**like any good recipe, please read through the entire article before taking any drastic steps**
How to Organize Your Digital Music
I acquire a lot of music. This may come as no surprise. All of it ends up in files on my computer. CDs get ripped into iTunes, vinyl records come with download codes. Emusic and Amazon offer their own headaches. No matter how meticulous I might be about maintaining my files, it all ends up in one big clusterfuck. There are no happy endings in the curation of digital media.
…but it might be time to rewrite the narrative.
Finally growing fed up with my old systems of digital acquisition, organization and storage, I went on a manhunt for a system that will:
A) keep my files in the right place;
B) store them efficiently;
C) keep my laptop hard drive unclogged.
I also have certain particular needs that stem from my own compulsive disorders. But we’ll get to those as I detail the methods I’ve uncovered in good time. First I must dispel a few assumptions about how this process will go. If you want this to be an easy process, it will not be free of financial investment. If you have a small collection or have unlimited time you can organize your entire collection without incurring any charges. When I learned what I’d have to do to avoid paying, I gladly donated $30. This process also requires some patience, thinking a step ahead. This is something at which I’m not necessary very good. I will explain my stumbling points so you do not succumb to the same pitfalls.
I’m going to proceed with the assumption that you’re using iTunes as your player of choice. For Mac people there really aren’t any other particularly good options now that Sonora got the axe. Windows users have a few more options. Check out MusicBee. I messed around with it briefly and found it to be an excellent, graphically superior and intuitive alternative for playing large music collections. Also, you’ll want to take care of all of those pesky duplicate tracks. In iTunes… View > Show Duplicate Items.
STEP ONE: DOWNLOADING
Programs to download. All have trial versions. Find the ones that you like and give those files hell.
Jaikoz – audio tagger for PC/Mac/Linux
MusicBrainz Picard – audio tagger, file re-organizer for PC/Mac/Linux
TuneUp – flashy audio tagger that works more often than it doesn’t
MediaMonkey – I’m still spending some time with this one. Another full organizer like Picard.
STEP TWO: FILE STRUCTURE
It’s time to take a good hard look at that metadata. You know, all that info attached to each song that identifies it for your player. Song title, artist, album, album artist, etc. The fact of the matter is your metadata is FUBAR. I don’t care who you are or how well you think you can curate your collection, but it’s messed up beyond recognition and you’re going to need a couple of programs to do the heavy lifting.
You could go with the all-in-one TuneUp. But here’s why I don’t recommend that. TuneUp heavily relies on iTunes for it’s processing. If you don’t have iTunes, don’t bother. Also, I don’t really think having a middle-man in this process really benefits you. Also, the free demo doesn’t seem to have full functionality and even when you do pay for it (according to many many many poor reviews on Download.com) it doesn’t seem to really work. It’s flashy and it looks nice, but based on the thirty minutes I spent with it, there are better options.
You’re going to want to clean up that pesky file structure. Folders here, folders there, music folders everywhere — even if you somehow manage to keep everything in the MUSIC folder, it’s still a mess. This step can be a little scary, but rest assured it doesn’t need to be. MusicBrainz isn’t particularly intuitive and it intimidates like a big ‘ol Excel spreadsheet, but forge forward confidently… but with deliberate attention to detail.
Create a folder on your desktop called MUSIC SHEEEYIT (or something else).
Search for and locate all of the music files contained in your music folder. Search for all of the .mp3 files in your MUSIC file. Move them all to MUSIC SHEEEYIT. Keep all duplicates (since presumably we’ve already done away with all of them). You might also have some .m4a files. Find and move those to your MUSIC SHEEEYIT. Basically, find your music files, plop them into MUSIC SHEEEYIT and Bob’s your uncle. DO NOT… I REPEAT… DO NOT SEARCH AND SELECT .mp3’s FROM YOUR ENTIRE COMPUTER. DO NOT. Search only your music file. Also, there’s a high probability that you have tracks that use the same title. “Intro,” for example, should be quite popular. When your computer asks if you want to overwrite the original or keep both, make sure you select KEEP BOTH.
I know this seems a little bit like anarchy… all those innocent songs cast to the winds of fate… but MusicBrainz Picard will corral them. Have no fear.
Get your API key for MusicBrainz. Preferences > Fingerprint. Select “Use AcoustID.” Click download to get your Fingerprint calculator. And then Get API Key.
Pull down the Preferences tab under MusicBrainz. Click the File Name tab. This is where the magic happens.
Make sure that all four of the boxes on top are checked. This says that you’re going to rename your files and put them back into the MUSIC SHEEEYIT director when saving. The important box is Name files like this. This is where you tell MusicBrainz how you want your music file structure set up.
Here’s the code I used. You can copy and paste it into MusicBrainz to save some time:
%artist%/%date%/%album%/%artist% – %title%
To translate that code, your file structure would appear as follows:
CHVRCHES > 2013 > The Bones of What You Believe > CHVRCHES – Gun.mp3
I like adding the year into the file structure in the event of reissues. I do have multiple versions of most of the Radiohead albums, for example, with the Special Editions released years later. Including the year is handy, but most people probably don’t need it.
In order to make sure the date uses only the YEAR and not the YEAR/MONTH/DAY dating method, go into the Advanced tab and select Scripting.
Check the Tagger Script. Copy and paste this into the box:
Click OK. Return to the main screen. Click Add Folder > MUSIC SHEEEYIT.
If you have a large collection, it’s going to take MusicBrainz some time to do it’s thing, check the weather, and look up and verify all the song information. Plan to have other things to do, is all I’m saying. Once the files have been loaded into the right-hand pane. Click Save. Watch the magic happen.
STEP THREE: THE FINE METADATA
Jaikoz deals with metadata. It works. You can also go with Mp3tag to spruce up the finer points of your files (which is only on PC — unless you know how to work Winebottler on Mac… which, if I may say, is a life saver. If you run a Mac and don’t have Winebottler, go get it now). Jaikoz is another Excel-looking motherfucker, but it does what it needs to do. Fully automated. Set it and go. MusicBrainz should have managed to fix most of your metadata. Jaikoz will do the rest because it pulls information from multiple databases to create its records.
Maybe use a combination of all three! Now that does sound like fun.
So. You’ve done all the legwork, put in all the time and effort meticulously organizing and correcting. Time that could have been better spent waxing your ear lobes… and what do you have for your efforts? More work. You have more f’ing work. Because you’re not going to stop acquiring music and every goddamn record that comes into your digital collection will need to be corrected and filed according to your new file structure. And you’ll have to do it through these programs. Do you know why. Because iTunes f’ing hates you. That’s why. It doesn’t want you to be happy. And if you just try to go ahead and let iTunes run the show so that it will automatically make your files do what “you” want… it’ll tell you to bugger off. Your way isn’t right. iTunes is going to do it however it wants, it’ll redo your file structure and use its own bastard metadata… and it’s okay. It’s fine. It works… and it doesn’t require you to do fuck all except look the other way and pretend not to care that your files look like a post-Christmas wrapping paper pile.
STEP FOUR: LOSE SANITY WHEN YOU REALIZE IT NEVER ENDS
Here’s the only way I’ve found to stay sane. Let iTunes organize the files and then transfer everything over to a networked hard drive devoted to media storage. Keep the files off your primary computer, especially if you use a laptop. If you find a program you like, stick with it. Fight the good fight.
But do you want to know how to actually triumph over your digital files?