Saturday, March 1, 2008

Primary and secondary sorting in iTunes

I had no idea that I wanted this feature of primary and secondary sorting in iTunes, until I was trying to listen to a playlist containing all the tracks from one genre, sorted increasingly by play count. I'm quite attached to the notion of trying to balance and smooth out what you listen to, trying perpetually to listen to the tracks with the lowest play counts. This only works if you've filtered out the songs from your library that you don't like, those songs that you added when you first got an iPod, just because you wanted to fill up the library with as much as you could, and stupidly resorted to importing anything you could get your hands on, even music you didn't like. Maybe they were CDs that you used to like, but didn't like anymore, but you still had them on hand, and you had a library to fill.

Anyway, I have this playlist that sorts by play count, and it plays the songs of an album in reverse order. Often, this manifests itself if I have an album in which the first few tracks with a higher play count than the rest of the album. In the playlist, the fragment of the album starts playing backwards. What I want is for the album fragment to play in order starting at the start of the fragment. When I say fragment, I mean the block of songs of the album that has the same play count. I don't mind if the album is broken up into more and smaller fragments, which most likely would be from an album with lower and lower play counts later and later in the album. In my playlist, those small fragments of an album generally show up in between larger fragments of other albums.

So, the problem is that the fragments, in this playlist that sorts by play count, play backwards. What I need then, is primary and secondary sorting, so that I can sort first by play count, and then by album. When you just sort by album, iTunes of course puts the albums in the correct order, so this would solve my problem.

When I went looking for help with this on Google, I found other uses for such a feature as well, that would also help me, but I didn't even realize that a different problem could be solved with the same feature. Many artists have a "Greatest Hits" album, but when sorting by album in the main library, iTunes jumbles the artists together of a Greatest Hits album. To try to solve this, I even tried making each separate Greatest Hits album separate compilations, to no avail, so indeed a primary and secondary sort here would by quite useful. I guess I'm not fully aware of what compilations are, but in my experience in playing with them, it helps when there are two-CD albums to import. In practice though, you can filter different "Greatest Hits" albums by typing in the artist name into the search field along with "Greatest Hits," so my original quest for a primary and secondary sort is more esoteric and more necessary for the purpose; there is no such manual fix. In my case, a manual fix might be just to look at the playlist that sorts by play count and then go manually play the fragment of the album in the correct order in the main library. This really isn't the same, because that means you can't just let the playlist run. There is no automatic workaround though.

Apparently this feature of a primary and secondary sort isn't technologically difficult, but I fear that it's probably just so esoteric that Apple hasn't given it much thought.


Aviv Sinai said...

I also searched the web for this feature. I don't think it's an esoteric feature - it's really important.

Regardless, I, personally, am not a big fan of itunes. I only use it since it "plays nicely" with my iPhone.

Michael Luton said...

This problem has been haunting me as well since I started using iTunes back in 2003. Secondary sorts is easily the biggest priority feature in my wish list.

Michael Luton said...

Something you *can* do, however, is to specify the 'Sort Album' field but in reverse order. Say you have an album with 10 tracks. Give track 1 a 'sort album' value of 10. Give track 2 a 'sort album' value of 9, etc. Now when you sort by play count ascending the fragments will be in order. Of course, the big downside of this is that when you sort by any other field the order by the songs will be reversed. So that may or may not be what you really want.

I still want to see a proper secondary sort option in iTunes.