iTunes Hygiene

3 minute read

Instead of working on a site redesign that I have a tight deadline on, I am dealing with a long-standing peeve I’ve had: iTunes hygiene.

This isn’t really a problem with iTunes so much as it is a problem with normalizing band names. iTunes’ search is quite smart, and matches similar items even when there are minor differences between them. So “Sigur Ros” and “Sigur Rós” will show up when I search for “ros”.

Its sorting in displays of music is clever as well. If I’m sorting on artist iTunes will cleverly show me “The Doors” intermingled with “Doors”.

The place that inconsistent artist names starts to bite me is on my iPhone. Sometimes I want to pull up an artist and just play all their music. When there are inconsistent names for the artist I end up with multiple entries and can’t get the mix of songs from them that I might want.

It’s easy to spot. Just scroll through the artists list in my iPhone and I find them quickly:

“Deee-lite” or “Deee-Lite”? “Devotchka” or “DeVotchka”? “The Doors” or just “Doors”? “Flaming Lips” or “The Flaming Lips”? “Iron & Wine” or “Iron and Wine”? And is it “Gaga” or “GaGa”?

Sometimes she’s “Annie Lennox”, sometimes she’s “Lennox, Annie”.

Don’t even get me started on “Death cab for cutie”.

Then we have accented characters as in “Sigur Rós”.

<img src=”” alt=”Siouxsie and the…” title=”IMG_0863.PNG” border=”0” width=”200” height=300” style=’float: right; padding: 0px 10px 10px 10px’ />But the worst of the worst: “Siouxsie & the Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie & The Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie and the Banshees”. Or “Siouxsie And The Banshees”. At least “Siouxsie” was spelled the same each time.

Underworld Underworld Then we’ve got this one:

I realize that some Unicode characters probably crept into one of those names - in fact, I’d love to know what happened. But it’s really not worth the time to me to pry the names out of iTunes and check their bits.

Some of these are my fault. Back in the bad old days I would enter artist, album and song names by hand. I’m sure I wasn’t as consistent as I might have been. Then MP3 rippers started using CDDB (eventually to become Gracenote), and you were at the mercy of whatever some random person had entered for the CD you were ripping. Still, it was usually better than having to enter it all yourself.

Now most of the music I get is through Amazon (once in a while iTunes but Amazon’s generally got my business). And the band names still aren’t always consistent across tracks or albums. Sometimes I think the bands aren’t even sure what their names are.

(For the record, all my music is either purchased for download or ripped from CDs which I’ve purchased.)

The problems are easy enough to fix, once you’ve identified them. Go into iTunes, find and select the batch of songs you want to fix, hit CMD-I, fix the info and you’re set. The next time you sync your i-device, it’ll be updated with the fixed artist names. iTunes deserves plenty of criticism, but that’s for its bloat and random hangs, not for its ability to actually manage music, assuming you can get it to stop hanging.

Then over time the names will start to drift again. I’ll probably never buy another album by “The Doors”, so they won’t be a problem. Maybe Siouxsie will release a new album when she turns 60.

The real solution is to use a database like MusicBrainz to normalize all the artist names in my library. I haven’t tried their Picard product. I am a bit chicken about letting random software loose on my too-large music library or my iTunes database. In this case, chicken wins.