What the New Sort Options in iTunes 7.1 Mean

Most of the changes in 7.1 are under the hood or buried in preferences. About the only visual difference is full-screen CoverFlow, which is very good to look at.

I thought I would focus on the new sorting options. iTunes has, since my first involvement in 2003, ignored The at the beginning of artist names when sorting them, as well as on the iPod. This is what you want, as it’s so common you disregard it when looking through a list. However, it’s only now, after years of haranguing Apple, that this feature has been applied to other common tags. These are Name (track name), Artist, Album Artist, Album, Composer and Show (TV Show).

When iTunes 7.1 first launches, it will examine your library and populate the sort tags wherever it finds one of the above starting with The, so you don’t have to do this yourself. Sort tags created in this way are greyed out but you can edit them. You can adjust any of the other sort tags to your liking.

I wondered why until I started to go through my artists. I recently bought a “Weird Al” Yankovic album. He was at the top of the list because his name starts with a non-alpha character. I edited his sort tag so that he was sorted as Weird Al Yankovic and he appeared in the proper alphabetic position. This also corralled that most eternal of all commonly misplaced artists, R.E.M., who, by virtue of their name containing non-alpha characters, caused them to appear at the top of the Rs. Any non-alpha character has the potential to mess up the alphabetisation. I also used this method to re-sort the numerical 10000 Maniacs as Ten Thousand Maniacs.

I was pleased to see that both my 5.5-Gen iPod and 2nd-Gen Nano both sorted these adjusted artists in the same way. The iPod must have had the ability to obey all these new sorting tags for a while because they work with no new software updates.

Before you think you have to tag tracks one at a time, there is a batch method. Select one track from an album. Get Info and edit the sort tags in the Sorting tab. Click OK. Select all the tracks from the album, right-click and select Apply Sort Field and then the appropriate field.

If you want to see the sort field, you can add it as a column (right-click the column header and select it from the menu). You can even click this field and enter sort tags directly. This is good for entering them for individual tracks.

Well, I’ve got a lot of work to do. On my iPod I’ve just noticed a stack of tracks that start with , , (, etc. Yes, I am going to strip off all those leading characters using the sort field.


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