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Help me tame my embarassing mp3 mess
March 21, 2012 5:16 AM   Subscribe

I have a 2002-era problem: a big library of Mp3s, many ripped from physical CDs I own, some downloaded from iTunes, others left over from when I merged music collections with my then partner. They are completely disorganised. Some albums are incomplete, most lack album art, hundreds of individual songs are just kicking around in a big folder of their own. What's the best way to tame the mess? (This question has been asked before, but I imagine best solutions have changed since 2008).

I have access to a Mac and a PC but would prefer to keep my music library primarily on the PC since it has a much bigger hard drive. Part of my reason for wanting to get organised is so I can sync selected songs/albums to my Mac and iPhone in a relatively hassle-free way. (Please explain anything iTunes-related to me like I'm really dumb - until I got the Mac I basically only used it for the store, so I'm still not familiar with all its quirks).
posted by embrangled to Technology (32 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
MediaMonkey was and is the single most powerful organizer of music libraries with which I'm familiar. You can generate tags from file names or online databases, and then rename files based on tags. I'm managing about 200GB and around 25k tracks that way.

You will, however, have to set up your own directory structure. I do \[artist]\[album]\[artist - track number - title]. The individual songs in particular are going to be a pain in the ass.

As far as syncing with your iPhone, that's for the birds. Stream it! Use MediaMonkey in combination with SubSonic and never worry about what music is on your phone ever again. If it's on your hard drive, it's available, provided you're anywhere in range of your mobile network or a WiFi hotspot.
posted by valkyryn at 5:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's how I would tackle this. It may not be pretty or easy but it would calm that twitching caused by disorganization.

- All the complete (or almost complete) albums: Load into iTunes.
- Spring for a piece of clean up software (I used TuneUp (for both Mac and PC) and use it to label, tag and get album cover art for these albums.
- For the individual songs - also add them to iTunes, all at one time. Then sort your songs by date added. Highlight them all, right click, "Get Info" and call the album something like "Embrangled's Singles Collection" so at least they are all in one damn place.

This will at least get everything into iTunes and make things much more manageable. Once everything is under one roof, you can then start molding your collection to your preferences.
posted by THAT William Mize at 5:34 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are also tools that basically leverage SoundCloud/Shazam for identifying and automatically tagging your music. Equinux is constantly reminding me about SongGenie and CoverScout, but those are Mac solutions.
posted by Kyol at 5:37 AM on March 21, 2012


You will, however, have to set up your own directory structure

Can you help me understand what this means in practice? Manually sorting the Mp3 files into folders or choosing file naming conventions or what?
posted by embrangled at 5:40 AM on March 21, 2012


(Also, I'm not averse to shifting everything to the Mac temporarily if that's the best way to get it organised. I just don't want to keep it there long-term, because it would use up most of the available disk space).
posted by embrangled at 5:42 AM on March 21, 2012


I still use MusicBrainz Picard and it still works wonderfully.

I found it best to keep one directory where you put the music that you want to sort and tag and then set the program up to move the file to a different directory. From there, I let iTunes manage the directory structure.

One thing this software makes easy that I like is that I can easily take files that are tagged as coming from a "Best of" album and change it to the original album the song came from. And, if the file has no tag at all, the software will try and "listen" to the song and make a guess at what it is. It's surprising how accurate it can be. If it still can't find it, it isn't hard to search for it.
posted by VTX at 5:49 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way I finally organized my massive, 3,000 song jumble of music was to do it the hard way - manually. I went into Windows Media Player(or your preferred media player program would probably work better... On preview there are some great programs listed in the comments above) library and had ALL my music listed in alphabetical order by song title. Then I just worked my way through the "A"s - mostly just adding the artist name or fixing the song title. If I didn't know the artist or song name right away I put a Z to the front of the song name so it would send it to the end of the list so I could work on it later. Then when that was done I just had the library organise the list alphabetically by artist name and sent all those files to an appropriately named folder. Later on I organized those songs into albums and added cover art, etc.

It was pretty labor intensive, but I did it in small chunks (mostly worked on one letter for an hour) so it was less overwhelming. But that work paid off - all my music is now conveniently labled in a proper folders and I can find things really easily if I am not using any sort of media player. Also, I ended up deleting a ton of doubles/triples of songs which freed up a bunch of space = win!
posted by littlesq at 5:59 AM on March 21, 2012


Manually setting up a directory structure for thousands of songs makes me tired just thinking about it. I concur with THAT William Mize: just let iTunes find and organize your songs*, then tweak it with something like TuneUp if you really need to. Once that's done, you can create playlists and selectively sync them to your other devices.

