this song for a dance crowd (I prefer to give some stars instead of none, so I know that I already have rated the song)

* 1 Star
Duplicate song, I already have rated this song (the higher rated song has usually the better sound quality)

A while ago, I found out that if you copy your iTunes library to a new computer, you loose the star rating. So I started to additionally use the grouping field to write in the rating as figures (1-5). I do this from time to time with bulk modification.

That's it! Now it's up to you again:
Let me know, what tools for BPM detecting and which rating system are you using?

Or do you have any questions about this post? I'll answer them in the comments below!

Here are the links to part 1 and part 3:
How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 1: Tagging
How to Organize Music in iTunes. Part 3: Smart Playlists

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

Photo credit: schnaibel

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  • I use almost the same system of rating, except 1 star – i put it when i feel that the song is interesting but i don’t have enough time to understand it better. 

    And i don’t add rating to the rating field (because of possibility to loose everything). I use the field “Composer” where i can put any symbols – in my case digits from 1 to 5.

    • So, you go back to the 1 star rated songs and rate them later?

      • Generally yes. In fact it’s a little bit more messy system. I have a smart playlist where i keep all the songs with 1 star, without stars but with BPM, with stars and BPM but without genre. I use this playlist when i have to find new good songs because i know that every song inside it was interesting somehow.

        Of course from there every song can get 2 stars (and i’ll forget it for year), get correct genre and BPM (goes to exact playlist), or go to trash.

  • Stan Yen

    When I have duplicates of a song, I’ll simply uncheck it and leave it unrated. I use BPM to indicate whether I’ve rated and/or classified a song.

    I actually use the one star as a “No, I don’t like this song at all” indicator. (although I suppose I could use the checkbox as well.) No stars indicates indifference. I find starring for danceability difficult because I’m often DJing for a mostly Balboa crowd (or mostly non-Balboa crowd — that’s just how our scene is right now, we’re working on it) and I find some songs are not universally danceable for both groups  — perhaps this is less of an issue for you?

    • Initially, I also unchecked the songs, but it didn’t make sense to me, when I listened to the songs outside of DJ’ing, then I changed to the way I’m doing now.

      When I leave it unrated, then I don’t know if I have this song (or a duplicate) already rated somewhen.

      I agree, not all of the songs are suitable to both crowds (I’m also DJ’ing Lindy and Balboa), but then I put a 4 star rating, which forces me to prelisten the song (see in the post). Having said that, as DJs we have to know our libraries!

  • Mike Guzzo

    I gave up on ratings after having to reload my library 5 times.  For non-Djing jazz music I like, I tag it with DNU for do not use.  Jazz I can’t use to DJ or enjoy listening to gets removed from my library in a recent attempt to trim some of the fat.

    • Oh, I understand. I’m considering my library as a collection, so I love to have all kind of music and versions, even bad ones ;-).

      • Mike Guzzo

        Me too.  I only really delete things that are bad rips/poorly mastered.  I DJ non-swing/non-dance events, and I made the mistake early on of deleting a song I couldn’t use for dancers and it got requested.  It’s a small library, like you, I consider my library as a collection.

  • Superheidi

    Thanks for this, it’s insightful how others work with this. For BPM I just added this Mac Widget from Fylingcheeseburger. Works fine, you can save it directly to itunes.

    As for my rating system: * for very bad recording, bitrate or ripping, should be deleted in fact, ** suitable for lindy, *** for charleston/shag, **** or balboa, ***** for lindy and balboa.

    A teacher told me about his rating system I found very interesting. It was rated by the level of difficulty/complexity to dance to the specific tune. Like * for beginner class, *** could be suitable for all levels, perfect for a social dance starter, and so on. It hasn’t got a lot to do with bpm.
    Though it’s too difficult for me, I haven’t listened to music in that way yet, I don’t dance that long, I will keep it in mind.

    But yeah, rating is instable. On several occasions my library broke down and I lost all playlists and ratings, so annoying!

