Using Comments to Tag Music Files

This is an idea that I've been rolling around in my head for a while. I finally got around to trying it and I'm really happy with the results.

The Problem:
Music systems like iTunes let you categorize music by selecting a single genre for each file or song. So a song can be categorized as a "Christmas" or as "Oldies", but not both.

Take White Christmas by the Drifters off the Home Alone soundtrack. It could be categorized as Christmas, Rock, Oldies, Soundtrack or half a dozen other ways including ones that make sense only to me like snickerdoodle. But in iTunes I have to pick only one category.

This bugs me because music (really life in general) isn't that straight forward. The category music falls into depends on my perspective at the time.

For example, when I'm in the mood for Christmas music I want to hear White Christmas, and when I'm in the mood for Oldies I still want to hear White Christmas. Right now I have to remember which one category iTunes thinks White Christmas belongs to. This idea gives me a way to put & find a song in as many categories as I want.

Tagging has emerged as a really useful method for categorizing things into more than one bucket. It's a simple concept. Simply add free form text that describe an item. Each word becomes a tag and when you want to find something you look at your list of tags and choose the tag that fits. Then you get the list of songs that contain that tag.

Tagging is available in lots of places, but hasn't made it into music players yet.

The Idea
So I came up with a simple way to use tagging with music files by adding the tags to the "comment" field in the music files. The comment field is a free form text field that is actually part of MP3 and M4A music files.

Using iTunes I would do the following to tag a song:
  1. Highlight the song or songs
  2. Right click and choose "Get Info"
  3. Type in my tags in the comment field. For Example: Christmas, Rock, Oldies, Soundtrack, snickerdoodle
  4. Click save

To get at the tags and listen to music by tags, I simply create a smart play list where the comments contain the tag I'm interested in. One for Oldies, one for Christmas, and one for snickerdoodle! And White Christmas now appears in all three!

I'd really like to see a tag cloud layout for iTunes, but for now I'll settle for smart play lists.

Benefits

  • Allows for multiple categorizations for any song.
  • Tags move with your music files so your categories move across computers and applications.
  • If something happens to iTunes or you get a new computer you don't have to re-find all the music for your play lists.
  • It makes it really easy to categorize and access your music any way you want.
  • iTunes lets you view a smart playlist in "List View" which gives you all the navigation of iTunes filtered on one tag!
Having done this for band music, driving music, work music and a bunch of other stuff, I'm really happy with how it's simplified finding what I want to listen to.