iTunes genres – enhancing your music enjoyment

The purpose of this article is to help you set up meaningful genres for your music collection. By doing so, you can quickly and easily find the music and podcasts you enjoy.

I like to listen to a wide variety of music. When people ask me what I listen to, I say I like classical music, piano, electronic music, pop, rock and much more.  These are the “genres” of music I enjoy.

Now I keep my music collection on the computer in the form of MP3 files. I am gradually “ripping” my CD collection to the computer (using Winamp), storing the albums in an organised manner on the computer and adding the albums to my iTunes library for playing on my ipod Nano.

When I used to buy records and CDs I would organise them by genre. My Pop music was on one shelf, the Classical on another and the Folk and Comedy albums stored in between. The reason for sorting by genre was so I could find the music quickly and to group similar styles of music together.

Digital audio files contain information about the song encoded into “tags”. These can be maintained with the iTunes software. You will notice a wide range of genre names used for the music you enjoy, and often you will see some strange classifications. Should Madonna be Pop, Female Vocal, Dance or something else.

Step 1 – Organise your music files

I organise my music collection into a hierarchy of folders. The top level director is C:\my_media\my_music and in this folder I have the following folders.  Each name begins with a number to sort the folders into a meaningful sequence:

  • 01 Pop and Rock
  • 20 Jazz and Blues
  • 30 Instrumental and New Age
  • 40 Soundtracks
  • 50 Broadway – Stage and Musicals
  • 60 Folk – World – Traditional
  • 85 Comedy
  • 90 Spoken Word and Educational
  • 100 Classical

An example of further classification is in the 01 Pop and Rock Folder. I have added some examples in parentheses

  • 01 Groups – Pop and Rock (Led Zeppelin, Queen, Steely Dan)
  • 02 Popular – Male (Cat Stevens, David Bowie, Elton John)
  • 03 Popular – Female (Bjork, Linda Ronstadt, Sade)
  • 04 Kraut Rock (Can, Popol Vuh)
  • 04 Progressive Rock (ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes)
  • 05 J-Pop (Kalafina, Perfume, Sayaka, Yumi Matsutoya)
  • 06 Punk and New Wave (Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, The Stranglers)
  • 07 Country (Glen Campbell, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris)
  • 08 Hip Hop and Rap (Run DMC)
  • 09 Reggae and Ska (Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Peter Tosh)

I create a directory for each artist then store the albums in this folder. I include the year of release at the beginning of the album so I can see the albums in chronological order. Here is an example of some of Elton John’s music in the Elton John folder.

  • 1969 – Empty Sky
  • 1970 – Elton John
  • 1972 – Honky Chateau
  • 1973 – Goodby Yellow Brick Road

Step 2 – Plan your Genres

I made a list of genres and how I wanted to tag music in my iTunes library. Genre names need to be fairly short so they are visible on the iPod menu. The genre names I use roughly correspond to the directory structure I created. You can always change the genres later if you decide to consolidate genres or split a genre into more categories.  Be careful of changing the names of folders or files once you have added them to the iTunes library or iTunes won’t be able to play the music.

For example, having a genre of Classical is too broad.  There are four major groups of music which I consider to be “Classical” – Orchestral, Chamber Music, Solo Instrumental and Vocal (Songs, Choral, and Opera).  I enjoy concertos so I created the tags Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, Cello Concerto. I also have tags for solo instruments (or with piano accompaniment) – Piano, Violin and Cello.
Your choice of genres is not going to match up to other people’s choices! I like the music of John Denver who I classify as Male Vocal. However I have seen his music in CD shops in the Country section as well as Folk.  Musicians play in a variety of styles, so you need to choose the genres.  When an artist works in multiple genres, I tag each work in that genre. For example, Ryuichi Sakamato played with Yellow Magic Orchestra (SynthPop), composes music scores (Soundtracks) and has recorded solo piano music (Piano). It doesn’t make sense to tag all these albums in one genre.

Step 3 – Tidy up the genres in your iTunes library

Once you have created a plan for your genres you first need to tidy up the genres of the music in your collection.

