How do I nicely organize my library of 80 gigs of MP3s?
February 18, 2008 3:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I nicely organize my library of 80 gigs of MP3s?

My goal is to get my new Sonos system working nicely and presenting a tidy library of music. Ideally with cover art. It'd also be nice if iTunes would work reasonably well with my music collection, but iTunes is so awful I'm willing to write it off.

I've got 80 gigs of MP3s I've accumulated over the last ten years. They're all organized neatly in directories like "Genre / Artist / Album Name / 01 TrackName.mp3". The m3u tags, though, are a mess, with lots of variations and mistakes. And I have no cover art.

For years I've played my music in WinAmp or via a Squeezebox by just walking my nicely organized directory hierarchy. But newer music software seems to prefer to use m3u tags and categorize things by Artist, Genre, etc. And since my m3u tags are a mess, the resulting catalog is a mess. I can still play stuff via Sonos by walking a directory hierarchy, but it doesn't work very well and I feel like I'm missing out.

I've seen various software products that try to scan your mp3 files and try to correct m3u tags, remove duplicates, download cover art, etc. Do any of the Windows apps work well? Alternately, I still have most of the CDs in a box somewhere. Should I just send them all to a ripping service?
posted by Nelson to Technology (27 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Musicbrainz is my favorite tool for adding and correcting id3 tags.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2008

Songbird seems to work pretty well for organizing. There are add-ons that will fix up your artwork, but none that really fix the tags.
posted by aburd at 3:15 PM on February 18, 2008

I use mp3 tag tools. It lets you go back and forth between filenames / directory structures and id3 tags. It's very customizable and lets you specify how your mp3's specifically are organized and named. It doesn't automatically download album art, but you can add any art you find through its interface.
posted by doowod at 3:22 PM on February 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the early suggestions. I should add that I ripped most of the MP3s myself using AudioGrabber and FreeDB to name the files. Also I'd be happy to pay a modest amount of money for a tool / service to fix everything for me, doesn't have to be free. I'm trying to avoid having to do a bunch of hacking.
posted by Nelson at 3:26 PM on February 18, 2008

Media Center is pay software, but a very good way to combine both tagging and zone-based music playback. It also scales well up to around 150K tracks. Its SmartLists are very flexible, and enable you to build expression queries based on pre-rolled or custom tags.
posted by meehawl at 3:31 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: And mine would have to be MediaMonkey.

Import MP3s into MediaMonkey. Mine are all in a similar folder structure as yours. Right click on an album folder and click on 'Auto-Tag from Amazon.' A new window comes up and searches Amazon. If it matches, it shows you the album, tracks, art, and a little blurb about the album. Click 'Auto-Tag' and the tags are updated. The album art can be saved to that folder or to the tag itself.

So now your tags are all pretty. Next thing I like to do is 'Auto-Organize Files.' Auto-Organize allows you to move and rename files based on track tags.

So mine is setup like so:
\Music\__Complete CDs\[Album Artist>\[Album Artist] - [Year] - [Album]\[Album] - [Track#] - [Title]

Which in return produces a folder/file structure of:
T:\Music\__Complete CDs\Nine Inch Nails\Nine Inch Nails - 1989 - Pretty Hate Machine\Pretty Hate Machine - 01 - Head Like A Hole.mp3

In all, it takes me about 20 seconds to fix the tags and import a new album.

If you decide to try this meathod and would like further advice, mefimail me and I will be happy to assist.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 3:32 PM on February 18, 2008

Forgot to add, MC also lets you re-arrange some or all of your disk-based file structure based on arbitrary tag lists. I am a satisfied customer!
posted by meehawl at 3:33 PM on February 18, 2008

Use the windows port of Easytag. Easytag is the best id3 tag editor for linux, and some guy ported it to windows. It can easily fill in your id3 tags by reading the info from the directory structure - we're talking a few clicks and it will write out the file.

My music collection was in the same state as yours, but without the advantage of a nicely organized, reputable file system structure. even so, easytag whipped it into shape.

It can also add album art, but not automatically - you have to download the image first, then use easytag to add it.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:34 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: MediaMonkey. Like itunes except it works. Downloads album covers (and song titles, etc.) from Amazon, among other niceties.
posted by signal at 3:38 PM on February 18, 2008

I've been working my way roughly 290gig (folder structure layout very similar to yours.)

MusicBrainz completely rocks my world.
posted by jmnugent at 3:57 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why is itunes so awful for everyone? I use it, and have been happy, but would like to know what limitations people have seen with it. I currently have 120+ gb, and it seems to hold up fine for my purposes.
posted by stachemaster at 4:20 PM on February 18, 2008

"Why is itunes so awful for everyone?"

I actually like Itunes, and would definitely consider switching over to it as my primary media player ( I currently use Winamp).

The two things that kill iTunes for me:
1.) the amount of prep work required to fix and correct .mp3 filenames and ID3 tags so that the album shows up correctly when I import it into iTunes is mind boggling.

2.) Winamp allows me to just load 1 album at a time. When the album finishes, the music stops. In iTunes, there is apparently no way (without creating a playlist) to start playing an album and have it STOP when the album is done. I see this as a major Flaw. If I'm in the mood for PJ Harvey, and the next album in line is PRONG.. .that is quite a jarring change to the ears if you're not expecting it.
posted by jmnugent at 4:48 PM on February 18, 2008

jmnugent: point 2 is false. In itunes, upper-right corner of the interface, is a search box. type the album name you'd like in the search box, and it will narrow the results in the main window down to just that album. click play and when the last song is done, itunes stops playing.
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:52 PM on February 18, 2008

"In itunes, upper-right corner of the interface, is a search box. type the album name you'd like in the search box, and it will narrow the results in the main window down to just that album. click play and when the last song is done, itunes stops playing."

