Organizing Compilations on iPhone/iPod Touch

Written by Derek Wilson on May 17th, 2011

Edit 15/01/2012 : Users of iOS5+ will notice that artist sorting has been changed. Your iOS device will now list the artist listed in the “Album Artist” field rather than the “Artist” field when sorting your music by Artist. This mean you can simply change the “Album Artist” field to be something like “Various Artists” or  “The Cast of Grease”  and then all the separate compilation artists won’t clog up your list.


If you’re anything like me your iTunes library is pretty immaculate. With tools like iArt or TuneUp it’s pretty easy to keep your library lookin’ good. This is all fine and dandy until you want to take your music on the go. On non-touchscreen iPods, there’s a menu option (Settings>Music>Compilations) to turn compilations on or off. When this is on, tracks in your library that have been tagged as ‘part of a compilation’ won’t show up in the artists menu. This is a great option if you have a few compilation or soundtrack albums as it keeps your artists list from being cluttered with one-off artists. This option, however, is NOT on the iPod touch/iPhone (seriously wtf?). Fear not, as in this guide I will show you have to bring about some organization to your music listings.

  1. First make sure all the albums/artists that you don’t want mixed into your regular artists are marked as “Part of a compilation” in your iTunes library. (Select songs>Get Info>Options>Part of a Compilation>Yes)
  2. Create a smart playlist (File>New Smart Playlist) and Match the Following rule[Compliation] [is true]Don’t limit the number of items.
  3. Select the New playlist and select all songs (Ctrl+A)
  4. Right click> Get Info > Sorting > Sort ArtistPut a “0” (zero) in the “Sort Artist” field and hit okay. iTunes will edit the metadata and this may take a few seconds.
  5. Sync your iPhone/iPod touch with the new tracks.

Super. Now when you browse your music on the iPod by artist all of the artists we tagged as part of a compilation will be at the very bottom and not scattered all over.
The biggest problem is that you cannot have two of the same Artist entries in your iPod. So if you have a track by Frank Sinatra that is part of a compilation and a legitimate albums you will only be able to find Frank at the bottom with other one-song wonders (Poor Frank). You can remedy this by removing the “0” in the sort artist field for artists which have non-compilation albums.

Let me know if you’ve got questions in the comments. The last couple steps are shown in the image below.

This is far from a perfect solution but it’s the best option I could find. I’ve contacted Apple countless times about this (seriously, how hard could it be to implement?) but they’ve never taken any action. Let them know you want a better option in iOS by submitting some feedback to Apple