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iTunes tagging basics and tips

Kirk McElhearn | Sept. 4, 2013
Master iTunes tags with our helpful how-to.

Items in your iTunes library need tags, or bits of information that identify them and help iTunes organize and sort them properly. These tags (aka metadata) tell iTunes what a file is: the type of file (music, movie, ebook, and so on), its name (the first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony, The Beatles' "A Day in the Life", or an ebook of Henry James's The Ambassadors), and more.

You need these tags to be able to choose what to listen to or watch, and to create smart playlists to listen to music according to preset conditions. In this article, I'll explain how to best tag files in iTunes, and I'll give you some tips to help make tagging more efficient.

View and change tags
When you purchase music or other content from iTunes (or other sources, for that matter), it will most likely already be tagged. And when you rip your own CDs, iTunes can look for tagging information online and fill in many of the tags for you. But there are times when iTunes can't find tags for an album, or when downloaded music doesn't have all the necessary tags.

To view and edit tags, you begin by selecting one or more files and then pressing Command-I. The window that displays will be somewhat different for a single file than for a group of files.

(Note: I'll show examples of tagging music files in this article, but the same procedures apply to other media types, such as videos and ebooks.)

You select a single track when you want to change a tag that only applies to that track. For example, you may want you change the Name (the track name) or the Track Number. Or you may want to change the Album tag for a single track to group it with a different album.

To change any tag, just click a field and edit the text, or delete it and type new text. Click OK to save it, or Cancel if you change your mind. Note that there's no undo option when changing tags: When you click OK, iTunes writes the new tag info to the music file on your Mac. For some tags you edit within the Options tab, this information isn't stored in the media file, but actually in your iTunes library file.

The tags you absolutely should fill in
Many tags are optional, but a number of them are quite important and will help you use iTunes more effectively.

  • Name: A track's name, or the name of a movie, TV episode, or book.
  • Artist: A band, or singer, or ensemble who performs the music; an author, for a book; a director, or actors, for a video.
  • Album: The name of the album.
  • Track number: For tracks to play sequentially, you need to have the proper track numbers.
  • Genre: To be able to use smart playlists, you should fill the Genre tag.
  • Compilation: This tag, within the Options tab, is important if your CD is a compilation. It can be a little tricky, and I wrote an entire article just about compilations.


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