Expertly Organizing an MP3 Library
September 29, 2009 11:36 PM   Subscribe

Organizing a music library for the (very) OCD? Help me put every ID3 in its place!

I'm more than a little bit OCD about my music collection. I'm bugged by stupid little things like the fact that a good deal of my files are tagged slightly incorrectly, that I don't have a consistent bit-rate, that album artwork is almost a lost cause, etc. All the standard craziness.

I've played around with MusicBrainz Picard, but that really just seemed to make things worse, since hardly any of the data the app pulled from the database seemed to match up exactly with the reality of my library (conflicting track lengths, missing songs from albums, etc). It was also a pain going back and forth between Picard and iTunes to cross-check things.

If not for the fact that a good portion of my library is already impeccably organized, I'd just run the whole thing through Picard or a similar app. But for fear of distorting what is already nice and shiny, I can't.

I know there have been a few similar questions on Ask before, but none for at least a year or so. I'm hoping some wonderful new tool or strategy has come along since then.

What apps/sites/techniques can you suggest to help in my quest? Or is my vision of metadata perfection a lost cause?

(I use a Mac, for what its worth)
posted by dantekgeek to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I use mp3tag and manually enter in all the data.
I keep a separate "Unsorted" folder for new albums that haven't been meticulously tagged yet, and migrate them into the main music folder once I've got everything set up [converted using dbpoweramp, covert art and other info off amazon or wikipedia or google for more obscure stuff]
posted by xqwzts at 12:00 AM on September 30, 2009

I'm not quite to your level of tag-obsessiveness, but if you use iTunes there are a few smart playlist features that you can use to track down badly tagged MP3s.

1) You can make a smart playlist for 'bitrates lower than ___' to find crappy quality songs.

2) Because they are so often inaccurate or wrong, I prefer to strip the genre ID3 tags. To do this I made a smart playlist for "genre isn't [blank]." Then I can just select the whole list (except for podcasts) and delete the tags all at once.

3) In order to make sure that I tag and rate new music as I get it, I have a smart playlist for "date added is in the last 4 weeks." Then I sort it by date added and try to make sure that everything is tagged and rated before it gets to the bottom and drops off.
posted by arcolz at 12:29 AM on September 30, 2009

I used to be the same as dantekgeek, spending hours editing ID3 tags by hand and renaming files exactly how I wanted them, until one day I just couldn't take it any more. I ran my entire collection through Picard, use iTunes to get album artwork for anything Picard missed, and stopped worrying about it so much.
posted by arcticbluejay at 2:54 AM on September 30, 2009

I've been wanting to fix my MP3s for ages.

does this Picard Tagger do a good job?
posted by mary8nne at 3:31 AM on September 30, 2009

I am tag obsessive too. I've used a combination of mp3tag and Mediamonkey.

Also, you might want to check out this Lifehacker article.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 5:03 AM on September 30, 2009

J River Media center is what I have used for years. Flexible and they respond to user feature requests quickly.
posted by merocet at 5:13 AM on September 30, 2009

Seconding Mediamonkey. I just used it to add all of the album art I was missing. You can tell it to modify just the parts of the tag you want, so your shiny stuff can stay that way. It has some great sorting features as well.

My current project is to fill in all the missing dates in my library. I wish there was an automatic program for that (I want original release dates, not when say, CD release #3 came out).
posted by FreezBoy at 5:38 AM on September 30, 2009

This Applescript is useful to clean up the appearance of randomly obtained files: Proper English Title Capitalization
posted by smackfu at 6:55 AM on September 30, 2009

I use Mediamonkey too. Unfortunately it's not available for the mac. I do own a mac, but I still use MM. If you can find a windows computer I suggest you'd give it try. It has a really wonderful tagging and renaming system, and it gets its data from Amazon. I wrote a script which fills some ID3 fields like genre, mood, occasion, rating and description and some more from the database. Mail me if you'd like it.
posted by Psychnic at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2009

Give TuneUp a shot at doing it automatically, or use Jaikoz to fix tags manually. And many other Applescripts at the site smackfu listed above can be very helpful!
posted by bink at 8:08 AM on September 30, 2009

Mediamonkey, if your collection is album based and the albums can be found on Amazon.

TuneUp if you only worry about individual songs being labeled correctly, and not worried about complete albums. It really fails at compilations, best of collections and such since the lookup is song based.

