Help me organize a radio station's archives.
October 12, 2011 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me organize hundreds -- if not thousands -- of vinyl and CD albums dating back to the 1970's.

My college radio station has a large room full of vinyl and CD's dating back to the 1970's (maybe earlier). The problem is that, for the most part, they are just thrown into these large bins that are stacked more or less from floor to ceiling.

Our Music Director wants to find a way to organize these albums--while throwing out anything that really seems worthless--preferably by artist, alphabetically.

Considering that we will have around three people working at a time, what is the best way of going about this?

I know this seems quite open-ended (and perhaps somewhat obvious), but I just want to make sure I'm not overlooking any more efficient, alternative options, as right now, all I've come up with is painstakingly going through each box and pulling out albums...

If you've worked at a radio, how did the station keep their massive collection organized?

posted by lobbyist to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We have a massive collection that we sort by genre, then by artist, and then by release date.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:54 PM on October 12, 2011

I have worked as a jazz librarian at a large radio station. I can tell you that you are probably going to have to painstakingly go through each box and pull out albums.

Maybe there's something I'm overlooking too, but the way I'd do this is start 27 piles: one for each letter plus one toss-it-pile. Pull out album, examine, place in appropriate pile.
posted by Specklet at 4:57 PM on October 12, 2011

If it were me, I'd presort everything into between 2-4 alpha piles, A-L and M-Z for example. Each record would have to be touched twice, but it would greatly cut down on the number of "live" piles & the amount of space that the sorting would take up i.e. if you did 4 piles you'd only have to reserve space for 6 subpiles at a time. Do you have a budget to build wooden shelves? it would be kind of ridiculous to sort them then just throw them back in stacked bins.
posted by facetious at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2011

Do you have music directors for each genre? Or people who have, say, a Metal show, or an Alt/Rock show, or a Jazz show, or a Hip-Hop/R&B show? If you do an initial sort into the various genres, you can break up the organization process from there and delegate each genre to the music director. I'd do like Ideefixe says, Genre -> Artist -> Release Date and/or Album Title.

You're going to need shelves. Old bookcases work fine, but get some bricks and boards to double up the shelving space.

Also, my old college station (much to my chagrin) seriously weeded their physical media collection a few years after I left. Managing an ever-growing collection of plastic and data is no small feat. It's easier to just keep data. Maybe while you're sorting you can have a separate pile for the first round of stuff to be ripped to data and then thrown out/sold/donated. Implement a system that gets new stuff ripped right away, and then you can leisurely work your way back through the rest of the collection.
posted by carsonb at 5:42 PM on October 12, 2011

Two parts to your question: first, the part about the actual process of putting them in order. What you need is temporary shelving. Put all the items on the temp shelving, without worrying about the order. Then, start pulling things out and shelving them--put Abba and Accept on the first shelf, Morrissey and M.O.P. at about the 35% mark (you may have to shift slightly as you go, especially if the shelves are tight), et cetera. Leave plenty of space, as best you can.

Second, there's the part about the order you put 'em in. Alpha by artist, like any method of arrangement, is imperfect. It's easy to implement and maintain, which is good, but as carsonb notes, it may not be best for the way people actually use the collection. Genre splits, likewise, have pros and cons. They work better with some physical arrangements of shelves than others (record shops often consider this when arranging), better with some sets of items than others (in my own record collection, for example, it would be difficult to draw a line between 'soul' and 'jazz') and better with some genres than others (e.g., children's music, or my local public library's all-ages graphic-novel section).

And then there are questions about what to do with stuff like single-artist film soundtracks and cover-song compilations and stuff.

Lots of possibilities, all with pros and cons. Try to pick the thing that works well enough for the people finding stuff, that's easy for everybody to understand, and that has the best chance of being maintained in the future.
posted by box at 7:42 PM on October 12, 2011

Best answer: How about being able to find a specific record without arranging the discs.

You could place a sticker on each album in consecutive order. First album would be #1, last album would be #1000 or how ever many you have.

Then enter the data into a spreadsheet with a colum for each category you want. Like genre, year, artist, song and so forth. But you would add the sticker number as well.

Then sort the spreadsheet by whatever category you want to find and it will have the number of the sticker on the album. Then go pull it.

It eliminates having to place the physical record in a specific order and still allows you to find any given album.
posted by JayRwv at 8:40 PM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

My college station used the [Genre > Artist > Release Date] system, and we also had rolls of colored electrical tape to color-code the genre onto the spines of the sleeves/cases (some genres had a two color combo since there are more genres than tape colors). There was a color key chart in the main studio so that DJs would have no trouble figuring out which section to re-shelve any stray discs that piled up in the studio.

If you decided to do a genre-coding system like that, you might first just color code as you sort, but still keep them all together in one big alphabetical group. Then when you know where the genres will be shelved, they'll already be colored and easy to pull out and move.
posted by p3t3 at 3:22 AM on October 13, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! JayRwv: your idea is brilliant; I'm definitely going to run that by our Music Director.
posted by lobbyist at 8:43 AM on October 13, 2011

I went through this with my college radio station. Sorting out the albums that were not worthwhile was a major challenge. At one point the music directors were throwing everything ever sent by any promoter onto the shelves so we had a lot of garbage mixed in with very worthwhile obscure artists.

What we did was:

Alphabetize everything within genres by pulling out a shelf at a time and working with that. If we found anything suspected of being trash we set it aside

Then once we had gone through all of the CDs (we decided to keep all of the vinyl no matter what and did not get to sorting through that part while I was there) we set up a group of DJs with different tastes and experience to look through our box of "trash" and save anything that they knew. We asked everyone to volunteer and specifically invited a few people that had knowledge we needed.

This was a fairly democratic way of throwing out music because the sorting group was open to anyone and other DJs can't say "OMG you threw that away?!" if they decided not to volunteer...
posted by birdbone at 11:28 AM on October 13, 2011

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