How My Classical Music is Organized in iTunes

I tend to be a bit obsessive about organizing and knowing where everything is. You wouldn’t be able to tell from my desk at home, but I actually (for the most part) know where all that stuff is and what’s in there. The reason I want my music library (as) perfectly organized (as possible) is because I like to look at numbers: albums, tracks, times, playlists, etc. I want to compare recordings and organize by year or date of publishing, and I don’t want duplicates or inconsistencies.

So…. how does one do this? I used to be happy enough with title and artist, but with classical music, that’s not enough. If I’m listening to pop music, or even like… not actual pop music (P.J. Harvey, Joanna Newsom, Björk, whatever), I don’t actually much care if the artist is actually also the composer or not. In many cases, they’re not the same (although of the few I mentioned as examples, they may be), but it doesn’t much affect my listening experience. I enjoy modern music by actual singer/songwriters, but whatever.

In most cases for classical music, the artist (depending on how you define that) is problematic. The performer is almost never the composer, unless you have some of Rachmaninoff’s early recordings of his own stuff, or some of the pieces that Horowitz wrote, or Boulez performing Boulez or something like that. So we end up with Far. More. Factors. than in modern music. I don’t care who’s playing bass in the rock band or what equipment he’s using or whatever. But in classical music, it matters. Let’s list all the criteria, or categories or whatevers:
  1. Composer
  2. Performer- PROBLEM! Who is the performer? This can be any number of things:
    1. Ensemble- the actual orchestra or symphony or whatever that’s playing
    2. the conductor
    3. a soloist (pianist, violinist, vocalist)
    4. there can be more than one of the above
    5. What if there’s a choral part? Like a whole chorus…
    6. What if it’s a piano trio and the ensemble doesn’t have a name but it’s just three people?
    7. Or something similar for a sonata where there’s a soloist and violinist
  3. (the following are less important but can make a big difference in the listening experience) Recording company (and associated equipment and techniques
  4. Recording facility (concert hall, studio, live recording, etc)
  5. Year of recording
These things are ALL important in the details of

identifying a performance. A composer may have performed (well, recorded) the same piece with the same orchestra on multiple occasions, either in a different hall, or separated by many years, marked by a different style, with a different recording company with different techniques, etc., and if we’re talking, for example, about Bruckner (or others, but this example comes to mind), then you may even need to consider which version of the symphony you’re listening to after so many revisions and editions.

If I’m going to compare recordings or listen to something intently, I want to know all these things, so this is how I organize my stuff. I looked up some suggestions online ages ago, and then kind of just ran with whatever I felt made the most sense.
We have
Album Artist:
Track number X of X
Disc number X of X
As in the picture at the top of this post. That’s what shows up in my version of iTunes.
Oh, and also ‘track’ itself. The track title, for a symphony for example, will go something like this “[Composer] Symphony no. X in [key], op. Y, I. Allegro moderato ma non troppo.” I keep the composer at the front usually because it makes it easier to know what it is solely by looking at the track title instead of all the other info. I keep the symphony number, key and opus number ALL as part of the title of the track, finally followed by the number of the movement in Roman numerals, usually I, II, III, IV, or more, followed by a period and then the title of that movement. I hate having random tracks floating around that just say 3. Allegretto. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Artist and Album Artist are annoyingly similar, and the biggest problem I have with the system overall is that not all of this data can be accessed or viewed on my iPod (classic 120gb, almost full, almost all classical), so unless much of that information is in the Album title, like “Beethoven Symphonies 3 & 5/Karajan/Berlin”, I may not be able to see it until I come home and look it up, which is annoying. That’s true for most of the data here.
Artist: The composer, which I also use the composer field for…. Why? I dunno. It made sense to me, because I think I thought I couldn’t look up composer as easily or something.
Album artist: the actual performer. This would be the name of the conductor followed by the ensemble he/she is conducting, usually last name, first name/ensemble, or just last name/ensemble, like “Bernstein/ NY phil” or “Levine, James/Philadelphia Orchestra”. As long as I keep the format the same for each one, I can see ALL the recordings that conductor has performed with that ensemble. I also keep conductor first because it’s more important or influential to me than which ensemble it is. It has a greater bearing on the interpretation. As for a soloist (as in a Mahler symphony or something), I won’t create an entire entry for Karajan/Berlin/soloist unless there is some significant selection of pieces or performances that it refers to. If there are only one or two tracks to that effect, I’ll add the soloist in the comments or track field. An example of the former is that in Bernstein’s Deutsche Grammophon collection of the Mahler works, Thomas Hampson sings Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Kindertotenlieder, and Rückertlieder, so that’s significant enough to include ‘Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker/Hampson’ as an artist entry.
Album: this one is quite straightforward usually. I often keep the album names the same unless I make it more descriptive, for example by adding the above information like conductor/ensemble to the end, or putting the discs in order by adding “Disc 1 of X” at the end in parentheses or something. That is unless the album has some stupidly modern name like “Transformations” and describes nothing of the actual music on the album. I’ll usually keep any of that in the “comments” section for later reference and add a descriptive title that I find more useful.
I don’t use grouping for anything. Not so sure what I could use it for.
Year: I use the year of publication of the piece, not year of recording, even though the image above shows year of recording. I am debating this… with multiple recordings of the same piece, year of recording may be more useful than year of publication.
Track number: I use this to organize pieces in the album, obviously
Disc number: I use this occasionally to set the order of discs in a collection if the order isn’t inherent to the names of the albums themselves.
BPM: Don’t use it
Composer: Obviously, as in the artist field. I failed to mention, always last name, first name “Bach, Johann Sebastian” or “Chopin, Fryderyk” (that’s how it got spelled and that’s how it stayed) or whatever, always spelled the same way so they’re consistent.
Comments: Anything I removed elsewhere, like a long list of soloists in the original artist field, the recording date, recording company, or anything else I needed to remove or rearrange but wanted to keep. None of this is viewable on the iPod, but I can see it when I get home.
Artwork: Obvious.
Genre: I use this to categorize the classical music by type. They all say classical at the beginning, and I have an auto playlist that adds to it anything with the word “Classical” in the genre field and is automatically synced to my iPod. Then to categorize further, I add something after it, like “Classical: symphony” or “Classical: piano” or “Classical: opera” etc. Then I can search by genre and see all the symphonies or operas or trios by different composers, etc.
Rating: Don’t really use it.
It also super annoys me when (in Mahler or Bruckner collections, most recently, but elsewhere too I’m sure; these are just long symphonies) in these collections, a symphony is broken up across two discs. I understand the value to the publisher of trying to use all the available space on a disk, but when Mahler’s symphony no. 3 is broken across two discs, or number seven is split in half, it annoys me to no end. So then what I do is create a playlist of the collection, and will put the tracks in order from symphony 1 all the way to 9 (and whatever else is included in whatever order seems appropriate). This makes the listening experience far more convenient, while still retaining the original organizational structure of the box set.


This is the best I’ve gotten so far. In review, I could probably use Grouping for something, although I haven’t seen anywhere I can use that field to organize or categorize, and I don’t know what I would put there. Artist and Composer are redundant, but I don’t want to put the conductor, for example, as artist, because then what about solo piano pieces or chamber pieces who don’t have a conductor? What then? The biggest problem is when an album has multiple composers and multiple performers on one album where the album artist and/or artist and/or composer is different for multiple tracks (some sort of compilation, for example), and iTunes wants to split them up in all sorts of funky ways. I hate that. That’s the biggest issue with my little system. But I’ve got thousands of tracks roughly organized this way and I don’t see myself sitting down to restructure it any time soon. It pretty much works for me.

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