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Dating Advice

This is the best dating advice I can give you. It may not be what you’re looking for. I’m sorry.

I write songs, then document them on my computer in plain text files. As I’m working on a song I may revise it at a later date or create alternate versions. The dates I start and edit my songs are valuable to me for both posterity sake (i.e. copyright), as well as sorting purposes.

Dating Problems

The easiest way to manage the dates would be not to worry about the date. I could simply depend solely on the file meta data. Most modern operating systems automatically attach “created on” and “last modified” dates to files, so I could just do nothing and hope that everything is kept in order.

screen grab of the meta data of a text file

Storing valuable info in the meta data is a good way to make sure you never have accurate data.

But that system only works as long as the meta data doesn’t get stripped from the file. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve found that sometimes it does get lost.

Another easy way to keep track of this stuff would be to write the date at the top of the file like so:


My Next Amazing Song
by Scott Troyer
Written: March 24, 2012

Verse 1:
Love is like a dove…

But, if I save that file as “My Next Amazing Song.txt” and throw it in my “Unfinished Songs” file with my other works-in-progress, there’s no way to quickly sort the songs based on that date.

screen grab of unsorted files in OS X

Boo. Just, boo.

The Dating Solution

Instead, I include the date in the name of the file in the no-nonsense year-month-day format. (e.g. “My Next Amazing Song 2012-03-24.txt”)

Why do I date them with that format?

Dating Made Better

In the US, dates are often written MM/DD/YY, while in the UK dates are typically written DD/MM/YY. Occasionally the formats are flopped resulting in either YY/MM/DD or YY/DD/MM. Sometimes the year has 4 digits, sometimes 2. All of this causes confusion. Does 05/04/06 refer to May 4th or April 5th? And is that 1806 or 1906? Or is the year ’05? Shenanigans!

This is why some smart people created the ISO 8601 date format, which specifics that when specifying the year, month, day, it should be written YYYY-MM-DD. (At least until the year 10000 when we’ll use 5 digits for the year, but I doubt the human race can manage not to destroy ourselves before then, in which case we won’t need to worry about what the date is. I digress.)

So, clearly, YYYY-MM-DD is the best way to assign dates. In fact, as a reminder I create a little retweetable poem.

Need proof that YYYY-MM-DD is the best?

Test the OS

Let’s pretend the future chart topper “My Next Amazing Song” was first created on January 3rd, 2010, then revised on February 1st, 2011 and again on January 2nd, 2012, resulting in 3 versions of the file. If I name the 3 files using the 3 different methods DD-MM-YYYY, MM-DD-YYYY, and YYYY-MM-DD, this is how computers will alphabetically sort the files.

screen grab of how OS X sorts filenames with different date formats

The final mix of “My Next Amazing Song 2012-03-24.txt” is so hot! Can’t wait for you to hear it…

Verdict

As you can see, YYYY-MM-DD is the only format that sorts the files chronologically. If we used DD-MM-YYYY, files would be grouped by the days first, months second, and years last — a total chronological disaster. And if we used MM-DD-YYYY, all the January files, regardless of year, would come first, then all the February files, etc. — a little better, but still a mess. YYYY-MM-DD puts the files into the order they were created.

Final Notes

  • If you’re wondering whether 2 digits would be sufficient for the year instead of 4, definitely read up about Y2K. Around the turn of the century, YY vs. YYYY was kind of a thing.
  • This date format works with all sorts of files types, not just plain text files. I often bounce mixes of recordings with the YYYY-MM-DD date in the name so they appear sorted the right way in iTunes.
  • For even better chronology, try putting the date before the name of your file. (e.g. “2012-03-24 My Next Amazing Song.txt”
  • None of this will make you a better songwriter, but at least your songs will be organized.
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