ipods / itunes best practices
September 23, 2006 9:09 AM   Subscribe

im about to undertake the task of organising my mp3 collection and would like to ask for advice / suggestions on what is the best approach to adopt with regards to organisation within harddisk / itunes / ipod

i want to set off on the right foot so im prepared to ditch the system i have so far which, at the minute all my music collection is within 2 folders on my win xp HD 'albums' and 'singles' and being played using winamp

all the albums are mp3 format and are labelled correctly, as are most of the singles.

so my question is what is the best way to get these tracks onto my ipod in an organised and usable way.i am new to itunes so im not sure if i shouldenable itunes to manage all music files by copying to the itunes folder ? should i bypass itunes and cust copy all the files as is onto the ipod ala an external hard disk ?

suggestions much appreciated
posted by toocan to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
iTunes, and indeed the iPod, ignores any folder structure that your music may be sorted by. Both iTunes and the iPod simply present you with a list of Genres, Artists, and Albums taken from the ID3 tags of your music.

The easiest solution is to turn on "Keep iTunes music folder organised" and "Copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library" before telling iTunes to import all your files. It will then use an Artist - Album - Song structure on your disk.
posted by Mwongozi at 9:38 AM on September 23, 2006

I second Mwongozi on making it as automatic as possible. Itunes does a reasonable job of keeping everything in order -
if only it wasn't for that goddamn "Compilations" folder, that eats whole albums at random... arghhh.

oh, and while we're at it, does anyone know if Itunes 7 is any better than previous versions at handling (extremely) large numbers of songs, or does it still begin to choke upwards of 60 gigs or so?
posted by ab3 at 9:46 AM on September 23, 2006

A hierarchy of directories ("folders") organized this way:
  Artist (or Composer for classical music)

Then the tracks with the albums, named TrackNumber - TrackName
posted by orthogonality at 10:02 AM on September 23, 2006

/pub/music/Artist/Artist - Album/Album - Tracknumber - Artist - Title

I use this scheme because I sometimes browse the filesystem to select music, and because it lets me run torrents directly out of my repository (certain high-end music torrent trackers require that the files be in an "Artist - Album/" directory).

My experiences with iTunes on Windows were not very good to say the least. Several other versions have come out since I tried it, but if it were me in your shoes, I would avoid it and use other tools for file transfers to your MP3 player.
posted by majick at 10:13 AM on September 23, 2006

I have all my albums in the My Music folder with one album per folder simply labeled as follows:

Artist - Album Title

All folders have cover art and are grouped by letter (My Music folder does that) so I can scan and choose my albums just like I would choose physical albums.

I prefer it this way in case I want to use another player other than iTunes. And the newest version of seems to eat up so much memory that I'll probably just use iTunes for iPod tranfering at this point rather than playing.

My suggestion is to not let iTunes sort your music unless you're sure you always want to use iTunes to play it.
posted by gfrobe at 10:27 AM on September 23, 2006

I hate iTunes.

If you like winamp you can use the iPod plug in. It works great.

Ripping music: Exact Audio Copy with Lame

Storing music: I have separate folders for each CD in the "Artist - Album Title" format. It's a flat tier file system. In windows explorer I can "sort into groups" and "arrange by date modified" if I want a view of recent additions to my MP3 folder. (I have a dedicated server with one terabyte of RAID 5 storage, btw... ;-) )

Tagging, cleaning up tags & maintenance: Tag & Rename

Listening: Winamp. Winamp's Media Library just works... it gives me everything I need, a gazillon different way to sort and filter and it doesn't mess up my music.
posted by wfrgms at 10:51 AM on September 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

ab3 - there's a checkbox in the Info dialog to toggle compilations, right? Select a track or a group of tracks and Get Info. The checkbox is on the Info tab of the resulting dialog box.
posted by nathan_teske at 12:27 PM on September 23, 2006

I second orthogonality's scheme. iTunes' habit of either blowing apart compilation albums (if they aren't correctly marked as compilations), or dumping them in a Compilations directory (even if the compilation is by a single artist—a "best of" album, for instance) is aggravating. In my own collection, for instance, I have a fair number of soundtracks in a Soundtracks directory. Most of the albums are then grouped by film title, with a few directories for individual artists (Mancini, Morriconi, etc). I'm pretty sure iTunes' automatic organization feature would not allow this.

Within other genre directories, I include a Various Artists directory for stuff like Sounds of the 70s, Cafe del Mar, and the like.

When creating artist directories, you may want to name them with any article at the end (e.g. Ramones, The). Personally, I also prefer to use Last, First format (Bowie, David), although this can sometimes get tricky (Who gets listed first on an album by more than one artist? Are all names reversed, or just the first one? Is it Cat Power, or Power, Cat?). Last, First format also means some extra work tagging stuff in iTunes, if you choose to do it there as well.