*In the "Advanced" tab of iTunes preferences, make sure "Keep iTunes Media folder organized" and "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library" are checked. The latter copies all songs into the a single folder and the former creates the directory structure you need. Once the songs are copied into the iTunes structure you can delete the originals that were scattered around your disk.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:13 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Caveat: "Keep iTunes Media folder organized" will do the following annoyance (or, atrocity):

Suppose you have an album by Batman. Some of Batman's friends appear on the album, doing free-style rap on some songs. Someone, meaning to be helpful, has denoted these songs in the online Gracenote database with Artist entries like "Batman (special guest Aquaman)", and, when you ripped the CD, the ID3 tags of your mp3s acquired this metadata.

iTunes will keep this "organized" by creating folders for each of those distinct artist entries, each with the album as a subfolder, containing the one or more songs with that particular artist. So, you won't have the entire album in a single folder, which drives me insane. This is really bad if you rip or import a large compilation: I've seen one generate about 40 different new artist directories.

If this doesn't bother you, then go for it. Maybe there is a way to configure the organizatinator such that it won't do that, but I do not know of one.
posted by thelonius at 6:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Personally if I still had all the physical CDs I'd start from scratch and re-rip them all using CDex which will name the files and sort them into the folder structure however you'd like, e.g.
artist/album/artist - track # - track name.mp3
genre/artist/album/track # - track name.mp3
etc

Once you'd done that you can import the tracks into whatever music library software program you want.

Alternatively if you're going to use iTunes anyway and you're not bothered about specifying your own folder structure (see thelonius's comment above), you could rip them all using that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2012


On Windows, mp3tag, mentioned in the previous thread, is still available. It's one of my favorite apps personally, although I should note I'm the sort of person who usually wants "hands on" access to specific tags and configurations. In particular, you can load all mp3s from a tree of folders and do a mass change on some or all of them at once if you want.
posted by gimonca at 6:40 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did it manually. To alleviate the problem thelonius mentions, I went in and forced the separate songs to list as one album by making sure the artist name was the main artist I wanted to list under, and then checking the box "Is this part of a compilation?"

Then I went into my actual Windows music directory, and created a file called "Miscellaneous." All my singles went in there.
posted by Miko at 6:45 AM on March 21, 2012


I wrote a short guide to Picard for a previous question.
posted by griphus at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, iTunes will in fact move your files around, but I've found that it's completely braindead. If you're okay not having any idea where your files are, sure, let iTunes do it.

Otherwise, don't. I won't even install the program for that very reason.
posted by valkyryn at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


you won't have the entire album in a single folder

But the songs will appear together in the iTunes list. iTunes is a music manager, not a file manager. There's no need to worry about the underlying folder structure.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:58 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no need to worry about the underlying folder structure

Provided that you never intend to do anything else with the files except feed iTunes with them. I don't find that acceptable at all.
posted by thelonius at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2012


Also, if you use iTunes to manage it before ultimately putting it somewhere else, you used to need to update the id3 tags in iTunes before the changes would get written into the files. I'm not seeing that option in 10.5, but it might also be an iTunes Match thing.
posted by Kyol at 7:51 AM on March 21, 2012


I like MP3Freaker for updating ID3 tags on the Mac with iTunes, but MusicBrainz is also very good and if the Windows client works, you should consider it. (The Mac client is awful.)

If you're using iTunes and the Mac, Song Sergeant is indispensable for weeding out duplicates.

(Also if you're doing the iTunes thing and letting iTunes sort, set the Album Artist to [Main Artist] for the album to have iTunes file the entire album under [Main Artist]'s name.)
posted by immlass at 8:08 AM on March 21, 2012


Provided that you never intend to do anything else with the files except feed iTunes with them.

What—besides listening to them and burning disks—do you do with your songs?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:31 AM on March 21, 2012


Nthing Media Monkey- I've been using it for years, and like it very much. Maximum PC did a how-to on combining and organizing music libraries using Media Monkey that you may find useful.
posted by EKStickland at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2012


iTunes will in fact move your files around

No, it doesn't do that. It doesn't actually touch your file structure in any way.

It might be helpful to read about the iTunes Library and how it works. It's basically nothing more than an index of your own music files, recategorized according to your rules, and associated with your (or auto-populated) tags and album art. Your own files remain unchanged. You can still listen to your own files by playing them in iTunes but navigating in your own directory - and you can copy and burn them there too. Nothing iTunes does hurts anything to do with your own file structure and organization. In fact, I've found that cleaning and sorting my Windows music files is essential to making iTunes work better. Often I've found that what seems like an iTunes problem is really a filename or filepath problem in my own directory.

What you see for organization when you are in iTunes is actually a reflection of your iTunes library. You'll see that as a separate folder when you go into your directories, and that's what's driving the appearance of your music in iTunes. I've found that reading the help/support/discussion pages about the iTunes library has helped me a lot. Often you can just type the question about what you want to do into your search engine ("keep compilations together in iTunes") and find the perfect response.

I often find iTunes doesn't 'discover' everything in my music files, and that I need to play the files in iTunes once to get them recognized in the library. The "Consolidate library" command is, I think, supposed to do this, but I find it unreliable.
posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


This problem can be fixed by setting the "Album Artist" tag. If you have iTunes organizing your music files as mentioned above, select all the songs on that Batman album. Get Info and change "Album Artist" to "Batman". Click OK. All the files will be moved to the Batman artist directory and all those "Batman (featuring Robin)" folders will be deleted.
posted by chazlarson at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, it doesn't do that. It doesn't actually touch your file structure in any way.