  1. Open the Music tab of iTunes to show your entire collection
  2. Click on the Genre column to sort by Genre
  3. Review the list and when you see tracks with an unsuitable genre, select them  then right click and choose Get Info.
  4. Find or type the new Genre name and click OK.
  5. Repeat this process until all music is tagged
  6. Check if there are tracks with missing genre tags then add them.

Step 4 – Tidy up the Artists in your iTunes library

Now that you have tidied up the Genres, you should check that the Artists are consistently tagged. For example you may find that some of your Beatles songs have been classified as Pop, Groups and Male Vocal.  Some artists work on multiple genres. For example, Vangelis is both Electronic Music as well as Soundtracks, although most of his work has been for film.

  1. Open the Music tab of iTunes to show your entire collection
  2. Click on the Artist name to sort by artist
  3. Review the list and when you see tracks with an unsuitable genre,  select them, then right click and choose Get Info.
  4. Enter the new Genre name and click OK.
  5. Repeat this process until all music is tagged

Step 5 – Decide if any Genres should be consolidated or subdivided.

I listen to a small amount of jazz so I don’t need to classify it any further. I probably have 40 Jazz albums (Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis). I noticed that Thelonius Monk had a genre of Bebop but I changed this to Jazz, because this is the only genre I use for Jazz.

Step 6 – Enjoy your music!

Genres are useful for creating playlists and I will be writing about smart playlists in an upcoming article.  Here are some more of my tags and what sort of music I have tagged you would find in this genre.
Japanese – Japanese language learning courses

Audio Book – Audio versions of fiction and non-fiction

Podcast – My two favourite podcasts are The Law Report and JapanatorRadio

Christmas – I listended to a lot of Christmas carols last Decemberincluding Sting’s 2009 album “If on a Winter’s Night”

Bluegrass – I discovered Alison Krauss after hearing the Cold Mountainsoundtrack.

Jazz Fusion – Mahavishnu Orchestra

Classical Fusion – Vanessa Mae, Bond

Step 7 – Adding more music in the future

As you add more music in the future, you should have a comprehensive set of genres to classify your music.
Please comment on this article and tell me about your genres.

Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

11 thoughts on “iTunes genres – enhancing your music enjoyment”

  1. I just don’t see a point in wasting hours “organizing” my files in Explorer folders. I let iTunes do it automatically. Much simpler and a lot less time. Also a lot less likely to lose tracks. I use artists, genres, groupings and occasionaliy comments to organize my many Smart Playlists to easily play the tracks I want to hear.

  2. You could also create smart lists based on genre.

    Create one named “Best of Rock” and include the songs which rating is above or equal to three stars and genre is Rock using the playlist’s rules.

    Repeat the same process using your other genres.

    Then, as you listen to music you rate any song you like whether these are rock or not.

    After that, when you open your “Best of Rock” or “Best of Pop” playlist you’ll have a killer playlist with the best songs in that genre respectively. The best of all is if you don’t like a song anymore, you rate that song with a star or two and the playlist won’t include that song anymore automatically.

  3. I think Steve’s reply is the waste of time here. Many of us have hundreds or thousands of CDs representing all types and styles of music (not just rock, pop or country as enjoyed by the ignorant masses). Basic library science here, but the advantage of the computer in organizing ANYTHING is it reduces the cost of multiple classification schemes, something that was very complex with paper (or the manual organization of records or CDs on shelves). Also, I am using a spare iMac hooked up to my stereo via a DAC (about 5 grand total in this, so the sound is above average). I can control all this with Remote on my iPhone or iPad. This allows me to browse most effectively by genre. thank you for this article. So, I took your advice and broke down “classical” to Baroque, which I also subdivided into solo instrument, vocal… and more. I have a lot of jazz so Bop, Swing… and other categories are very useful too. And now I can use these genres to build even more useful and unique smart playlists.

    1. My point is that I do not use Windows Explorer to organize tracks in folders. I don’t care what folder they are in on my hard drive so long as my music management software can find them and has them organized within it by genre, etc. I used to use iTunes, but it chokes on my 200,000 tracks from scores or genres collected over 30 years. Now I use MediaMonkey. Vastly superior to iTunes.

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