iTunes: Artist display actually based on track ID?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes
November 28th, 2009 • 6:50 pm

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about my theory regarding the internal scheme used by iTunes to determine which artist name is used in the “Artists” column (when using iTunes in column view) in cases where several tracks with the same underlying sort artist name have different artist names, which often occurs for tracks whose artist name is something like “Artist A feat. Artist B.

At the time, my theory was that iTunes used as the displayed artist name the artist name of the oldest added track with the same underlying sort artist name.

But two days ago Betalogue reader Justin B. wrote me an e-mail saying:

The choice of the variant of Artist for display is probably based on lowest Track ID rather than earliest Date Added. But since Track IDs are generated sequentially as tracks are added (and never reused), Track ID and Date Added sort in the same sequence.

And indeed I’ve just been able to partly verify this, because I had a mix of tracks with the same underlying sort artist name for which iTunes was using as the displayed artist name an artist name that was not the one of the oldest added track.

I then removed the offending track from my iTunes library and readded it, which apparently has the effect of changing its track ID, and sure enough, the displayed artist name changed to the artist name of another one of the tracks.

It’s hard to tell which track has the lowest track ID, because as far as I can tell this particular value cannot be accessed either via the iTunes user interface or with a third-party tool. When I manually open the “iTunes Music Library.xml” file in TextEdit, I can indeed see the track ID for each track, but of course it’s not exactly convenient (especially since the XML file is such a huge file).

However, based on my review of the track ID numbers of the various tracks for this particular artist I was looking at today, it does not look like iTunes uses the artist name for the track with the lowest ID number either, because I located the track with the lowest ID number for that particular artist (i.e. the first one appearing in the XML file), and I tried to change its artist name without changing its sort artist name, and that didn’t make any difference in the artist name displayed in the “Artists” column.

Besides, if iTunes used the lowest ID number, seeing that ID numbers are never reused, that wouldn’t explain why iTunes was using the artist name of a track that was not the oldest added one in the example above. (Unless something can change the date added without changing the track ID or vice versa, which might happen, for example, when consolidating the iTunes library, which I have done a couple of times over the years.)

So I guess the mystery remains. What is for sure is that iTunes does not use the artist name of the track with the highest ID number, so if the name iTunes uses is inappropriate, removing the track from the library and reimporting it, which changes its ID number, causes iTunes to use the artist name of another track.

But that’s the best I can come up with at this point in time. I guess I need to experiment further to try and pinpoint the source of the artist name displayed in the “Artists” column.

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