What is iTunes “Grouping” column for?

Ever since I first started using iTunes, I have been trying to figure out what the “Grouping” column was for. I rarely, if ever, saw any data in this column after importing CD’s, and there was no information on this column in iTunes’ help. I finally found this:

grouping (Unicode text) : the grouping (piece) of the track. Generally used to denote movements within a classical work.

in the AppleScript dictionary for iTunes.

Finding this in such an odd spot got me wondering where else I might find documentation for the iTunes Library. Since iTunes pulls CD information from Gracenote (formerlly CDDB), I looked around there. I found lots of useful information on their “Guidelines for submissions” page, such as:

  • “Part of a compilation” checkbox (iTunes) is used to indicate that tracks on this disc are by different artists. Turn on the “Part of a compilation” checkbox for all tracks on this CD, and enter the Artist for each track.
  • Speaking of the Artist column, what do I put in this column for classical music–composer or performer? See the “Artist Name (classical)” section of Guidelines for submissions.
  • Multi-disc releases (“box sets”) should have the disc number added to the end of the Album title, e.g. “The Wall (Disc 1)” for the first disc of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album. Be sure to enter it exactly as: “«space»(Disc «digit»)”. (I’ve always stripped this off in iTunes because it makes multi-disc albums difficult to work with, but it now appears to be a bug in iTunes.)
  • There is quite a long section on First Name versus Last Name of artists, but I don’t think this applies to iTunes. (Too bad, because it looks like it would help quite a bit!)

There’s some very helpful explanations on the Guidelines for submissions page, and I really wish iTunes had a link to it!

About Jim Vanderveen

I'm a bit of a Renaissance man, with far too many hobbies for my free time! But more important than any hobby is my family. My proudest accomplishment has been raising some great kids! And somehow convincing my wife to put up with me since 1988. ;)
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45 Responses to What is iTunes “Grouping” column for?

  1. Nicholas says:

    People use the Grouping column in a lot of different ways — movements within a classical composition were the intended use, but are probably not the most common. I use it mostly for subgenres, and have found that it solves a lot of problems in categorizing music.

    Although I listen to a lot of classical music at home, when I’m walking or driving around I listen to rock and pop music almost exclusively. But categorization can be a problem. The first question is how specific I should be in terms of subgenres — should I have separate categories for new wave, alternative, synthpop, and indie rock? Then there’s the question of boundaries: where exactly is the point where alternative ends and indie rock begins? And of course artists don’t always stay in one genre forever — should I split an artist’s work into two separate genres, potentially making it more difficult to find a specific song when you’re looking for it? And where should I put someone like Tom Waits, or Andrew Bird? Should I put them in a genre that only describes one element of their music? Create a separate genre for each one?

    What I had before I appropriated the Grouping column was a mess: artists that were easily categorized were in narrow, specific genres; artists that were more difficult or eclectic were in a generic “Rock/Pop” genre, and I could never remember where I’d put half of them. It was unwieldy to scroll through genres on my iPod, and a pain to make smart playlists based on genre.

    What I ended up doing was putting everything into Rock/Pop (except things that obviously weren’t Rock/Pop), then using the Grouping column as a freeform subgenre field. I can define as many (or as few) subgenres as I want for any individual artist, and smart playlists can look for any song that, for example, contains “new wave” or “classic rock” in the grouping column but not “punk.” I have a series of smart playlists that build on one another and contribute to a customized shuffle that I play in my car — every time I update my iPod, the shuffle is refreshed and I have a new set of songs for next time. It took me a while to set up, but it’s a pretty good system for my style of listening.

  2. Chris LeSure says:

    Ha, I just ran a google search to see what people use the grouping tag for and I was happy to see this response. Im glad I am not the only one smart enough to use this tag for subgenres. Using smart playlists to build onto pop genres is great, and makes my music listening experience much more enjoyable. This is great advice that I hope people read!

    -Chris

  3. Jon says:

    It looks like the grouping field isn’t being submitted to Gracenote, which is good, i guess, considering how differently people use it.

    If an album is put out by Ray Charles but not all tracks are by Ray, or some tracks are by Ray & Les, it is not a compilation. Even if a composer publishes an album with different artists on each track it is not a compilation. An album of different composers and different artists is a compilation.