    And I wonder if should use a separate tagging program (brainz, tagalicious) or wonder if itunes is sufficient. I like your genre abbreviations, because yes, mine are getting similar and way too long to view on a laptop screen.

    • I also have the widget you’re mentioning. The advantage with ltjBPM is, that you can skip forward to the next song within the app, which is very helpful when you’re detecting BPM for a full album.

      If you’re a teacher, then this rating system you’re describing makes totally sense, but not as a DJ, at least in my opinion.

      • I have the similar system (now i try to change it but with keeping all the advantages of previous). A lot of songs have tags “character” and “difficulty”. For example, balboa song can be “oldy”, “modern” (style), “gentle”, “calm”, “energetic” (character), “hard” (difficulty). It’s obvious that even a very fast song can be easy for dancing. People even can not understand that it’s 240 bpm. And vice-versa middle-tempo song can be very difficult for dancing. Such tags can help to dj a lot. I’ve seen djs (don’t remember who) who played music on this system. They picked up songs with character tags and it didn’t matter what the tempo was.

        So i thing the “teacher system” is very good and it’s a good practice for djs to use the best sides of it.

        • superheidi

          The teacher mentioned also DJs and I agree with Dimitry. To me this system was an ear-opener (as I am learning).
          Yes, for example slower songs which are complex can be fun for advanced dancers to go crazy on musicality and styling. When the rhythm section is solid, beginners also dance to it. To me it sounded like a good system to serve a mixed crowd of dance levels.

          So now I’m curious about the 240 bpm song that so easy. 🙂

        • superheidi

          The teacher mentioned also DJs and I agree with Dimitry. To me this system was an ear-opener (as I am learning).
          Yes, for example slower songs which are complex can be fun for advanced dancers to go crazy on musicality and styling. When the rhythm section is solid, beginners also dance to it. To me it sounded like a good system to serve a mixed crowd of dance levels.

          So now I’m curious about the 240 bpm song that so easy. 🙂

        • That’s very interesting! For me it would be too much work, it’s already now very time consuming :).

          Here I trust in my intuition and the knowledge of my library.

      • Superheidi

        ah, as for the dancestyle rating, it’s not for DJing. It’s to make a first rough selection whenever and whereever I can (iPod). Just a way to get this ever growing library under control.

  • I use mediamonkey and a windows PC so I have to copy BPMs by hand :-

    For BPM counting, I use DJBPM to count taps. I found it more consistent than counting with a browser or with an automatic tool.

    I use BPMs to divide my collection into different “spaces”. 999 = music that is not for DJing, 998 = music that I considered for DJing but finally discarded, 1 = music that sounds interesting and I should listen carefully to sort out when I get the time :-), blank = have not looked at it. Anything outside these numbers has the actual BPMs.

    Whether it is for lindy, balboa or blues (or any combination thereof) gets written on the comment tag.

    I then use something similar to your system. 5* = safe play, 4* = good but needs to be listened to and placed correctly, 3* = on the fence or needs to be tried out, less than that it gets a 998.

    I usually introduce new music at 3*. if it works, I increase the stars and it may get a 5* if it works consistently.But it also goes the other way. I may decrease the stars until it gets taken out of the collection if I reconsider how much it is working.

    • Svenn Kvelstad

      I used Mediamonkey too for my library and I found a plugin that lets you tap the BPM and then write it directly to the file. I am not sure but it may be this plugin.

    • Arieh, thanks for your comment, that’s interesting!

      I also had once a system to quickly categorize my music with fast = 999, medium = 666 and slow = 333, but I was not satisfied with the sorting by using Smart Playlists so I gave it up.

  • Guest
    is a BPM tap tool that not only gives you a number, but also shows you how consistent your tapping has been. So you can tell whether the tempo is stable or shifting.You can get the error margins down as long as the measuring precision (usually something like 100Hz, by your operating system) is still enough (usually like+- 2 bpm).

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