I’ve been wondering for a while now how those little Explicit or E tags that show up in iTunes. It turns out it’s a relatively simple ID3 tag added to the song, but it does require some setup.
Before getting started
You’re going to need the following software packages installed:
Also, you’ll want to be aware that this tag only works if applied to AAC formatted music. iTunes does not show the icon in iTunes with MP3 formatted music even if the tag is there.
Converting to AAC
If you want to add these tags to your music so that the music shows up as E for explicit or C for clean, you will need to convert your music to the AAC format which produces an .m4a container. How do you convert your MP3s to AAC in iTunes? Here’s how you do it…
- In iTunes go to iTunes menu => Preferences
- Under General, click the Import Settings button
- Change the Import Using drop down to read AAC Encoder.
- Click OK, then click OK again to close preferences.
The above sets your import and conversion settings to AAC.
To convert a song, use these steps:
- Find a song you would like to convert in iTunes
- Click on the song so it is highlighted
- File menu => Convert => AAC Version
- Conversion will start immediately. You will see up and down arrows appear in the status bar at the top.
- When conversion is complete, it will be in the same folder where the original song is located.
- iTunes will also automatically import the song into your library (but not into the any playlists).
- If you wish to find the song, search in the upper right search panel and you will find two of the same songs in your library. One of them is the AAC version, probably the bottom one.
Adding the ID3 Tag
Open up kid3 from your Applications folder (or wherever you put it). Here are the steps…
- In the left panel, navigate to the newly converted AAC song and click highlight it.
- Make sure the Tag 2 is open and you’re seeing the metadata for the track (i.e., Artist, Title, etc)
- Under Tag 2, click the Add button.
- In the Add Frame window and in the Select the Frame ID field, type in Rating (or drop down and select). Click OK
- When the Text panel opens next, add what rating you want from this list:
- 1 = Explicit (E)
- 2 = Clean (C)
- (Meaning… from the above list type in the number ‘1’ or the number ‘2’ only)
- Click OK to finish adding your tag with the rating.
Note that you will need to save your tags and completely quit out of Kid3 before iTunes will play the song. Kid3 leaves the file open after editing preventing iTunes from getting access to it until kid3 is closed.
Open up the Subler app. Perform the following steps:
- File menu => Open…
- Navigate to and select the *.m4a music file, then click Open
- When the metadata area shows up below in the Subler window, click the + at the bottom of the window
- Choose Content Rating from the drop down
- On the highlighted Content Rating line
- Click on None and change it to Explicit or Clean
- Save the file with File menu => Save
Subler does not leave the file open after editing like kid3.
Once finished adding the tag to the file, double click the AAC version of the file in iTunes to begin playing it. iTunes automatically re-reads ID3 tags on play and the ‘E’ or ‘C’ should now appear on the song’s listing.
MP3 versus AAC
I convert all of my music to MP3 for one very good reason… compatibility. If I choose to move out of the Apple camp for another music player, I don’t have to worry about converting all of my music back or in any having any weird AAC incompatibility issues. While I like having these flags on the songs, I prefer compatibility over tying myself to Apple. I started with mp3’s in my library and I’m continuing that trend. It’s not that AAC is a bad format, it just started out badly because Apple had to create their own.
It irks me just a little that iTunes doesn’t respect this tag on MP3 files even though they could. I also don’t relish the thought of having to convert all of my music from mp3 back to AAC. That process is like copying a copy. It will degrade the music even more simply by converting an mp3 to AAC. I also don’t want to dig out all of my CDs and re-import them as AAC. That’s also not an option. It took me several months just to import my collection to mp3. So, I’m not anxious to revisit that process a second time.
For me, I will convert or use this tagging for limited one-off purposes. That is, if the song is truly explicit, I may convert it to AAC just for that song just so I can add that tag. For songs which are not explicit, it’s way too much effort just to add that little C when I already know the song is clean without it.
Please leave a comment below if you found this tutorial helpful.