    As of this date, there is a composer field. The artist is usually the performer.

    Now the guideline says to use brackets [ ] for disc numbers in album names, not parentheses ( ).

  4. Craig says:

    You should also take a look at the “Sort” feature in iTunes. It has completely changed the way I use iTunes.

    And as for a better definition I would submit the Nordisk Copyright Group’s explanation: An audio production where at least 50% of the songs are re-issues of previously released recordings of copyright music. http://www.ncb.dk/english/05/faqordliste.html

    An album by many different artists is actually not a compilation it is a Various Artist album.

    Cheers!

    Craig

  5. Jestre says:

    Regardless of what compilation is REALLY for, I just use it whenever I want to put multiple items under the same picture in cover flow. It seems lame that iTunes adds a separate entry in the cover flow pictures every time the artist changes. Take the soundtrack from Final Fantasy X, for example. There are a few songs by one artist, then a few by another, another by the first, then a few more by the second, etc. Each of these is under a separate picture (although it is the same picture). For the FFX soundtrack, about 50 different cover flow entries appear (I just counted them). This is clearly an issue. Luckily, when the songs are set as part of a compilation, there is only one picture (the one used for the very fist song, although the individual songs still retain their original pictures in the “Now Playing/Selected Item” box), and the Artist switches to “Various Artists”. And, in the case that there was only one artist but there were still separate cover flow entries (album art for some of the tracks was different, maybe?) it will just say the artist’s name and not “Various Artists”. Assuming that what Jon and Craig say is true, then it looks like the iTunes people got it wrong. But hey, I’m happy that there is a better solution than messing with the Sort Name fields.

  6. RYE says:

    The group column is not displayed on an iPod (I have an iPod Touch) so it is no use even for identifying movements in classical pieces. I mostly listen to classical music so I need to get the song title to contain LOTS of information in less than 40 characters. I wish Apple would provide a full page for details of a “song” in the same way that they do for contacts.

    • Jenny Yin says:

      I’ve had that problem many times, and my solution was to put the information into the lyrics. It’s worked pretty well for me. I hope it does for you too.

    • Lynnski says:

      I used the grouping tag and then created a smart list – “grouping is xyz”. Grouping as a list may not show up but the smart list does.

  7. Tomek says:

    I use Grouping for my live tracks. For example now is Björk touring, so I label all the live tracks of this tour with “Volta tour”. And then I can easy filter all different tours (Vespertine tour, Homogenic tour etc.) with smart playlist.

  8. Pingback: David Jones’s blog » Organising iTunes

  9. Peter says:

    Interesting. I’ve been using Grouping to keep track of the contents of Box Sets. Sometimes a box set is just a box set, and you can name it ‘Eagles Box Set’, tag it disk 1/3, 2/3, 3/3 – and that’s enough. But if the box set contains cd’s with individually different names, such as CD1: Eagles – Eagles, CD2: Eagles: Desperado, CD3: Eagles: Live , I tag them with the original cd names, keeping the 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3 tags, and use the Grouping to tag all cd’s within the set as ‘Eagles Box Set’, thus keeping them together.

  10. James says:

    I use the Itunes ‘Grouping’ category to order songs (from differing artists, CDs, etc.) that I want burn to a CD. If a song appears to fit the desired criteria (e.g., beat, period, mood, content clasification, etc.) that I am using to organize my compliation. I simply input a coded entry (usually a Letter (A, B, C…) followed by the ordinal number (e.g, A01, A02…) reflecting the actual order I want the songs to be burned. I then create a smart playlist using the ‘Grouping’ category. It works great!

  11. General Slocum says:

    It is interesting to me how people are using this the way that makes sense to them! I’ve been trying for the longest time to get a playlist to shuffle the jazz or pop but leave the classical pieces in one piece. Maybe groupings is the way? But then you lose the movement info on the iPod, &c.

    I always use the Artist column for the composer in classical. Who ever wakes up in the morning and says, “I feel like listening to some Berlin Philharmonic. Should it be Mozart or Mahler?”

    And I’ve stopped using the disc numbers at all. The entire box set has the same title, unless the recording is really three separate albums in some sense. There is a separate field for “disc number,” so the whole schmere can be listed as “The Complete Carter Family.” It will still come up in the proper order and so on.