Don't worry about organizing your iPod. If you've tagged your music such that it is organized the way you like it in iTunes, the iPod will take care of itself... it'll just reflect whatever structure you have in iTunes.
posted by thinman at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2006

I was going to say a few things, but wfrgms said it all first. There is absolutely no need to use iTunes.
posted by neckro23 at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2006

Artist / (Year) Album Title / Track No. Title of Song

That's it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:20 PM on September 23, 2006

Actually, that's not it.

All "styles" of music are handled in playlists, because frankly the mood of a song can depend a lot on the mood of the listener at the time. Playlists are in the top-level directory along with artists, prefixed with a hyphen so the playlists directory is always on top.

Also, live shows are handled as a "- Live" directory (again with a hyphen, so it's always on top) in the same directory as the albums. These are subdivided as follows:
Artist / - Live / Year / Year-Month-Day - Location of Show / Set.Track. Title of Song
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2006

Several other versions have come out since I tried it, but if it were me in your shoes, I would avoid it and use other tools for file transfers to your MP3 player.

"I don't use product X, but you should avoid it." Specious.

I don't give a single shit if my music is organized by /artist/album/song or /genre/album/song or X or Y or Z, at the file system level. As long as there is a clearly visible scheme--no matter what it is--and files aren't just dumped into one folder, it's completely irrelevant to me. iTunes uses its own flexible database, and that lets me search instantly, create Smart Playlists, and browse by genre, album, artist, or song.

Fuck the file system.
posted by Mikey-San at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2006

Fuck the file system until you want to give a copy to a friend. Or listen to it on a non-Apple mp3 player.

Then the lack-of-file-system fucks you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:39 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Or I could, press command-r (or control-r in WinXP) in my music software and the file for whatever song I want will be shown to me in the file system instantly. I have never, ever had a problem here, and I never put any effort at all into how the files are organized inside my Music folder. I let iTunes do it. There's just no reason to get OCD about it.

Also, note that I said that the file system organization scheme can be anything, as long as it's clear. If I ever really needed to dig around in there--say, if you want to make sure you have something backed up--as long as it's easy to take a glance and see how it's organized, it doesn't matter to me.
posted by Mikey-San at 2:05 PM on September 23, 2006

Unless you have specific reasons/needs I suggest letting iTunes take care of it for you, as Mikey-San suggests. I've tried my hand at organizing/sorting/transferring songs myself, but it was never worth the trouble. Apple really excels at making systems that are very elegant and very simple for the average user. If you are above average in your needs, you may be better off with some more customized solution, but it doesn't sound like you are. Go with iTunes, and spend your time thinking about something else.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2006

iTunes' habit of either blowing apart compilation albums (if they aren't correctly marked as compilations), or dumping them in a Compilations directory (even if the compilation is by a single artist—a "best of" album, for instance) is aggravating.

Fixing a blown apart compilation album is easy to do and means that it can be correctly accessed under the "Compilations" option on the iPod.

To resolve your "best of" issue, simply don't tag those kind of albums in this way as iTunes considers a compilation to be an album by more than one artist, which in this case is wrong and why you're having problems.
posted by mr_silver at 4:34 PM on September 23, 2006

If every single mp3 you own is correctly tagged, you're unlikely to use other programs to play your music, you don't have many compilations or classical music for iTunes to fuck up, and you are unlikely to share your music with other people [which would neccessitate a carefully thought-through directory structure], you'll be able to get by with iTunes, which, as Mikey-san says, cares only about the id3 tags. You can load everything into the iTunes library as-is, or let it rearrange your music.

Like iTunes, the iPod ignores directory structure and filename and uses id3 tags to do the organizing. It deals badly with mistagged or untagged mp3s for this reason. Note that you do not need to use iTunes to get music on or off your iPod. Other programs [the Winamp iPod plugin, Sharepod, etc.] will do this for you. You will still have to vet id3 tags before you upload things to the iPod, but doing this may be easier than fixing your whole collection at once, depending on the size of your collection.

If you're in the habit of acquiring music from other people [p2p programs, your friend's FTP server, etc.] that may be incorrectly tagged or you're likely to be sharing with others, having a directory structure is a great thing. iTunes is a really, really bad choice for people who've built their collection around directories & asciibetically-ordered filenames or who need others to be able to access their music. I'm one of those people, although I've tried iTunes several times, and so I prefer to use WinAmp. My files are arranged in a simple /mp3s/artist/album structure, with a few exceptions: all music penned by a composer gets put into an initial composer, rather than artist directory, there's a directory for compilations, and there's a directory for singles by bands who I have no other music by.
posted by ubersturm at 4:42 PM on September 23, 2006

mr_silver, I don't know whether it is easy to fix horked compilations now, or not. Used to be a big pain. If saying otherwise was inaccurate, sorry to the OPP. Nevertheless, your suggestions don't address the problem of iTunes lumping all compilations together, when the user prefers some other more meaningful taxonomy.

I like iTunes. Just not the way it wants to organize my music on the drive.

