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iTunes Tune-up 5: Group hug


Ralph Graves

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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In my opinion, the "Grouping" field is one of the most under-used ways to sort music in an iTunes library.

The "Grouping" field helps me create new and different mixes of songs, by collecting songs from different categories together in a new smart playlist. And that group can be anything I want.

Here's how I used it to create my own oldies radio station for the iPod.

Step 1 - Create a new smart playlist. Select "Grouping" as the criteria. I can set the smart playlist to match a specific term, part of term, exclude everything containing a certain term and so on. I like to keep things simple. In this case, I entered "radio" in the search field.

Since I wanted songs within a certain range, I also added a second criteria: only select tracks with the range of 1964 to 1973 in the "Year" field. And I wanted the selections to stay fairly fresh, so I also restricted the list to 50 entries, sorted by least recently played, with live updating. That ensured that each time I played the list, the tracks would be different.

Step 2 - Fill in the "Grouping" field. First, select the tracks you want to include from your music library. Highlight each song and select "Get Info" from the File menu. This shows you the text and graphic info for the track. Then click the Info tab to reveal the "Grouping" field. Just enter the appropriate term, and hit "OK."  In my case, I put the word "Radio" in the field for songs in my library that were aired on the radio between 1964 and 1973.

And that's all there is to it.

So why would I create an oldies "station" when I could just have a smart playlist for songs released between 1964 and 1973? Well, while I have a far amount of songs from that time period, most of it is pretty obscure. Such a playlist would more often turn up songs by Marva Whitney, Aardvaark, and the Fewdle Lords than radio hits by Smokey Robinson or the Beatles. Plus, it wouldn't make it easy for me to hear a smattering of radio commercials and station ids from the same era.

For the songs that were actually played on the radio, I put "radio" in the grouping field. I did the same with my collection of vintage radio commercials, which are in the "Soundtrack" genre, and the old radio station IDs from the stations I grew up listening to. They're categorized as "Misc." The "Groupings" field lets me pull together tracks from these two genres as well as "Rock" and "Pop," which are the genres the songs are listed under.

So when I select my "60's Radio" playlist, I get an interesting mix of radio hits, plus a commercial or two, and occasionally a station ID. And unlike a real oldies station, I know every single selection will be a song I like - even the vintage commercials. It's great fun for a long car trip, especially when my travel companions slowly realize that they're not listening to the radio.