The Ideal Way to Sort Music

This is intended to be an open letter to all development teams working on media player software (from open-source all the way up to big companies like Microsoft).

Following is an outline of the ideal way to sort music by default. I know I can’t be alone in feeling this way (though I probably am one of the few that actually organizes his physical musical collection the same way), yet it seems to be the last feature any media player includes.

  1. Sort everything by artist name
    1. Sort albums by release year
      1. Finally, sort individual songs by track number

If two albums exist by the same artist, then you can sort them in alphabetical order.

Most importantly, you should have the option to choose, on each individual level, whether you want the items sorted in ascending or descending order.

What I’ve found is that most media players either don’t offer the ability to sort by release date at all.

Of those that do, most only allow you to specify one or two layers of sorting. In those circumstances, you end up with weird, unpredictable sorting by the time you get to the third level.

For instance, in Amarok, you have the option to sort by Artist, then Release Year. However, the first problem I’ve noticed is that Amarok seems to sort by Artist in ascending order (which is ideal), then by Release Year in descending order (which, at least in my opinion, is not ideal). You only seem to have the option to reverse the sort direction on a global basis (which means, if you want your albums sorted in ascending order, then all of your artists will be sorted in descending order).

The second problem is that it doesn’t seem to impose any type of sorting on the individual track level once you get into the album. Therefore, when you add an album to your playlist, the tracks appear all out of order. Although Amarok does offer the ability to sort on a “Third level”, it only offers None, Album, Composer, Genre, Label and Year.

For purpose of this letter, I am referring to Amarok 2 as used in Mandriva 2009.0 and Amarok 1.4 as used in Linux Mint Elyssa, so it’s possible (though not extremely likely) that it behaves differently on different platforms. I should also point out that, although it appears I am picking on Amarok, I am not. In fact, of most of the media players I’ve tried, Amarok seems to have offered the best options for sorting. They just haven’t quite got where they need to be, yet.

It should also be noted that I realize there are media players available that offer all of the functionality I’m asking for in this letter. I am aware that Winamp and Windows Media Player both offer this functionality, and I’m fairly certain (though I never use it) that iTunes does, as well. However, none of those options are available on Linux, so I only have the choice to use them when I’m working inside of Windows. In addition, all three of those players are extremely bloated, so I tend to shy away from them.

Boxee (and, presumably XBMC, though I haven’t tested it) also offers the ability to sort according to the outline above, though I don’t see a way to reverse the sort order (that could just be me missing something, though).

Although other players like VLC, Banshee and Rhythmbox all offer great alternatives, and each have their own pros, none of them include even as much sorting capability as Amarok.

As I’ve mentioned, it is extremely difficult to find a media player that offers all of the sorting capability I desire. As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog before, the proprietary Zune software and firmware are both lacking much of these features.

Therefore, I would just like to put out this call to all media player development teams, to please add this type of functionality to the media players for which they are responsible. Thank you.

7 Responses

  • Aaron

    Couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to implement in light of all the other things that these media players do. I’m frustrated looking for a solution in Amarok right now.

    To add to your list…foobar allows for very customizable sorting (text/variable based) as well.

  • I think there is also a zero step before those mentioned above. 0: Sort everything by Genre.

  • dlaiyre

    Or perhaps they should just give us proper control over how we sort our music.

    Being able to put a sort line something like;
    %Artist%\%Album%\%TrackNum% – %Title%

    or in Hamed’s case:
    %Genre%\%Artist%\%Album%\%TrackNum% – %Title%

  • Toreador

    THANK YOU!!!

    ITunes is the only player I’ve used that has the ability to sort in the most logical way: artist [desc]/album year[asc]/track #. Aaron above mentioned Foobar, so I’m going to have to check it out again.

    I love iTunes for its library management, but on PC at least it eventually messes up my tags, has too many processes running, and can’t manage “other” mp3 players (ability to down-convert bit-rate, while keeping tags, when adding songs is also a welcomed feature).

    Playing music is the easy part, let’s work on ergonomics (something open source software often overlooks).

  • […] media player absolutely must offer the ability to sort albums chronologically. I’ve already spoken at length about this necessity, so I won’t really get into it, here. However, the Zune team definitely needs to implement […]

  • zeekoe

    a little late but i totally agree, and i want to add an issue: compilations (albums with mutiple artists). i like the way itunes handles them. also in my music folder: 1 album in 1 directory in a special compilations-folder.

    in fact itunes (and its great music library management) is one of the few reasons why i’m not (yet) erasing my entire windows partition. yes, i’m one of the many almost perfectly satisfied ubuntu users. – join the revolution, guys, it’s really warm and cosy on our side.
    come on now, don’t be afraid, we’ll guide you.
    nerds? us? no! we’re more like 21st century hippies, and this time we’re actually making a change that will last. it’s only a matter of time before we have all the pretty girls on our side, you’ll be begging to join ;-).

  • Kyle

    I was starting to think I was the only one.

    I use iTunes. It sorts better than I have ever seen before.

    I have actually recently been looking into coding my own media player, since I find myself unable to be fully happy with any other one.