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How to Clean Up and Fix Your Music Library with the MusicBrainz Database

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Over the years, some of us accumulate lots and lots of music files. Since these come from a variety of sources, they’re not always as neat as they could be. If your music library is in a bit of a jumble with tags missing, oddly named files and incomplete albums, read on to see how easy it is to make it neat once and for all.

MusicBrainz is an online database that uses audio “fingerprints” to identify music tracks even when they’re incorrectly labelled. We’ll be using this database through a free client called Picard, available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. So first thing, head on over to Picard’s download page and get the installer. If you use Linux, you can install Picard using your package manager.

Once you finish going through the installer, run Picard. Your firewall might pop up an alert telling you Picard is trying to access the Internet; you should agree to let Picard through. You will now see the main Picard interface. Click View > File browser (or press Ctrl+B).

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A new pane showing your file system will pop up on the left. Navigate to the music files you’d like to work with.

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This folder contains only two albums, so we’re going to do both at once. If you have dozens of albums you may want to break it down into several runs, at least until you’re comfortable with Picard. Drag the main folder (or any specific album) onto Unmatched Files.

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Picard instantly identified both albums. One is Dexter’s OST, and it’s shown with a golden icon, which means it is complete and we have all the tracks for it. The other album, Tool’s Lateralus, is shown with a silver icon and clear notation showing we’re missing two tracks. One track was not identified. Click it and click Lookup. The track should instantly jump into the album it belongs to.

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The above screenshot also shows the missing track – it’s the last one, indicated by a different icon.

Now that we have all of the correct metadata, we are ready save it into our files. But before we do that, we can also have Picard automatically rename the files based on this metadata. This functionality is disabled by default, but it’s very handy, so we’re going to have a quick look at enabling it. Click Options > Options and navigate to File naming. Check the box that says “Rename files when saving”.

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If you want, you can set how exactly Picard would format the filename. For now, we’re simply going to click OK and get back to the main screen. Now select both albums on the list and hit Ctrl-S to save the metadata into the files (and optionally rename them).

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That’s it! Or at least, that’s the gist of it. Picard is very powerful, and music files can be quite messy. You may come across situations not covered above, but this should be enough to get you started.

A technical writer for Tibbo Technology by day, Erez is obsessed with customizing anything and everything. After years of using Litestep and Blackbox, switching to a custom keyboard layout (Colemak), extending Word and Excel with elaborate VBA, losing weight with an AutoHotkey script he developed and spending countless hours tweaking Foobar2000 to get it to look "just right", Erez decided the time has come to share some of this obsession with the world at large.

  • Published 03/4/11

Comments (18)

  1. Ricardo

    Thanks for the info. This will help me a lot since I have over 500GB of music scattered across different folders and at least a third unknown.

  2. Ryan

    I use MediaCoder to convert any non-mp3’s to mp3 and then Mp3tag to clean up my files and embed album artwork, then as I have around 50,000 songs I use MediaMonkey to auto-organise them in to folders (any other software I have tried is slow and buggy with such a large collection), I also use this to transfer to my phone. I was using Foobar2000 as my music player as it looks a lot nicer then MediaMonkey but for simplicity I normally just stick to MediaMonkey.

    If you haven’t tried Mp3tag to clean up your collection it’s definitely worth a look as it use can run your own custom scripts and can look up Amazon/Musicbrainz/other services for album information and artwork. It’s the one piece of software I miss most when using linux/osx.

  3. Jeremy

    I have a bunch of songs that aren’t in any album folders or anything; just all jumbled together in my Music folder. Can Picard help me with this?

  4. The Truth

    Uhhhh…no, this doesn’t work exactly as you have described it. The help file has several steps to get the album info that you didn’t put in this article… you can’t just drop the tracks on the unmatched files folder and get it.

  5. paulg

    Sounds like you want Music bee’s auto tag and organizing features.

  6. Ja5087

    This made some of my song’s tags being unwritable with an error code of 0x8007000D, I search Google and this seems to be a problem with windows 7.

  7. GK

    Try Jaikoz for retagging/autotagging your files. It uses the MusicBrainz db too but it also uses the acoustic signature library from AmpliFIND, allowing a song to be identified by the actual music, so it can do a match even if you have no metadata While it’s not free software, it’s well supported and is a one time license and is dirty cheap. I have a library of over 35,000 tracks that I have ripped over different times with different software and while I am not done yet, Jaikoz is making cleaning up everything much better. Once all the tags are done I use MediaMonkey to move and add the album art to my files.

  8. Outspoken

    Warning! Renaming files can mess up your playlists in your favourite Music player :)
    iTunes for one cannot handle files re-named from outside, you lose all Play count, playlists etc.

  9. Erez Zukerman

    Sometimes you need to click Cluster and Find, but when I tested with these files, what I described is exactly what happened. So it really depends on what files you’re working with.

  10. Erez Zukerman

    For sure; when you set the file renaming options you can specify folders too, and Picard would break the music down to folders for you according to the criteria you specify.

  11. Rod

    Very useful, thank you !

  12. Mat

    I use TuneUp for all of this. I used to use Picard, Media Monkey and MP3 Tag to deal with all of this nonsense, but TuneUp works from within iTunes or Windows Media Player and uses similar fingerprinting technology to ID songs. It also organizes them (in iTunes at least) and embeds album artwork into the ID3 tag of the songs…all with virtually no input from the user (in a good way). It’s free for trialware, like ten bucks for unlimited songs…its worth it to go gold just for the man-hour savings (save more than an hour and a half at minimum wage using all those other programs and it pays for itself.) It saved me so much time…

  13. Paul

    TOOL RULES!

  14. lp

    Thank you for you help

  15. ODD

    I just use WinAMP to auto-tag (usually gets it right) and foobar2000 to auto-rename based on the tag-data. Since my library is generally up to date in this regard, I only have a a few files at a time that need this treatment, so it works well.

  16. C12ASH13

    Thanks guys, in the process of organizing now! Now just to get rid of those pesky duplicates…

  17. lostinthedesert

    I’m unimpressed. I’ve tried a handful of tracks, and the database has been unable to pin any of them correctly. To be fair, much of my collection is electronica / trance / remix stuff: often difficult to pin to an album. Still, that’s my need at the moment, and this falls flat. Sadly I have yet to find a better solution than WMP + looking up tracks manually.

  18. Hog80ci

    May be a bit off topic. If so I apologize. Is it possible to move all of my music off my laptop onto a portable hard drive and then make the external drive the default for music from now on? Am running seriously low on disc space on my laptop.
    Thanks.

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