Ask the iTunes Guy

Kirk McEl­hearn an­swers your iTunes ques­tions

Macworld - - Contents -

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.


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 (­tkq3) 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.


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.

With first name sort­ing, it can be con­fus­ing to find an artist in a list

In Songs view, the View Op­tions win­dow lets you con­trol how iTunes dis­plays your meta­data

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