Q: The iTunes 7.1 update seems to have added a lot of new fields for sorting, but the implementation is so awkward and confusing that I’m not sure how one uses it properly. Can you explain how this feature is used?
A: Sure. The new sorting fields are a powerful expansion to a long-existing iTunes feature that automatically removed articles like “The” from artist name behind the scenes for sorting. With this behavior, “The Beatles” would be sorted in the “B’s” rather than the “T’s”. Now, this feature is fully customizable, and can be applied to any field.
In the example below, we’ve used the “Sorting” panel of the “Get Info” window to sort a numerically-named artist by its phonetic spelling, rather than resting at the top of our library:
Useful, right? One problem – what if you want to apply this change to all tracks by this artist? Usually, you would select the tracks all at once, then bring up the Get Info window to edit “Multiple Item Information.” However, the sort fields don’t show up in this window. Instead, do this:
Apply the sort fields to one entry only. Then, in the iTunes library window, right click on that track, and choose to “Apply Sort Field”.
For our example above, choosing the “All Matching Fields” option will apply both the “Sort Artist” and “Sort Album Artist” field to all tracks where “311” is the existing “Artist” and “Album Artist” field – exactly what we wanted.
Why Apple chose to introduce a new, obscure method of editing tags for multiple tracks is not obvious, but one possible reason is that the user doesn’t have to select the tracks which need to have the sort field applied – after you do one entry, iTunes can find them for you. We still wish Apple kept all multiple-track editing features together for simplicity, but this method does eliminate one step.