Sorting artists by last name

Q: I have always wondered why iPod and iTunes sort artist names alphabetically by first name rather than last name. “John Coltrane” is in the Js, not the Cs. Yet, in any (brick & mortar) music store, CDs are sorted by last name. My CD collection is sorted by last name. So I am wondering why Apple set up iPod and iTunes this way. And more practically, is there anything I can do to have sort-by-last-name as the default, other than manually change all the tags from “John Coltrane” to “Coltrane, John”?

– Ron

A: iTunes has traditionally taken a relatively simplistic approach to sorting, and tries to avoid making assumptions about how things should be sorted. For example, while it’s logical to assume that “John Coltrane” could be sorted as “Coltrane, John” it would not be reasonable to most people for a group such as “The Barenaked Ladies” to be sorted as “Ladies, Barenaked.”  iTunes would of course have no way of knowing the difference, and most people would probably find the latter method to be more confusing than the former.

Fortunately, as of iTunes 7.1, you can now override these sort orders yourself without having to change your actual artist names. This is handled through the “Sorting” tab which appears when viewing a track’s properties by selecting File, Get Info:

Within the sorting tab, you can override the sort order for any of the key sorting fields. To do this, simply enter the text based on how you would prefer that the track be sorted, as shown in the example above (ie, “Coltrane, John”). iTunes will sort that particular track according to how the text is entered in these sort fields.

Unfortunately, the sorting tab is not available when editing multiple tracks, which can be a bit confusing when trying to apply sort preferences to all tracks on a single album, or by a single artist. Instead of editing these tracks individually, you setup your preferred sort order on a given track as a sort of “template” and then apply that sort order to other tracks with the same tag information.

This is done by selecting the track that you’ve already modified the sort order for, and then right-clicking, and choosing “Apply Sort Field” and choosing which matching tracks to apply the sort order to:


Sorting artists by last name

For example, choosing “Same Artist” would apply the sort fields from the current track to all other tracks in your iTunes library that happen to have the same name in the “Artist” field. Note that this applies ALL of the sort fields that are set on the current track, so you will want to be cautious when selecting the scope of this option based on which sort fields you have filled in on your “template” track.

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