How do I coordinate my disparate digital music collection?
February 19, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

How do I coordinate my disparate digital music collection?

I've been slack and haven't followed any sort of digital filing rules. Now my music collection has become unwieldy/chaotic and I'd like to get it under control.

I have three or four hard drives each with approximate copies of my digital music. I've tried to curate different versions at different times, fixing up artist details, adding artwork, tagging favourites etc. One drive has a whole bunch of extra stuff in there as well, which I selectively copied across to one other drive at one time.

Some of the artists have multiple names, because I like to format "the" after the band names (so "The Smiths" becomes "Smiths, The", because most music programs are too stupid to file The Smiths under S) but if you grab the details from the internet, they sometimes overwrite the artist name.

Some albums are missing tracks etc. due to a failed transfer one time.

I've just bought a nice clean large new portable hard drive, and I would like once and for all to make sure that there is a master list of music, with the best/most information available, in the one place. And in the future I will use that as my reference point (and then it will fail, and then I will cry).

I can plug all of the sources into the one PC (on win 7). Is there a program that will run through all of the folders I tell it to, tell me which folders look the same and which have differences, and remove the repetitive bits of the task?

I could do it manually but that would take dozens of hours.
posted by wilful to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I can't really comment on the ID3 tags, because that has been an ongoing struggle for me that I'm resigned to losing. But, I really like how I've got everything catagorized in terms of directory structure.

So I have a directory for each individual band/artist, but if I don't have enough of one band to rationalize having a whole directory I put them in generic directories. So that they appear at the top of the list, I preface them with !!!. So, I have a few directories like this:

!!! Ska
!!! Raggae
!!! Techno

And so forth. Also, I have one for soundtracks, compilations, and such prefaced with !!!! so that it appears at the very top. Underneath that, individual directories for each compilation. And then underneath each band directory, invididual directories for each album. Prefacing the album name I have the date that the album was released, so:

x:/nirvana/1989 Bleach
x:/nirvana/1991 Nevermind
x:/nirvana/1992 Incesticide

And so forth.

I use iTunes, and so what I do is I have a few smart playlists set up. Basically the way that it works is that I have a playlist for each genre and the smart playlist only picks the songs that I have ranked 3 stars or higher. I also have a playlist for all of the songs I have ranked 3 stars or higher and all of the songs I have ranked 5 stars. And another for all of the songs that are unranked so I can go through and rank them. I've been working on the rankings for quite some time and only have about 5000 songs in my "generic" playlist, but I consistently like every song that comes on out of the 17000 or so songs on my iPod.

This may or may not answer your question, but that's some of what I do
posted by sacrifix at 5:32 PM on February 19, 2012

Import your music library into iTunes and left iTunes manage it. You can use it to find duplicates and it sorts based on meta tags.
posted by RandyWalker at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2012

RandyWalker, it may be that iTunes has recently improved their experience, but iTunes sucks dogs balls, or certainly used to.
posted by wilful at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Audio Comparer "listens" to your music and tells you which tracks are duplicates...even if the ID3 tags and file names are completely different. It's not free, in fact it's somewhat expensive, but there is a trial period.

My plan of attack would go something like this:

Make one last backup, just in case...

Use Audio Comparer to remove all the duplicates. Move all music files into a single directory. Use Bulk Rename Utility to do some quick batch fixes on ID3 tags ("The" goes to the end, and so on). Pull all the music into a media player and scan over the ID3 tags by hand for less obvious errors... after this step your ID3 tags should be pristine. Finally, go back to Bulk Rename Utility and put everything into directories based on Artist/Album/etc.

This is still time consuming, but eventually your music will be perfect.
posted by anaelith at 6:23 PM on February 19, 2012

Beatunes is primarily an application for creating playlists. However it is also good at analysing your music collection to sort out the sort of problems you mention. It can be set to go online to use a fingerprint of each song to verify what it is and how it thinks it should be filed. It is designed to work most elegantly with an Itunes library.