  12. Owen says:

    I use groupings to add tags, then I make smart playlists that pull in those tags and voilà, instant great playlists. For instance, on Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song” I have “melancholic, car, surreal, depressed, philosophical, sleep, quiet, calm, homework,” in the grouping field. The song is then autmatically sorted into the Melancholic, Car-Ride, Depressed, Surreal/Philosophical, Going to Sleep, Quiet/Calm, and Homework playlists.

  13. kerlyn says:

    It is mentioned under ‘iTunes Help->Sorting->Tagging songs for custom sorting and grouping’

  14. David says:

    I actually put the record label in the grouping section (i.e. U2′s entire catalogue is Island Records; Coldplay’s catalogue is Capitol for the US, Parlophone for the UK, etc.). It helps so that if I just want to see all Subpop releases, I put it so that grouping is shown on the browsing screen and all the Subpop ones are together.

  15. Pazas says:

    There are some great ideas here, now I just have to sort my 5500 songs and tag/re-genre them.

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  17. Pingback: Marco Raaphorst » Blog Archive » Tagging in iTunes

  18. NjitS says:

    I just came across this page when trying to figure out the problem of redundancy in iTunes; Let’s say “Zero 7 – Distractions” is on the album “simple things”, but also on the Soundtrack album of “Six feet under”…now I’m trying to have the song in both albums whithout actually having it taking up diskspace twice. I’ve tried something with groups and playlists but it’s not ideal, ideas anyone?

  19. Rich says:

    NjitS, I have been where you’re at. My experience has taught me (ever since I read a response to a similar question a while back) that if you have the same song on different albums, it’s just best to have the song on your machine twice. When you think about the hassle this will save you, it’s definitely worth the extra (in my case) 3-4 MB.The only option I can think of would be to put a “,” or “/” in between the different album names, but this will prevent you from successfully making a compilation (becasue the album name has to be the exact same for all songs on compilation…*note, make sure to put “various” for album artist and also assign each song a track number…this affects the gap between songs when burning a compilation to CD).

    At first I found this frustrating, but it’s not so bad. Forums like this, Jim, help a lot. One thing I’d like to learn (or for iTunes to improve) is how it handles artwork (it attaches it to the actual song file). Saving the same artwork for a variety of songs, to me, seems like a big waste of space. If you have a 1 MB image assigned to an album of 18 tracks, that’s 18MB…times however many hundreds or thousands of albums you have.

    Does anyone know if you can use the “User / Music / iTunes / Album Artwork” folder to link an individual image to a variety of songs? Better yet, can you link a file on your computer to a variety of songs without having to copy it into the artwork folder?

    What I do instead is just assign an album’s first track with the artwork so it shows up in cover flow view (each individual song, though, does not have artwork attached to it). Also, you could compress the image file down to a negligible size and then attach it to all songs, but sheeeeit. Thanks Jim.

  20. jim says:

    If you import a bunch of albums with various artists and get the “coverflow album art proliferation” problem… the easiest way I have found to mark the needed songs as part of a compilation (so that a single album art will display for all) is as follows:

    1. View Albums as artwork, sort by album title
    2. When you see the problem of multiple album art for the same album title, select all of the album images that should show as a single image because they are a single album. The easiest way to do this is to left click on the first in the list, and then shift-left-click on the last in the list.
    3. Press Ctrl-I (hold down the control key while pressing the “I” key); this will bring up a dialog window where you can edit the properties of all selected songs simultaneously. (It may ask you if you really want to do this, and answer yes.)
    4. Go to the right-most tab, and change the “part of a compilation” to “Yes”.

    That’s it – all of the album art will collapse to one, and your coverflow problem will be solved a bit easier than editing the properties of each song individually.

  21. Sebhelyesfarku says:

    “If you have a 1 MB image assigned to an album of 18 tracks, that’s 18MB”

    That’s BS. A normal 500x500px album art picture is about 50-100KB.

  22. NjitS says:

    Thanks for your replies guys! obviously i didn’t really get the answer i was looking for (“oh that’s really easy, just press this and this button in that and that menu!”) but, well, ‘you can’t always get what you want’ right? I’ll just have to live with some wasted disk-space untill the iTunes-people come up with some fancy soluton for it.. thanks again and happy new year to all!

