How-To Geek

What You Said: How You Organize a Messy Music Collection


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.


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.

  • Published 04/6/12

Comments (12)

  1. Carlos Ferrari

    I do it like Aurora900, but I also separate everything from different genres.
    In my case ain’t that hard because I mostly listen to heavy metal, but still I have folders for Black Metal to Prog Metal to Punk Rock.
    I think it’s easier to find what I want that way.

    Also, in the old days I used to rip my CDs using MusicMatch for the very same capabilities described by Aurora900, but when i download anything that does not have it’s proper name, I search the web to find out the correct names and then rename the whole thing. =P

  2. Luke

    My way is 100% exactly the same as Lenny’s, even down to the !SORT folder. Creepy.

  3. Chronno S. Trigger

    When I first organized my music folder, I let Windows Media Player do it for me. It set up the folders by artist/album and changed the names and ID3 tags. I just had to get around a few hiccups where it tried to use the compilation albums (AKA: “Now that’s what I call Music” kind of thing) instead of the actual album I had ripped.

  4. Dspang

    I use mp3Tag. I’ve been using it for a year and a half now. When i download something I make sure the song titles are at least right. Then I re-tag the album and other attributes. I sort everything into separate genre folders so that it’s easy for me to find stuff. Takes some time. But it works and makes it easy for me.

  5. Doug

    I always wanted to find a tagger that worked EXACTLY like MusicMatch SuperTagging used to work. I don’t believe there is another one that will ever work as well as that one did.

  6. Who Needs Organisation ?

    Use SEARCH from the START button in WINDOWS 7 by typing song TITLE or part thereof then select the version that you want to listen/watch or if you need to find the album associated with that TITLE then if you want to find where you placed it …. right mouse and select OPEN FILE LOCATION , usually it takes about one to four seconds wait time, this WORKS WONDERS for my 9000 Songs and Videos … Who Needs Organisation …. use your valuable time relaxing by listening to or watching your library. … However you also can also search for the ARTIST – GENRE etc ……… Have a Happier Day ……Like “THE DOOBIE BROS ” ….. LISTEN to the MUSIC :) I’m a little bit like “THE RONETTES ” or “THE BEACH BOYS ” bye for now ” I CAN HEAR MUSIC”

  7. Max Bancroft

    My ‘Honda Cit’y’ car has a radio fitted with an USB port. This enables me to listen to about 4000 tunes I downloaded off Youtube. Each tune is saved into a folder as part of a word document and the list is copied to onto a 32 gig memory stick that I have plugged into the USB port. I have entered the tunes into the word document as ‘Name of tune’ first then ‘Details of the artist’. I have chosen ‘Random Selection’ from the choices available in the radio set up and receive the music I enjoy in a random artist fashion totally free of advertisements and I never experience fade outs between cities. If my wife asks me the name of whatever tune is playing I am able to press a button on the radio that cause about six characters to appear on a display. This gives us a clue as to the name of the tune but it is generally insufficient to tell us who the artist is. I have emailed Honda several times and asked if there is a download that will update the radio to enable the full information to scroll across the display in a ticker tape fashion but they have not replied.
    Does anyone know how to do this?

  8. Steven Shaffer

    Ditto on Larry’s method. I’ve spent weeks (not all in a row of course) sorting out my pre-Napster .mp3 collection. I started out in the ftp ratio server days of .mp3 trading. The only way to go through and sort almost 700 gigs of music is by hand. I sorted mine by decade (of most hits)/artist/album/songname. I’ve tested a few of the auto sorting/renaming proggy’s and none live up to my expectations…

  9. Philipch

    Any suggestions from anyone for a manual sort system for classical music? For me composer is a more important sort field than artist – I want to hear maybe some Chopin nocturnes, and who the pianist is is secondary. Generally tagging ignores this and insists on prioritising artist, or identifying composer as artist, which is just plain confusing!

  10. Philipch

    I should have added, most of my mp3 tracks are from ripping my cds, rather than downloads, and the album info databases can be quite daft in their suggestions.

  11. Grizzle

    Assuming music is tagged when acquiring it (tigotag for xp is awesome) then organizing a large media library is as easy as your media player’s media library will allow you to consume it. Bugger using a windows start button, what a joke. Winamp is hard to beat as this has the best filtering and sorting ability. I create my own custom view for “unrated music” which when listening to, prompts me to rate, add to playlists or delete after listening. I can also do a quick check for duplicate music if I suspect a new song is already in my collection of 19000 tunes, and delete one. Winamp still whips the lama’s ass

  12. Neal Schultz

    First of all I have a rather daunting library of about 2500 CDs and a total of CD ripped and online sources of 115,000 tracks consisting in over 12,000 albums that use about 650Gb of space. I use Microsoft Synctoy (free) that keeps a mirrored backup on another 2Tb backup harddrive. I use, surprisingly, the Zune 64bit software, which is a supremely under-appreciated source for music organization that in this drowning din of mindless apple fanboys. Most particularly, when you have a large collection make sure you have access to a program that takes advantage of 64bits. The difference in speed is quite staggering between 32 and 64bit versions. Windows 7 64bit is a must of course. My music is about 80% Classical/Opera 10% Jazz and 10% Pop/Rock/etc. For Classical, I’ve found over years of experimentation that in the album name I always list the Composer and the work together owing to the number of similarly titled works such as symphony no.1s and violin concertos etc. Further, if I have multiple copies of the same work I notate them as follows: Mahler – Symphony No.01 in D ‘Titan’ [Kubelik]. Including the composer (Mahler) and the conductor (Kubelik) in the title and using ’01’ instead of ‘1’ [owing to the way boolean nature of how computers sort numbers] creates a ‘unique’ entry that can be searched. The irritating thing is that home media extenders like the XBOX360 think in terms of artists and not in terms of composers. The artist entry always looks like this regardless of the music type: composer name, performing group -conductor, label. This translates to Mahler, London Symphony Orchestra -Kubelik,dir., EMI CD. Non Classical entries are simpler and only need the artist, label etc. Fiona Apple, Sony CD. As far as organizing your music I detest the iTunes approach of having your music exist in a mess on your hard drive and letting the program do all the organization. This is the WRONG approach…if you ever intend to access your music externally from another program, media extender or media server. The Playstation3 does a MUCH better job in allowing your organization of your music to be accessed directly by searching your folders. So I have folders and subfolders that follow the general approach of CD and Digital source. Underneath each source the folder structure is the same: Music Type – Sub Type: Classical – Baroque, Classical – Opera, Classical – Orchestral, Rock – Easy Listening, and so on. Within each subfolder Classical music organized by Composer/Composer work and non-classical is listed as Artist – Album The Eagles – Hotel California. This system works very well for me. By replicating this same pattern in both root folders they mirror each other AND it allows betters electronic maintenance of your music to keep track of which music comes from where etc. BTW: I use MP3 tag and Windows Rename. MP3tag does a pretty good job in providing multiple lookup sources for ID3 tags for your mp3s albums.

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