Jaikoz is more specifically aimed at sorting out tagging issues. It has some overlap with Beatunes.

Both applications will also get a range of other information that you can use to classify tracks: their key, their tempo, their mood, their composer, etc.
posted by rongorongo at 11:34 PM on February 19, 2012

I have this exact same problem. I'm still too daunted to attempt to go through 300+ MiB of mp3s but I'd roughly use the following method (iTunes is absolutely not an option either):

1. Use tagging program to either read from filenames or download consistent and correct ID3 tags for all files.
2. Use tagging program to put all files in a consistent directory structure from ID3 tags. Avoid at all costs messy hacks like sacrifix endorsed above. The advent of metadata killed the need for that off year ago.
3. Use a file copy tool to merge all the correctly-tagged and file-structured copies of your collection into one master file.

Run this on a copy of your music before doing massive batch operations but this seems about as good as you can get while still being fairly scalable. I still fantasize about being able to pay someone to sort this out for me in the way that I require.

Unfortunately the only solutions I have for your "Smiths, The" issue is to either a) only use existing correct filenames to produce these metadata (still hard) or, b) only use software that sorts in the way you prefer or, d), my preferred method, deal with it being "The Smiths" and find Smiths tracks by searching metadata for "Smiths" rather than scrolling through the entire library by artist.
posted by turkeyphant at 3:42 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

itunes does suck dogs' balls but after trying various automatic tagging programs (jaikoz, musicbrainz, etc) i found it's simplest and I have the most control with it. I'm using it to manually go through my library and fully overhaul and organize my collection. you might try using itunes just to organize and then move to something better when you're done.

here is what I'm doing, and I'm only on the K's or something after about 6 or so hours of work, but i'm still satisfied with my solution (and am getting to know my library very well):

- run a tagging software over existing directories to get the 'low hanging fruit' that are easily/obviously recognized.
- created a new default music directory (on my new hard drive)
- in itunes - set the 'copy all tracks to default directory' preference (or something similarly named) and dragged all existing music folders into itunes so it automatically copied everything into my new hard drive folder
- set the preferences to auto-rename and organize the files and folders by artist/album/track number
- (currently) going through manually
- noting which tracks are missing, delete duplicates, and set up a consistent naming scheme (using discogs).
- then once it's copied and organized I plan to delete itunes and then just be really good about sorting any new stuff I get.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this thread for new ideas but I found that tagging software that I tried didn't offer me as much control as I wanted over naming schemes, duplicates, couldn't recognize different live versions or covers, etc. I plan to move to something else once my files are all organized.
posted by ghostbikes at 8:53 AM on February 20, 2012

If you hate iTunes you don't have to keep using it after you leverage its sorting abilities. Just open it, create a library, tick "keep my library organized" and "copy music to itunes folder when adding to library", then drag all your disparate sources into the "automatically add to iTunes" folder that will be in your iTunes music folder one at a time. iTunes will sort them all by artist into the one folder, using the ID3 tags. Obviously, you'll want to make sure your iTunes music folder is on a drive with enough space to hold all your music.

Use iTunes to find duplicates and eliminate them. Use iTunes to clean up tags, if you wish. As you do the latter, iTunes will reorganize the files by artist/album for you.

Now, you've got a single directory with all your MP3s sorted by artist. Delete iTunes and go about your business.

It might be worth investing $25 in TuneUp to clean up the tags; it's generally worked very well for me and has saved me hours over the past year or so.
posted by chazlarson at 11:19 AM on February 20, 2012

Mediamonkey is your tool. Everything else is just a toy. The free version should have everything you need. It may take you some time to get up to speed with it, but it's the best tool for managing really large libraries, especially when you care about what directories your files live in.

Drag and drop songs onto directories in the tree in order to move them around, or drag them onto artist or album tags to retag.

Check out the library maintenance addons here. You probably want to install Advanced Duplicate Find and Fix.

It even knows how to ignore "The" when sorting!
posted by fuzz at 11:36 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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