J River Media Center, if you wish to do things manually (it is really really, I mean, really flexible and powerful). I have used pretty much every application mentioned here (accept for Jaikoz), and Mediamonkey and J River are the ones that I always come back to.
posted by tuxster at 11:11 AM on September 30, 2009

I too use Mediamonkey. It's the best.

To elaborate, there are some scripts out there that are perfect for us tagging fiends.
  • Tagging Inconsistencies: shows a tree view with all out of place files. You can really spend all day scratching your tagging itch with the things this one finds.
  • RegExp Find & Replace: lets you get into the nitty gritty of the database and do advanced functions.
There is no magic bullet, of course, but, if you like maintaining a library, the process is half the fun. (the other half hopefully being music enjoyment)
posted by neca at 8:13 PM on September 30, 2009

I came here to post the same question, hoping against hope for some quantum leap in technology.... sigh. Here's what I recently wrote about it:

MP3Tag is the best general purpose tagging utility I’ve found so far. I’ve found Foobar2000 and MediaMonkey to be good as well. Quick changes, hit save. Mass file changes no problem. One button renaming. Manages album art. Works on Mac and PC both.

Re album art - with my Sonos system I can display my music library on my TV (and pick songs, albums or playlists, and select where in the house I want them to play), so having high resolution album art is a very nice thing. 500×500 is a nice minimum size. The new Apple products use cover flow, and it’s just not cool to see lots of grey squares when it could be beautiful works of art.

The more recent iterations of the MP3 codec allow you to save the album art embedded in the song file. iTunes and Windows Media Player don’t work that way. They will read the art out of files, but if you add art via iTunes or WMP, they put the art in a separate folder. So you wind up with a mishmash, and if you backup your files or move your library, you lose the album art. I would rather have the art in the file, so I’m working on the art in MP3Tag. Note: this means that just because you have album art in iTunes, doesn’t mean you will have it another player (like my Sonos system). I keep relearning that stupid lesson, so now I’m systematically adding the art to the MP3 files. is the best source for high definition album covers. Try the MP3 download section first, as most of those seem to be 500x500. It looks like they are phasing that out, though, with the new "zoom" feature that lets them put up a high rez image you can't copy. It is easier to have a photo manager program open that will let you crop images, since many have white borders embedded in the JPG, and you probably don’t want that. Crop out the picture, and drag-and-drop to MP3Tag. Google images is helpful too, include "imagesize:500x500" in the search.

Art4iTunes lets you export a playlist (e.g. your whole library if you want, 10MB file limit) from iTunes, and upload the file. It then generates an HTML page with all the album art it can find. Nice. You can drag and drop from the HTML page directly to MP3Tag or iTunes.

Working With iTunes
iTunes is still the best app for working with an iPod – hardly surprising – so it’s in my list of apps I use regularly. There are, however, some shortcomings such as the way it handles album art noted above.

Watch your formatting carefully. MP3Tag will expose all the format fields so you can sort on them and spot the outliers. Some files are encoded MPEG III Layer I and iTunes will not load them, which is why the count in iTunes is sometimes different than the number of files on the drive. There is probably a way to re-encode the header only, but I haven’t found it. I’ve had to rip the files to WAV and then re-encode as MPEG III Layer III using LAME. Fortunately, it’s just a handful of files.

LAME is still the best encoder I’ve found, but it’s a command line interface that is not exactly intuitive. So I use RazorLame as a front end app. I force it to use custom settings on encoding. I use “-V2 –vbr-new -q0 –lowpass 19.7 -b96” as my custom command string for music files that are going to my library, and it generates amazing MP3 files averaging around 5MB each. I use EAC to rip CDs to WAV files.

Re: ID tags, make sure you are using the latest version ID3v2.3. The older versions truncate filenames, which is problem if you have long file names.

I HATE that iTunes renames your files when you let it organize your files into folders. Haven’t figured out how to stop that and still get the folders.

Many so called experts recommend various tools for leveling the volume of the songs in your collection. MP3Gain, Soundcheck, iVolume, Foobar 2000 and many other programs offer this. Don’t. Just…. don’t. Most good players let you normalize the volume at playing time, and that’s a much better solution for many reasons. If you insist that you need to do it (e.g. ripping an assortment of songs to a CD for playing in the car), use MP3Gain (or MacMP3Gain if you swing that way), as it doesn’t actually change the file. It just adds some more metadata with volume adjustment data, so you can always “put it back the way it was”. Finally, set your volume adjustments at the album level, not the track level, or you will lose the dynamics of individual songs in the mix.

