What You Said: How You Organize a Messy Music Collection

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Earlier this week we asked you to share your tips, tricks, and tools, for managing a messy music collection. Now we’re back to share so great reader tips; read on to find ways to tame your mountain of music.

Several readers were, despite having tried various techniques over the years, fans of doing things largely the manual way. Aurora900 explains:

I spent a weekend sorting everything myself once. Took a while, but now I have folders sorted by artist, and within the artist folders are folders for their albums. With my collection at about 260gb, it can be a daunting task, but it’s well worth it in the end. I don’t have the tagging issue as I make sure anything I have is properly tagged to begin with… If I’m ripping a CD I use Easy CD-DA Extractor, which automatically searches a database on the internet for the tags. If I’m downloading something, if its from a reputable source its going to be properly tagged already.

Bilbo Baggins would love to automate, but eclectic music tastes make it hard:

I once spent days tagging each individual song with MP3tag so they all had the correct artist, album, album art work. MusicBrainz Picard and WinAmp autotagging wouldn’t work for me because of the “obscure” music I have. Then I just plug it into MediaMonkey, organize by Artist/Album/TrackNumber – SongTitle.mp3. And whenever I download new music, I just add it in by hand like that.

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Lenny shares his manual sorting method:

My system is to change the tags and filenames by hand, using online album track listings as a reference.

Long description:

Using album pages on Wikipedia (or sites like Amazon, when the Wiki page isn’t available), I rename every track with number and title (e.g. “10. NASA is On Your Side”), and if needed, manually change the track number and title in the tags. I then select everything and blanket-change the Artist, Album Artist, Album and Year (in this example, “Everything Everything”, “Man Alive” and “2010″ – great album, by the way).

These tracks go in a folder named first with the year, then the album title (“[2010] Man Alive”), which itself is in the artist folder (“Everything Everything”). I have the added bonus of albums being listed in release order within the artist folder. These artist folders go into a folder for my music library, whilst everything I am yet to organize is in a general “!SORT” folder.

Every time I find myself wanting to add music to my library, I go through the above steps. It works well, but it can be time consuming – I’ve only done 8gb of a 120gb library in the six months since getting annoyed with, and wiping, my terribly organized iTunes library. However, it does mean I’m not regularly skipping songs when they come on because I don’t actually like that album (and wondering why it’s still in my library).

Other readers sang praise for automation tools like Music Brainz Picard. Kerenksy97 writes:

MusicBrainz Picard. I have OCD for the tracks being right, Free-DB is a mess, and Amazon doesn’t have consistent syntax. MB is like the wikipedia of album databases with set rules, open source programming, and user input corrections and voting.

As for actually listening I use MusicBee but by time they get there the tracks have been tagged by Picard, cleaned by MP3tag, and normalized with mp3gain.

Another popular tool is Media Monkey; Wander writes:

MediaMonkey definitely, I simply move any new audio files in a specific folder, and they instantly get renamed to a nice filename (Artist – Year. Album – Track. Title.ext) and moved to a nicely organized directory (/music/artist/year. album/), and all mp3 tags are set correctly as well
One click of a button and all songs have their volumes the same, another click and all songs have album art, another click and all songs have lyrics, and so on

MM is also fast as hell, got about 10 000 songs and it loads the whole list in about 2 seconds.

For more music cleaning tips and tricks, hit up the full comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.