Is your music collection a mess?

If you own a computer, chances are you have a music collection weighing in at a good few gigabytes. My own collection is currently 5.3GB and that’s not counting the dozen or so CDs that I will rip before moving to college. The problem is that it can become very hard to find something that you’re looking for if your collection is not organized properly. If your music has lots of different sources, i.e. songs you’ve ripped yourself, songs your friends have given you, songs you’ve downloaded off the internet, you could find that there is very little order running through how your music files are named and organized.

It will take some time and a fair bit of manual work to get your collection sorted out, but you will probably find that it is worth it in the long run. Since most people tend to have primarily mp3 collection, I’ll make this mp3-centric. There are two aspects of an mp3 file that can be used to keep things organized: The file name and the Tag information. While most music players will give preference to the tag information, your filemanager probably cares more about the filename, so it’s a good idea to have them both in shape. But before you start diving in and renaming files, you’re going to have to decide on a proper organization scheme. One of the simplest and most effective ways is to organize by artist and then album. You create one big folder for all your music, inside which are subfolders for each individual artist. Inside each artist’s folder, you have one folder for each album. If you have a lot of singles or a lot of songs from various artists, you might want to create a Singles folder for each artist or one big Miscellaneous folder.

After that it is time to decide on a naming convention for your music files. There is a lot of information you would want to store about a file, but the filename isn’t the best place for it, that’s what Tags are for. One thing you would certainly want in a filename is the name of the song. After that you could add the artist name, but if your collection is already organized by artist, that could be redundant. On the flip side, if you move files around a lot, artist name could be a life saver. I personally put in the track number followed by the song title to make sure the files are properly sorted in the filemanager itself. If you’re going to be using track numbers, please make sure to use 2 digits otherwise the filemanager will probably show track 1 followed by track 10, 11 and so on until 19, 2, 20 etc.

A far better way to store data regarding your mp3 music is in the file’s ID3 tag. You can put in a variety of information including title, artist, album, track number, year, genre as well as comments. This information becomes part of the file itself and most media players use this information to sort playlists. Many media players include a way to edit these tags (so do some filemanagers). But you will probably want a separate editor program (I recommend mp3tag for Windows), especially if you want to change a lot of tags or exchange information between the tag and filename. Each editor generally has a slightly different way to edit tags but one feature many of them have is the ability to either rename the file itself using tag data or gather information from the filename and place it in the appropriate tags. It would be a good idea to learn to use these features as they can save you lots of time. In case your ID3 tags are very incomplete, many editors also allow you to lookup appropriate tag information from the Internet. Just make sure that you very what information has been retrieved before committing to a change, or you could end up with hopelessly incorrect tags.

I’ll end this post with a word about the Library feature provided by most modern players. These libraries generally use ID3 tags to organize your music, so it’s a good idea to make sure the tags are correct before relying on a library to manage. Some players like iTunes allow a lot of abstraction regarding exactly where in the filesystem your music files are located. While this may not be a problem if you use iTunes exclusively, you should probably take the time to find out where they are located in case you ever need to use your music collection without using the player. That being said, modern players provide a lot of additional features to organize your data (including my favourite: smart playlists) so by all maeans make the most of them. And let me know if you have any novel ways of organizing your music.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

4 thoughts on “Is your music collection a mess?”

  1. That’s quite a lot of work… I have 50 GB of music on my desktop and about 15 on my laptop. Doing those kinda stuff for all that is going to take my whole life… 🙂

    1. yeah iv got over 80 gigs of songs if anyone knows a good way of organizing it please tell me its ridiculous and a full time job task of trying to do it.

  2. Personally, I use iTunes as my player and ripper and let it organize my music library. After importing I verify that the ID3 info is correct and it magically renames files/folders as needed (format: library/artist/album/## – Song Name). My home machine is the “master” copy, while my laptop has a constantly changing subset there of.

    There are a few tools out there, like Media Monkey, which make overhauling a large pre-existing library fairly painless. They’ll even grab album pics and such in most cases.

    Kevin
    http://technogeek.org

  3. @kevin: the best id3 tag edit tool is by far mp3tag as the author of this article stated. it has the most advanced features imo.

    one year ago ive re-organize my collection. it took me a whole week during holidays. it was a real pain in the ass 😉

    however now im dealing with 28gb of music nicely organized. im able to use all libraries to date: winamp’s, itunes’s and foorbar’s library function

    i’ve started to re-organize my collection the moment there was a solution for the various artists albums. with the TAG=BAND you are able to order those various artists quite nicely. all major programs like winamp, itunes, … do support this TAG

    regards

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