Regarding filenames. There are a lot of different approaches that people adopt for different reasons. I am now using artist-album-track-title for regular CDs, and album-track- artist – title for compilations and soundtracks. That keeps the files grouped properly when I’m looking at the file list. I do have a fair number of odds-and-ends files that wind up being alone in their folder, but such is the nature of one-hit-wonders.

iTunes won’t recognize soundtrack albums or compilations and keep them grouped together in one folder unless you click the “Compilation” box.

You have to be careful with iTunes when working with tag editors. You can run off and do hours of work and come back to iTunes and find all your links on files you have renamed broken. And no way to screen for broken links – you just have to scroll down and find and fix the checkmarked files… and scroll down, and scroll down some more….

Ideally, then, you would work on your files in MP3Tag and get all the metadata filled out properly. Doing that manually is a chore for a large collection.

You really need a metadata tagging tool that will access services like freedb or Amazon to get the metadata and artwork. Unfortunately, the best tool was MusicMatch Jukebox, and Yahoo bought it and turned off the Supertagging feature. The only remaining services that I know of will only look up whole albums, not individual songs.

Equinux looks like a nifty service that will automagically get individual song metadata. But I haven’t found anything comparable for Windows. MusicBrainz Picard is probably the closest, but it will only do whole album analysis and search, not individual songs. These services are the latest and greatest because they actually analyze the song itself – beat, tempo, instrumentation, duration, etc. and generate a digitial fingerprint for that song. Then they can fingerprint your song and look for the closest match. These services are only going to get better as more and more users submit their libraries for analysis. LastFM has been using scrobbling technology to collect a sort of wiki-approach to metadata tagging and assembling the concensus “best version”. They use digital fingerprinting, and have started to expose the data through a set of redirects that recognize your bad metadata. I look forward to this being exposed for individual song lookup.

Phelix is another good special-purpose tool for identifying duplicates in your library. It lets you do quick side-by-side comparisons or automate rules about which ones to keep (it doesn’t delete the others, just moves them to a different folder).
posted by JParker at 7:04 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

What I do:
Delete any mp3s that are bad quality or albums that were not ripped together.
Clean up id3 tags by hand.
If you're very OCD its the only way. How can you trust someone else to correctly identify the genre for you?
posted by ihope at 9:08 AM on October 1, 2009

Doing it by hand is the best option. In most cases, you are smarter than any software -- they just have a better knowledge of the subject. Use file analyzers only when you can't reliably determine something on your own. For instance, you know that Band has recorded two different versions of Song, and you don't know which version you have. You already said that most of your library is in good shape, so it shouldn't be too difficult.

This is what my workflow would be (I used it to audit my library of about 30gb; it took a month of inconsistent work):

1. Back up your library file. If possible, copy all your music files onto an external drive.
2. Create two new playlists: Old and New.
3. Put the entire contents of your library into Old. Sort by album (assuming mostly popular-style music. Otherwise sort by composer).
4a. Audit the metadata of the first album. Not just the ID3 tags, make sure iTunes's library data (EQ, gapless, sort orders, etc.) is correct as well. Fix any problems you find.
4b. For those lone-wolf files, the internet is your best friend. Allmusic is my go-to, but don't just rely on one site.
5. If you can't figure something out (like in my example above), then turn to the recognition software. Don't run it on the files linked by iTunes, create temporary copies to be analyzed.
6. Once the first album is spic and span, drag it into playlist New, and remove it from playlist Old. Don't touch the contents of playlist New (unless you're sure).
7. Repeat steps 4-6 for the next album in playlist Old until Old is completely empty.
8. Make a new backup of your library file for every gigabyte you have moved into playlist New.
9. You're finished!
posted by clorox at 7:57 PM on October 14, 2009

Not sure anyone will notice a new comment on here, but it's worth a shot:

Seconding Mediamonkey. I just used it to add all of the album art I was missing.

My music is 99% organized as Artist - AlbumName. Is there a way to add album art to all folders at once, instead of having to cycle through each folder and hit the button?
posted by inigo2 at 7:35 PM on January 5, 2010

« Older Questions about Hong Kong Chinese people renaming...   |   worst day at work ever or what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.