  23. Akara says:

    Interesting to read Owen’s post.

    Am wanting to use Something to add keywords to my tracks for when I DJ.

    E.g. I have a list of Deep House I also have a list of Beach House

    Some songs are in both lists.

    I’d love to tag all the tracks appropriately, then, when I get a new song, just add the appropriate tags…then have itunes automatically be able to search or create playlists that allow me to see all the different combinations…

    deep and NOT beach deep AND beach beach and NOT deep etc etc…upto however many different keywords I give.

    Ideas people?

  24. Jim says:

    @Akara: I use the Comments field for something similar. For example, if my parents are over for dinner I don’t want to play songs with explicit lyrics. I created a smart playlist with criteria “Comment”, “does not contain”, “explicit”. As long as all the songs are tagged appropriately, this works great.

  25. UnoNoOo says:

    It has been my experience, that songs tagged as being in a compilation, will not show up in an artist search on the ipod classic, & this is a deal breaker for me, because half of all my music would have to be tagged in compilations. Therefore I don’t use coverflow on the ipod. Its function is the same as the album category. I too have many duplicate songs & if I was to start over again, I probably would have used playlists to a greater extent, to reduce the duplicates, but with over 20k songs, retagging isn’t in the cards.

  26. MGP says:

    Hi Guys – No one has mentioned the page in Get Info entitled ” Sorting”. It seems I cannot type into it at the import stage – although later after importing one can. Does anyone know how this page fits in to all the above?

  27. cgudrian says:

    The problem with using ‘Grouping’ for tagging is that you cannot add a certain tag to a bunch of songs. It would just replace the previous contents of the Grouping field with the one tag you would have liked to be added. You have to tag all of your songs one by one. That’s not feasible at all. I wonder if there exists a script which can manage tags appropriately in that way.

  28. Anaya says:

    I found the grouping field to be useful in my music collection because I listen to music in 3 different languages, English, Korean, and Japanese. Sometimes I just want to listen to songs in one of those three languages so the having the language of the song filled in the grouping field (and having that field being displayed in iTunes) really simplified that process. If only my iPod Classic would support playing by the Grouping field, my life would be complete. But it doesn’t so I’ve been resorting to using playlists. Oh well.

  29. Phil says:

    This relates to the reply made by Peter last April regarding using grouping to keep various album titles grouped together (ie multiple CDs in one box set, each with a differing album title). He said that using the grouping field he could tag all the CDs within the same set and keep them together. What I need to know is if this affects the coverflow view or album grid to group these albums under ONE art. I haven’t been able to figure out how to make this happen, if it is at all possible, and have an album that is one artist, but divided into different “acts.” The best way I could think to differentiate the different acts on the album was to group the songs in an act in it’s own folder and change the name of the album tag to reflect which act those particular tracks covered. While this works as a list, it does not allow me to view the album as a “whole” using the coverflow view. It seems the only way to merge differently tagged tracks is if the ALBUM title is the same even if their are multiple artists. I’ve tried using the grouping, sorting, and “part of a compilation” options with no success. Is there any way to merge these tracks under one album art while retaining the different album names?

  30. Jthekk2 says:

    I have a lot of different jazz groups that have overlapping members and such. I have the artist as the person who actually released the album, and under the grouping, I put that artists name as well as any prominent artists that I have other music for. That way, I can use the grouping tag to create smart playlists that have those artists songs over all the different albums from different artists, whether it be one song from the album or all of the songs.

  31. Rainmanrey says:

    I was thinking of using the grouping column to organize original release dates of songs. For instance if I have a greatest hits, soundtracks, and compilation albums that were released in 2007 but the track was originally release in 1992… Then I would want to be able to listen to it with 90′s… I might also want to listen to an artist’s older stuff, when they were in their prime.

    I like the tagging idea as well… It would be a pain to edit each track and it would be a constant tweak. I don’t see the point of sub-genres. I put multiple genres in the genre column and use smart playlists sort them out. I have an alternative rock playlist that has about 10 playlist dedicated to the genre. I also have folders for country, classic rock, rock and others. A lot of songs make multiple folders… doesn’t take any extra room!