(And who says I'm having problems? I've got tens of thousands of tracks, well-organized and tagged, synched on drives in two locations. It is just how I like it, and easy to maintain at this point.)
posted by thinman at 8:30 PM on September 23, 2006

...er. Make that OP.
posted by thinman at 8:33 PM on September 23, 2006

and you are unlikely to share your music with other people [which would neccessitate a carefully thought-through directory structure]

I share stuff all the time, and I don't organize the Music folder by hand at all. I have zero trouble jumping in there and finding something[1] or revealing it in the file system with iTunes's "reveal" command.[2] Therefore, it does not necessitate a carefully thought-through directory structure. Some people need to get Slashdotty with music file organization, I don't.

1. When I look in ~/Music and I see a bunch of folders that are all named after bands, it takes half a second to figure out what's going on.

2. If I want to zip up a copy of that live Calexico show I've been digging lately, I can select a song from the set and hit command-r. Bang, there's the record in the file system, ready to be zipped.

The point is that with the flexibility in iTunes, obsessive file system organization is not NECESSARY, though some people certainly PREFER doing it. There's a big difference here.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:08 AM on September 24, 2006

(And neither is wrong. The OP was simply looking for people's practices. I ignore the file system and I couldn't be happier. I have an iPod, like the OP, which is dirt-easy to use inside iTunes while ignoring the file system, and couldn't tell you what's easiest for non-iPod players when used with iTunes.)
posted by Mikey-San at 12:11 AM on September 24, 2006

Like yourself, when I first got an ipod and started looking at using iTunes to manage my music, I was really nervous about giving up control of my carefully managed structure. I have about 11,000 mp3s and about 90 gig of music, any kind of disaster would be a MAJOR one. So I tested it all out for myself,

What I found was that you don't have to allow iTunes to manage your files for you. You can work with your music within iTunes without having to allow it to completely control everything. If you want, you can work your way up to consolidating everything together.

The fundamental difference with iTunes is that it's not just a music player. It's more analogous to a catalogue at a library. iTunes is a database containing all the metadata about your music. It gathers this music from the id3 tags, so when you're importing from a folder full of mp3 files, you must ensure that your id3 tags at least reflect the correct information about the music file.

When you install itunes, don't allow it to import any mp3s or wma files, do that yourself later. Also, when it asks you whether you want iTunes to organise your files for you, tick no.

If it's already installed and you haven't added any music, from the preferences menu, on the advanced tab, untick the options "Keep iTunes music folder organised" and "copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library".

With those options turned off, you're now in charge of where your files are stored.

Using the "add folder to library" functions on the file menu, you can then import the music files to iTunes. This will not move your files, iTunes will read the id3 information from each tag and create a record in the database for the location of the file. You can edit or change id3 information within iTunes and it will not rename the file or move it. A word of caution, if there are playlist files (.m3u and .pls) in those folders, they will also be imported and you'll end up with duplicates.

If you ever move files on your hard disk, iTunes will not know where you have moved it to. This is the main disadvantage. Over time, I started to get frustrated that moving files around would break itunes and so I ticked on the options for having itunes managing my files and haven't worried about it since. When I bought a new hard drive I was able to use the "consolidate library" feature to move all the files to a new location so i didn't end up with duplicates.

However, all this being said. I still use winamp for my windows assigned default player. If you leave iTunes as your default player, double clicking the file will cause iTunes to import it to the library. This is pretty annoying if you just want to play that mp3 file your friend emailed you and not keep it in your library.

I hope some of this is helpful to you.
posted by snarkle at 3:53 AM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

My ideal structure is also flat:

/mp3/Artist - Year - Album/## - Artist - Song.mp3

The song naming is not really important, so long as the track number is first. I find the year very important as it lets me listen to things from the same artist as they progressed (or not) over time. So you get something like:

Pink Floyd - 1967 - Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd - 1968 - A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd - 1969 - Ummagumma
Pink Floyd - 1970 - Atom Heart Mother
Pink Floyd - 1971 - Meddle

I couldn't figure out how to get iTunes to let me see the albums in this way. The nested structure of iTunes (/mp3/artist/album/song) seems like just another level of folder clicking to me as it doesn't really facilitate browsing everything at once (looking at the filesystem, if you're not using itunes). Also you end up with a lot of artist folders with a single subfolder, which is dumb.
posted by beerbajay at 6:16 AM on September 24, 2006

Mikey-san, reread what I said. I'm talking FTP or p2p sharing, not sending a single song to a friend as an attachment. The former are situations where other people need to be able to browse your files without the aid of the iTunes "reveal" command or command-r. In those cases, they do have to rely on your directory structure [rather than iTunes-mediated id3 tag browsing.] If you've let iTunes do all of the organizing for you, the problems mentioned above [regarding compilations, classical music, and singles] can all make it more of a pain in the ass for the person who's trying to access your music. So can ill-named files [even if they have correct id3 tags], etc. We're talking about two very different kinds of file sharing, and if the original poster deals with FTP or p2p sharing, he or she may need to be concerned about how easy it is for someone else to browse their directories, in which case iTunes would not be the best solution.
posted by ubersturm at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2006

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