iTunes: Change (or Fix!) the Sorting Order of Your Media

| TMO Quick Tip

It’s easy to set how your iTunes songs, artists, and albums sort themselves. If you’re having trouble with your media files being all out of order when you play them or when you sync to a mobile device, here’s how you can change the sorting to be whatever you like. Birds will sing, babies will laugh, and you won’t have to do a search just to find that one stinking song from a movie soundtrack that’s not appearing with all of the others.

In iTunes, click to select the media you’d like to edit. Then hit Command-I or choose the menu command File > Get Info. If you’ve selected multiple items, iTunes will then ask if you’re absolutely sure that you know what you’re doing, at which point you’ll probably want to click the handy little “Do not ask me again” box before you confirm.


Must be nice. Must not talk about how much I hate this.


When you have the Get Info box open, click the “Sorting” tab at the top. You’ll note that on the right side, “Sort Name,” “Sort Artist,” and so on appear, and here’s where you can edit the information to your liking. No matter how you change the fields on the right, you won’t affect the actual song name, artist, album name, or anything else—you’ll only change how your media is alphabetized. In my screenshot below, for example, you can see that iTunes is stripping out the initial “the” in the fields on the right and sorting by “Black Mages” instead of “The Black Mages.” If you don’t like this behavior, feel free to edit things to be whatever you want. You could even change the Sort Artist for all of that Ace of Base music you have to be “zz” so that a curious onlooker would have to scroll all the way down to discover your secret obsession.

One of the real-world examples of how I’ve used this is with The Beatles’ White Album. Yes, iTunes, I understand that the official name of it is just The Beatles, but oh, it drives me nuts to not have it under W. So I changed it. I’ve also had to make a few edits to keep things in order when parts of a compilation or soundtrack weren’t sorted together, and other such issues. Me? OCD? Nah. 


Did you know you can click on the column headers in iTunes to sort by that category? You do now!

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Here’s a sort-of-related playlist-sorting tip:

Suppose you’ve got your metadata properly wrangled, as outlined in the article, and now some playlist of yours is sorted just the way you like it when you click on a particular column header, but the playlist is out of order when sorted by the leftmost column (the unlabeled “play order” column). Rather than dragging all your tracks around until the play order matches the sorted order, you can right click the playlist name in the sidebard and choose “Copy to Play Order” and the current ordering will become the “play order”.


Appreciate your Quick Tips Melissa. Will be using.


I sort my music by artist and then album.  I’ve always wished there was a way to have an artist’s albums sorted by chronology.  I suppose I could now make that work in the sorting tab.  Is there some way of automating this process for 25 gb of music?

Melissa Holt

Here?s a sort-of-related playlist-sorting tip…

Great tip, ilikeimac!

Melissa Holt

Appreciate your Quick Tips Melissa.

Thanks for reading, Will. smile

Melissa Holt

Is there some way of automating this process for 25 gb of music?

I’m not aware of any way, Brian (and maybe our other readers can weigh in if they know a third-party solution). However, I was just messing around in iTunes, and I found a way to sort of do what you’re asking. If you go into iTunes and right- or control-click on one of the column headers (as shown in my third screen shot above), you can control which columns show up and which don’t. There are a lot of options there for date-related information, but the one I had the best luck with was “Year.” So select that to turn it on, and then you can click on that Year column to sort by it. This isn’t perfect?if you have a lot of music from one particular year, for example?but it might work for you. You might also want to play around with the other column options to see if anything else fits what you’re looking for.

After you’ve done that, though, you may find that a lot of your music has a blank Year field (mine did). However, when I selected those blank ones and chose Advanced > Get Track Names, it actually filled in the Year field for most things. 

In any case, I hope this is helpful to you.


To do chronological I use band-year format. Took about an hour to do about 7 gig of data, but I’m almost exclusively albums, not to many singles. I didn’t do the bands that were less than 2 albums yet. This is also useful to put all your compilations at the end of the list.

Ross Edwards

The real power of “Sort order” is soundtracks and compilations.  With many soundtracks, from Les Miserables to the Karate Kid, the artist name changes from track to track but the album name stays the same.  With sort order, I can have the sort artist AND sort album be the album name, the album artist be various artists, the track artist be correct (and display correctly), check the compilation box on all items, and it all sorts the way it should both in the file system and in the iTunes library.

I wish iPhoto had this kind of file management for photos, rather than the big ball o’ database file.  Would that have been so hard for Apple?  Apparently so, since they haven’t done it.

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