Ask the iTunes Guy
Kirk McElhearn answers your iTunes questions
Viewing the right information in playlists in iTunes can be complicated, in part because iTunes defaults to a specific display when you create new playlists. In this month’s column, I answer a single question about choosing which columns of metadata display in Music playlists. And I also discuss some other nuances about playlist views, and present a few tricks to make changing what information playlists display easier and more efficient.
Plus, the bigger your iTunes library, the harder it is to keep it coherent. I answer two questions about managing a library. The first asks how to sort artists by their last name instead of their first name, so it’s easier to find music in a large library, and the second discusses how to rip CDs when your main computer is a laptop without an optical drive.
QWhen I create a new playlist, it displays with a default set of columns, such as iCloud Download, Rating, and Genre. I would prefer that different columns display in my playlists, and I have to do this manually. Is there any way of changing the default columns that display in new playlists?
AThis is a great question, because it raises a number of issues around how iTunes manages and displays playlists. When you create a new playlist in iTunes, it defaults to Playlist view. This view displays a number of columns, without headers, and you cannot change the information that iTunes shows you.
All playlists in this view display exactly the same way. Not only can you not change the columns, but you can’t choose to not display artwork. That artwork takes up extra vertical space if your playlist contains albums, since each track displays an artwork thumbnail. In this view, there’s nothing you can do about it.
You can get a lot more control of what iTunes shows you by changing the display to Songs view, from the View > View As menu. Songs view looks like the screenshot on page 64.
With Songs view, you can decide which columns display by choosing View > Show View Options. The View Options palette lets you toggle on or off dozens of columns – each of which displays an item of metadata from your files – and also lets you choose to display album artwork or not, or change its size.
As I said above, when you create a new playlist, it displays in Playlist view, but after you add something to that playlist, you can choose View > View As > Songs to get the columnar view, then adjust these columns. The default columns that display when you switch to this view reflect the columns in your main Music library, when it’s in Songs view (select Music from the Media Picker menu above the sidebar, then click Songs in the Library section of the sidebar). So if you want all your new playlists to show certain columns, change
the columns in Songs view for your Music library.
If you find that you often create playlists then switch from Playlist to Songs view, you might want to create keyboard shortcuts for the two views to save time. This is a bit complicated, because the Playlist and Songs choices are in sub-menus, and iTunes also has the same menu items in other submenus. Doug Adams has written an article explaining how to set up these keyboard shortcuts.
But what if you already have a number of playlists, and you want to change the columns they display in Songs view? You could do this manually, but this can take a long time. Doug Adams’ Assimilate View Options AppleScript helps you. You select a playlist (normal or smart) and run the AppleScript. It creates a new playlist using the columns in your Music library’s Songs view, copies all the tracks from the selected playlist to the new one, then deletes the original.
You may want to have a number of playlists with different columns. Perhaps you need to know the BPM of certain tracks, so some playlists show this column.
Or you may want to see the play count and last played date in some playlists. Or you may want some playlists where album artwork displays, and others where it’s not visible. You can manually change the columns in any playlist in Songs view, as I explained above, but you can also create a number of templates.
Create a playlist folder (File > New > Playlist Folder), then create a new playlist in that folder (File > New > Playlist, or Command-N). Add at least one item to it – a placeholder track that you’ll delete later – then switch to Songs view (View > View As > Songs). Next, show and hide the columns you want to see.
When you want to create another new playlist with these same columns displayed, you can duplicate that playlist (right-click on the playlist and choose Duplicate), and the new playlist will show the same columns. Add some tracks to the playlist, then delete the placeholder track you had added in the template. Make sure to change the name of the duplicated playlist to match what you want.
You could make a few different templates, or even dozens, matching the types of playlists you like to use. And when you need a new playlist with specific columns visible, you can just make a copy of one of your templates, than add music to it.
SORTING ARTIST NAMES
QI would like to sort the artists and composers in my iTunes library by last name so they’re easier to find in lists. I know I can do this by entering the name in the Sort Artist tag, but this will take a long time. Is there any quick way to do this?
ABy default, iTunes sorts everything by its first word (with the exception of A, An, The, and equivalents in other languages). So it sorts John Cage at the letter J, and Buddy Holly at B. But some people find it easier to have names sorted by their last name, so they can glance at a list and search for the first letter of that name, instead of the first name.
There are two ways to do this. The first involves changing the actual name of the artist or composer. In my library, I sort all classical composers in Lastname, Firstname order. So I have Bach, Johann Sebastian; Cage, John; and Rautavaara, Einojuhani. I find it easier to spot a composer’s name this way, because the sort word – the last name – is at the beginning of the list. You can do this by selecting all the tracks by a composer, then pressing Command-I to display the Info window. In the Composer field, type their name in Lastname, Firstname format, then click OK.
But I don’t do that for artists. I have Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, and Brad Mehldau display as is, meaning that I have to glance at the second names – which aren’t always lined up – to see where I am in a list.
But why not have those artists display with their first names first, but sorted by their last names? This is possible. Select all the tracks by an artist, click Command-I, then click Sorting. This tab of the Info window lets you tell iTunes how to sort the artist, album, album artist, or composer. In the Artist section’s Sort As field, enter the artist’s name in Lastname, Firstname format.
It can take a while to do this for all your artists, but there’s a shortcut. Doug Adams’ Artist to Last First AppleScript (tinyurl.com/ya7xtkq3) can set the sort tag this way for a whole batch of music. It can change a name to Lastname, Firstname order, and insert it in the appropriate sort tag, and it can even move the
‘The’ at the beginning of a band’s name to the end, so you could have The Jimi Hendrix Experience display as Jimi Hendrix Experience, The.
RIPPING CDS ON A LAPTOP
QI have a MacBook without an optical drive, and most of my iTunes library as stored on an external hard drive using an app called TuneSpan. I also have an old iMac with an optical drive. How can I use the old iMac to rip CDs and get them in my MacBook’s iTunes library? Can I use my external drive in some way?
AIt’s almost as if Apple doesn’t want people to buy CDs any more. To start with, if you don’t want to use iCloud Music Library, you have the problem of storing a large media library on a laptop that may not have a lot of storage. TuneSpan, which we covered back in 2012, lets you move some or all of your iTunes library to an external drive.
When you want to add more CDs to the laptop, you have two choices: use a second computer, which you have, or buy an optical drive and connect it to the laptop via USB. You can get an external, self-powered optical drive for about £25, and this might be a good thing to have if you plan to rip a lot of CDs.
If you rip CDs on the iMac, you can just copy them to any external drive, then add them to your iTunes library. This is important; you can’t just put them in the iTunes Media folder on the external hard drive you have. You have to connect that drive and add the files to iTunes in order for iTunes (and in your case TuneSpan) to then move the files to a location that it understands.
Songs view is more flexible
In Songs view, the View Options window lets you control how iTunes displays your metadata
With first name sorting, it can be confusing to find an artist in a list