It might be helpful to read about the iTunes Library and how it works. It's basically nothing more than an index of your own music files, recategorized according to your rules, and associated with your (or auto-populated) tags and album art. Your own files remain unchanged.


Yes and no. There's an option under "Preferences > Advanced" called "Keep iTunes folder organized." If that box is unchecked, then iTunes behaves in the way you've described. On the other hand, if you check that box, then iTunes will create its own directory structure in the "iTunes Media" directory (also specified in the advanced preferences) and put your files where it sees fit in that structure.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2012


But isn't the "iTunes Media" directory different from your own Windows Music folder? In other words, yes it creates a directory but I don't recall that it has an impact on your own original folder. this may be because I don't have that box checked.
posted by Miko at 10:32 AM on March 21, 2012


But isn't the "iTunes Media" directory different from your own Windows Music folder?

My understanding is that

a) It is different if you leave things in their default position, yes.

b) If you check "Keep iTunes folder organized" and don't direct it to your Windows Music folder, you will have two copies of all your music, and the Windows Music folder will retain your original folder structure.

c) If you direct iTunes to your Windows Music folder, and ask it to keep the iTunes folder organized, your Windows Music folder will get reorganized, and you will have one copy of your music files.

d) If you direct iTunes to your Windows Music folder and leave the "Keep iTunes folder organized" option unchecked, you will have one copy of your music files and retain your original folder structure.

Which options you choose would depend entirely on how you feel about a) retaining your own directory structure and b) duplicating your entire music collection.
posted by bardophile at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a large music collection and use iTunes to manage it. People complain about the way that iTunes handles files, but I have no problem with it because I like to tag my own music and I make use of the "album artist" tag.

For example, if Batman releases an album, but some of the tracks have the artist listed as "Batman Feat. Aquaman," I tag Batman as the album artist, and all the files automagically go into Batman's folder. Compilations go under "Various Artists."

I used to try to keep the files organized manually but as long as I'm happy with the basic hierarchical structure of how iTunes does it, and as long as I'm willing to manually edit tags, iTunes' automatic organization works fine for me.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:56 AM on March 21, 2012


iTunes will keep this "organized" by creating folders for each of those distinct artist entries, each with the album as a subfolder, containing the one or more songs with that particular artist. So, you won't have the entire album in a single folder, which drives me insane. This is really bad if you rip or import a large compilation: I've seen one generate about 40 different new artist directories.

If this doesn't bother you, then go for it. Maybe there is a way to configure the organizatinator such that it won't do that, but I do not know of one.
thelonius, there are at least two ways of handling this:
  1. If you import the album (or later mark the tracks) as part of a compilation the tracks from the album will end up in a single folder in the compilations directory. This works well for true compilations but is not so good for cases like the one in your example
  2. Use the "Album Artist" field, that's what it's there for! iTunes actually uses the album artist field when organizing its folder structure. You can choose whether to sort columns on either artist or album artist, so display is not an issue.

posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:54 PM on March 21, 2012


I just hit the same thing.

And honestly, my taste from ten years ago? Not good enough to justify saving all of it. It was easier to pick the best 20-30%, and go from there.
posted by talldean at 8:24 AM on March 27, 2012


If you are looking for both a streaming and downloading solution:

• have under 25,000 non-iTunes purchased songs (iTunes purchases not counted towards limit)
• realize it is 2012 and don't care about file folder structure (seriously, why is this a thing with search?)
• have less than 10 Apple devices running a least minimum iOS or iTunes (or compatible PCs with running iTunes)
• don't mind paying $24.99 a year

Try iTunes Match (support page). Besides the file number limitation (which I am dealing with as an edge case), it takes a lot of the suck out of iTunes and is letting me listen to music in my living room with an Apple TV.
posted by boost ventilator at 8:36 AM on March 27, 2012


why is this a thing with search

Sometimes you want to browse rather than search. Sometimes you want a birdseye view.
posted by Miko at 9:42 AM on March 27, 2012


Sometimes you want to browse rather than search. Sometimes you want a birdseye view.

I guess I wasn't clear, but what is the benefit of browsing folders and files on a hard drive? You can browse iTunes multiple ways and sort based on 41 optionally visible columns. A little overwhelming, but these are optional, do you can turn on and off the ones you are interested in. I think I have a pretty good birds eye view of my music collection plus if, for whatever reason, I need the physical file I hit SHIFT-COMMAND-R and it takes me to it in the finder.
posted by boost ventilator at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2012


I actually hate the way iTunes browses and searches. Don't like how stylized it is and how many bells and whistles get in the way of just taking a look. Don't like having to customize columns to get the readout I want. For sorting, making file transfers, and taking broad surveys, I much prefer the simplicity, clarity, and full user control you get with a classic file directory. My music collection is also not very mainstream and so the degree of genre editing and recategorizing I have to do with iTunes is extensive and rather time-consuming and I'm never able to keep it up to date. The file structure actually makes it much easier to find and recognize some categories of information I'm interested in selecting out.
posted by Miko at 2:04 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


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