Programs like iTunes, Windows Media Player, Zune etc. organize your music collection by updating the tag structure only. These programs often copy your music collection to a designated folder, leaving duplicates spread across your computer. In addition, these programs fail to establish tagging consistency customized to your taste. For example, consider the person who listens primarily to Classic Rock, but may have a few popular dance tracks for a playlist. They may not want (or even understand) the differentiation between genres like Dance, Techno, Electronic, and Trance. Extending the embedded mp3 tag to the folder/file structure is the simplest, but most often overlooked step in organizing your collection.
The following steps are what I find to be the best ways to organize your mp3 collection:

  1. Establish a set of encoding, tagging, and album art rules and save it as a text file in your top directory. For example: (downloadable version: musiclibarystd_revb)

    ==Music Library Standard Revision A.04==
    5/31/2009
    Grant Pitel
    Adam Pitel–CODING–
    LAME 3.90.3 Quality: 220 kbps VBR / 44.1KHz / Joint Stereo–TAGGING–
    (Rule 1)�
    General Folder structure
    <Genre>/<Artist>/<Album>
    Special Folder structures
    <Soundtracks>/<Album>(Rule 2)
    File Naming
    All files must cohere the following format
    <track number> – <artist> – <song title>
    Exceptions:
    Compilations
    The artist who performs the song goes in the composer tag
    In the artists tag enter “Various Artists” and rename the file such that coheres to the following
    <track number> – <album> – <composer name> – <song title>
    Soundtracks
    Sound track songs contain “Various Artists” in the artist field.�
    The file name should neglect this field as follows.
    <track number> – <album> – <song title>(Rule 3)
    Albums with multiple CDs
    The album tag should contain the CD number so it looks like the following
    <album (CD #)>
    Folder structure and file naming remain the same
    �
    – IMAGES –
    (Rule 1) All album art needs to be embedded into the music file
    (Rule 2) Each album directory needs to contain an image of the album cover “folder.jpg”

  2. Download all your music to a temporary holding directory. This directory will be for all your untagged music. The music will automatically be added to the correct file/folder as you’ll see next.
  3. Use Mp3tag to tag, embed album art, and automatically organize the file structure according to the above rules. After tagging the album from Amazon, you can then use that Tag to rewrite the filename and folder structure. Using the above ruleset, the following format string is used in Mp3tag to go from Tag to Filename: “D:\Music\%genre%\%artist%\%album%\$num(%track%,2) – %artist% – %title%” See example video below:
  4. Disable unnecessary tagging features in iTunes and Windows Media Player such as “Retrieve additional information from the internet” and copy library to a new directory.

Please feel free to share any of your music organization methods in the comments below.

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2 Responses to “How to Best Organize Your Mp3 Collection”  

  1. 1 Maxic

    Thank you for the tip with mp3tag!
    I also want to share my recent discovery – Audio Comparer.
    This program is able to locate duplicate songs by their sound, it even doesn’t require tags!

  2. 2 BrianW

    Why do people insist on using id3 tags? I am strongly opposed to the use of any tags. They significantly slow down the process of loading the mp3′s with an audio player. No, you should not use any tags… I personally recommend you delete them all. You should rename the actual file to contain whatever information you require for the track. For example, fully loading a list of 1000 mp3′s into winamp with tags may take a minute, but fully loading the same songs with no tags only takes a few seconds. Tags are very slow. Not to mention they increase the file’s size. I use the program: mp3 Tag Tools, to delete all tags.

    Instead, I highly recommend you name your songs (the actual filename) like “artist_-_song_title_(person’s_remix)_[info1]_[info2]”

    Using this method makes it extremely easy to manage a collection of tens of thousands of mp3′s. And once your songs are named, you should store them in folders as you desire (I, for example, sort them into folders by genre). But you may prefer to sort them by year, or artist, or whatever. If you want songs from 1999, run a search for [1999].

    Using _ instead of spaces allows you to easily use window’s search function in a folder (f3) to search for a very specific filename. Searching for Michael Jackson will also display results for Jackson Michael (for example). But searching for ael_Jackson_-_Thri will not result in any incorrect search results… it will only display the original and any remixes of Thriller. Go ahead, try it on your computer, _ works wonders for searching. If you just want a quick list of all of MJ’s songs, run a search, and you only need to type in ael_jac (for example).

    Also, folders are much better than playlists. If you copy your mp3′s to a new computer, your playlist is useless. If you delete a file, or change a file’s filename, your playlist is also useless. If you use an organized folder system, you do not need to worry about any of the idiosyncrasies of playlists, since you have full control over your organizational system.

    Please take this advice from me. I don’t claim to have an extremely large collection, but it is fairly large at around 30,000 mp3′s.

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