  32. Niall says:

    Nice to read familiar problems on here! I’d strongly considered the same aproach as Owen, but when I was testing it I hit the same problem Akara described – I need to be able to select a bunch of tracks and ADD a “category”,”subgenre” (or whatever you wish to call it) to whatever’s already in a field. Doesn’t seem like rocket science, and surely someone in Apple could provide this facility a darn sight easier than one of us scripting something to manipulate the XML file (even if that would work!). Grrrrrrr…..

  33. starpause says:

    I’ve been turned on to using grouping as a tag based replacement for genre… thanks so much!

  34. The End says:

    I prefer to use Grouping for “super-genres” (id est, Electronic, Hip-Hop, Classical, Rock, Punk, Folk, R&B, Rap, Jazz). Genre, in turn, is used for sub-genres (e.g., Progressive Trance, Nerdcore, Baroque, etc). I then couple that with dynamic, smart playlists and my music stays wonderfully sorted. And Sort options help, too.

  35. Mike M says:

    I use GROUPING in the iTunes metadata for ISO Country Code. I collect tons of metal and folk music from around the world. Viking/Pagan/Folk metal is extreemly diverse and distributed worldwide, so I use this custom field to assign a 3 digit ISO country code (e.g., SWE, NOR, FIN, UKR) to any album/artist.

    It just shows that you can really use it for anything you want. I am pushing 375 GB of metal, it helps to geographically organize it!!

    On the downside, the GROUPINGS field is never displayed on an idevice, and is not recognized in any other program that reads the ID3 tag. It must be uniquely stored in the iTunes XML library file and not the actual mp3/mpa/etc.. files.

  36. Jaime says:

    When i first started using GROUPING, i was into alot of Metal, Hardcore Punk and their subgenres (Mathcore, Extreme Metal, Thrash, etc.) and was also into their record labels. I separated my Roadrunner Records bands from the Century Media and Nuclear Blast Records bands, Bridge Nine Records bands from Deathwish Inc. Bands, so on and so forth.

    Still to this day, I do this with all my genres for my music theory classes and for production styles of every record label. It’s helped me out a lot if I start feeling nostalgic. I’ll just type in Def Jam and i have all the greats at my fingertips.

  37. Paul says:

    There’s a whole world to be enjoyed out there, before you depart this mortal coil. Time is precious. Yet people spend it fretting about a data field in iTunes?

    Go figure.

  38. tape dec says:

    Silly me: have always used Group to simply designate vocal or instrumental. ;-)

    Thought I’d expand my horizons and found two imaginative suggestions here—ISO country codes and keyword tagging—albeit not the most practical for my own library.

    FWIW: use the Song field to both tag the composer (because that field does not appear on iPhone/Pod/Touch devices) as well as movements and such. e.g. Beethoven: Trio in B flat, Op. 97: “Archduke” 2nd mvt. Scherzo, allegro e.g. Bach: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” 10th movement of the cantata Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life, BWV 147 e.g. Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15: b.Adagio

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  40. Uncle Stan says:

    Meaningless to most I’m sure, but I use Grouping to indicate the source of my material. Not all of the stuff on my media machine comes from CD. I have hundreds of vinyl LPs and 45s – even some 78s – that I digitized. I put my catalog number in grouping so I can trace a cut back to the original medium, e.g., LP0123.

  41. Sam Miller says:

    I use it for sorting by the record label.

  42. Ariel says:

    I came across this while searching for what the grouping section was actually for and what it can do, and some of your ideas are brilliant. My idea and the reason I wanted to know what the grouping section was for, it to use to to tag music as explicit. This may seem like a stupid idea as itunes puts an explicit tag on music, but this is only music from the itunes store. What if you have music from a cd, or get if from another source and what if itunes gets it wrong. As there is no way to manually put an explicit tag on music without using 3rd party software, that often creates other problems later on. This method could then be used when creating play lists, especially when children are involved. A one time sort of your library could very easily save you lots of time when creating playlists.

  43. Bill Satterwhite says:

    I use “Grouping” for cover versions. I have indicated “Cover: Bruce Springsteen” on every song that I know to be a cover of an original (in this case, by Bruce Springsteen). On the original Bruce Springsteen song, I’ll tag the “Grouping” field with “Cover: Original (covered by Pointer Sisters)”

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