Sort iPod Artists by Display Name

The Problem

I had always found it annoying how the majority of the songs in my iTunes library, when sorted by artist, were sorted by the artist’s last name instead of their display name (e.g. Faith Hill is sorted as Hill, Faith). This is because when I viewed the list of artists on my iPod, they are shown in the First Last format resulting in the first characters of the artist being in random order.

For example, these three artists could be next to each other in the list:

Charlie Daniels Band Kelly Clarkson Billy Currington

When there’s only three it’s easy to see that I’m looking at the C’s. Get that in a larger list (especially when scrolling fast), however, and it becomes impossible to track where you are without stopping since the first characters are changing with no order. This forces you to stop scrolling and analyze the list to determine where you are at.

To make matters worse, not all artists were sorted the same way. For example, Faith Hill might be found under ‘H’ whereas Tim McGraw might be found under ‘T’. This is simply poor tagging, but I do not have the time nor will to put into correctly tagging all of my artists for last name sort.

The Fix

I already knew what needed to happen: I needed the artists sorted by whatever value was in the “Artist” field for a song (this is what’s displayed). I also knew there existed the “Artist Sort” field for a song which specifies how a song’s artist should be looked at for sorting.

It turns out that the “Artist Sort” simply takes precedence for iTunes when sorting by artist over the “Artist” field. In short, here’s the basic algorithm for iTune’s artist sorting:

  1. Is “Sort Artist” field empty?
  2. If no, sort by that value. Otherwise move to 3.
  3. Sort by “Artist” value.

So, delete the “Sort Artist” value and iTunes will sort by whatever the displayed value is. Do this for all songs and the entire problem is solved. Simple.

Note: This change is PERMANENT except by going through and manually setting the Sort Artist field for the changed songs.

If you don’t know how to do that, simply:

  1. Select the songs you want to change (I selected my whole library for consistency).
  2. Right click on any selected song.
  3. Click Get Info.
  4. Click the Sorting tab.
  5. Make sure the Sort Artist field is blank.
  6. Make sure the check box next to the Sort Artist field is checked.
  7. Click OK.

iTunes might take a minute or two before the changes are applied if you selected a lot of songs. Then you’re finished! Don’t forget to sync your iPod to see the changes there of course.

I know this seems exceedingly obvious, but I figure if I had the issue for as long as I did without finding a fix (mind you I wasn’t looking terribly hard for one either), there’s a good chance someone else out there is having the same one.

Anyways, I hope this helped to make life a little easier when using your iPod as it definitely did for myself!