You would think there's an easy, obvious fix for this. Create a playlist called "Full Albums", and a playlist called "Singles", then browse through the Albums one when I feel like a full CD. That's fine for iTunes. Just go into the Albums playlist, sort by Artist (or even better, Album by Artist/Year), and you're all set. The problem is, on the iPod, you can't browse a playlist by Artist. All you get is a list of songs.
This is one of the dumbest things I've seen on an electronic device. I realize a lot of people use playlists as, well, lists of songs to play. But who actually browses through a playlist, by the title of the song, in order to find a song? Even if I'm looking through a list of random top-40 songs to find a specific one, I still think of the artist before the title of the song. The way they have it, it's completely counterintuitive to find a song within a playlist. In fact, even if you wanted to, you can't find a song by its name - the songs are ordered by the name of the artist. You just can't see the name of the artist. It would be much better if playlists could be browsed the same way that you browse through Genres - start with a list of Artist in the genre, then Albums for each artist, then Song titles - but at any point you can click "All" and get a simple list of songs, if that's what you want. Apple, if you're reading this (yeah right), this needs fixing. At least make it an option for all those weird people out there who put the name of the artist before the name of the song (like, you know, Billboard, Amazon, or any record store in the universe).
However, I think I've found a solution. It's not perfect, and it's a bit time consuming, but it sort of gets the job done.
The trick is in Compilations. When you right-click on a song in iTunes, then click "Get Info", one of the options is "part of a compilation", which can be either checked or unchecked. Additionally, on the iPod there is a Setting simply called "Compilations" (or in iTunes, "Group compilations when browsing"). When this setting is set to "on", songs that have "part of a complilation" checked will not show up in the regular list of songs and artists. I've used this to make it so singles do not show up in my regular list of artists - only full albums do.
So, all you do is select all your singles, and check the "part of a compilation" option. Now, on your iPod, when you click "Artists", you will only be browsing complete albums.
iTunes will still look screwy though, with one-song albums sprinkled in your collection. I took an extra step to solve this problem; I set the Album tag of all the singles to be "Singles". Now, all the singles go into one GIANT Compilation called Singles, right next to other compilations under "Various Artists". If you do this, make sure that you leave "Album Artist" blank, and remove any track number information, as these can mess up the grouping.
I also created a smart playlist called "Singles", which pulls out any song with an Album that is "Singles." So if I am looking for one of those random songs, I can browse through this playlist. Unfortunately, on the iPod, you still have to browse through a list of song names, which are ordered by the names of artists which you can't see (or random order; more on that later).
- Go through all your single songs and check off "part of compilation"
- In iTunes' preference, check "group compilations"
- On your iPod, set "Compilations" to "Yes"
- Browse your albums by sorting by Artist (or Album by Artist) in iTunes, or clicking Artists on the iPod
- Set the Album name to "Singles" on these songs (optional)
- Create a smart playlist with Album = "Singles" (optional)
- Browse singles in the Singles playlist (optional)
This can all be undone by selecting the whole Singles playlist and unchecking "part of a compilation".
I've run into a few drawbacks to this approach:
- For some reason (probably a bug, though it may be a "feature"), I've found that the iPod's search function won't find artists included in compilations. Maybe they would if you took the "Compilations" option off in the settings, but then we're back to square one. I gather this is a bug that is a side effect of the iPod skipping artists in compilations when browsing them. Not a big deal for me since I rarely use searching on the iPod. Searching does work fine in iTunes, and searching for song titles on the iPod works. Still, would've been nice to be able to get a listing of every song by an artist, even those in compliations.
- I was worried that the singles would not show up in songs selected at random (e.g. a smart playlist that randomly limits itself to 25 songs). This is not the case, though...the singles populate random playlists just fine.
- You lose the name of the album for all of your singles, and this can't easily be undone. Not a big deal to me, since by definition the singles aren't really part of an album, but this might be bothersome to some people.
- The order of songs within the "Singles" compliation (or even in a smart playlist) is completely broken, both on the iPod and in iTunes. There is some semblence of order - songs with the same artist usually hang out close to each other - but it's not based on the English alphabet. It also doesn't seem to be related to any tags that I can see. It's as if iTunes randomly chooses which order to put songs in. This makes it even harder to find songs within the Singles list, if you care about that.
All these drawbacks could be fixed if Apple would just add an option in the iPod firmware to see the names of artists within Playlists. This would also open up a whole bunch of powerful music organization options in addition to this. For example, an easily-browsable playlist with a certain combination of genres (say, Trip-Hop, Electronic, Classical, and World music for when you're in a chill-out sort of mood). All I want to do is see the names of artists within playlists! But for now, this solution should work OK for most people who are similar to me in the way they browse their music. If anyone has a better way, or improvements to this, please let me know in the comments.
I hope this helps some people. I know I've probably bored most of the people who regularly read this blog, but I needed to write this down to remember what the hell I was doing to my music collection (in case I needed to undo it). Maybe I'll submit it to technology news sites to try to get famous, too (DIGG THIS). Enjoy!