Oooh... I will have to try that.
(does that mean I cant browse my library while playing the search-results ?)

I have to admit, the more I use Itunes, the more I like it. (and I recently bought a Macbook Pro, dualbooted OSX/XP... it rocks my world)
posted by jmnugent at 4:58 PM on February 18, 2008

thirding MusicBrainz. i use the Picard version that is a bit weird as first but gets real fast with practice. my mp3 collection is immaculate.
posted by Mach5 at 5:47 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your mp3's are already organized like you say they are, then you can use The Godfather to fix all the tags at once. Just scan your root music directory, and then tell it to fill in fields based on file and folder names.

For example, my music is like this:

D:\Music\Beatles, The\[1969] Abbey Road\[1969] Abbey Road - 01 - Come Together.mp3
D:\Music\Beatles, The\[1969] Abbey Road\[1969] Abbey Road - 02 - Something.mp3
...and so on

so I can tell Godfather that the album is the name of the folder that the mp3's are in, the artist is the name of the folder one level up from that, the track name is the third token in the file name, etc. You set these rules up depending on how your stuff is organized, but if it's all organized the same you just do it once and run it on all your mp3's at once.

Nothing in my life is as well organized as my music ;)
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2008

itunes sure feels like a real resource hog. And when dealing with importing large libraries (60+ GB), i've never had a lot of success with it. if there are problem files, iTunes doesn't handle them gracefully and doesn't really point you to the problem.

ID3-TagIT 3. Great tag editor and m3u/playlist creator.
posted by tdischino at 7:10 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll throw another vote in for J Rivers excellent Media Center. Intuitive, expandable and scope to get further into it and get things happening that Itunes only dreams of. Been using it through many iterations and it just keeps getting better. It handles my 176 GB of mp3's effortlessly. Wow that's a lot of mp3's. The company develops the software based on feedback from users in their forums too. And replies personally to email queries... my god they're better than I'd thought!
posted by merocet at 7:55 PM on February 18, 2008

iTunes is amazing if - and only if - your ID3 tags are impeccable. My advice is to use one of the ID3 tagging programs to get everything consistent (most of them will get album artwork for you too) and then import everything into iTunes and make adjustments as needed.

I had 70+ GB that was a mess and it was a huge pain fixing everything. I am kind of anal so I really went in deep manually and got everything perfect, and while it took a while it was completely worth it. I can pull any song off any album in literally a second and play it. I can use Smart Playlists to make really awesome, personalized mixes automatically for me. It rules.
posted by bradbane at 8:57 PM on February 18, 2008

On preview: Most of this has been said already.

If your directory structure is as impeccable as you say it is, any good free mp3 tagging application (I use mp3tag) will fix your tags if you simply set the variable conditions to match those of your structure (Artist/Album/Track# - Name). If you need tagging, I again vote for Musicbrainz, which is simply amazing. The old individual song tagger was recently moved to unsupported status in favor of the newer version (Picard) which tags based on album. Once you read the quick-start tutorial and figure it out, it's actually quite good, and should work perfectly for what you need, actually better than the old version.

iTunes - clear iTunes, tag everything FIRST, make sure the iTunes settings are how you want them, then import once you have everything perfect. After years of tagging my collection (over 200gig) and battling iTunes, I finally broke down, wiped, re-imported, and voted to let iTunes manage everything. Since then, I can not remember the last time I opened Winamp or any other music player.
posted by sophist at 9:28 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: My vote is to stick to your nice directories and using winamp (or foobar or whatever). Buy a portable that will let you browse directories. Still works better than every other method I've tried.

The thing is I've tried stacks of them and even spent ages cleaning up my ID3 tags, but for all the effort I never actually found any benefit in doing so.
posted by markr at 9:43 PM on February 18, 2008

Honestly if you have a Mac and are an obsessive mp3 organizer like myself then iTunes has too many built-in conveniences to ignore. The advanced scripting abilities are what really does it for me. If you can clean up the ID3 tags I would advise doing as sophist says.
posted by shanevsevil at 11:14 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Actually on that site, there are a lot of scripts that could help you with tagging as well. Look under the "Managing Track Info" section.
posted by shanevsevil at 11:15 PM on February 18, 2008

Small point, but I think you are referring to "id3 tags", not "m3u tags". An m3u is a playlist, and id3 tag is a small header at the beginning of an MP3 that identifies it with things like artist, album, genre, etc.

I use winamp's "autotag" feature. It is, in a word, amazing. It will identify your song even if it is untitled, with no other information other then the structure of the file itself. Totally mind-blowing. I used it to tag over 15 gigs of music with 98% accuracy. Very few songs did I have to go back and fix.
posted by lohmannn at 6:47 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. And the gentle correction; I did mean ID3 tags, not M3U.

I got three kinds of suggestions. Use a "smart' retagger like Musicbrainz or Media Monkey that looks things up online. Or use simple tagging tools like The Godfather, EasyTag, Mp3Tag, etc to set tags myself with some degree of automation but not much smarts. Or just use a media organizer like J. River, Songbird, JuK, or iTunes. All good solutions.

The "smart" retagger appeals to me most, so I've started playing with them. Media Monkey is very good, but not quite good enough. In particular I can't seem to select a bunch of different MP3 files from different albums and have them all retagged automatically. MusicBrainz Picard is also impressive, but the UI is awfully complicated and I can't quite figure out how much it's doing for me. Need to experiment more.

One thing I've realized is the basic library views of music in software like Music Monkey don't work well for me. They seem structured around showing you a giant list of every artist in your collection; so I get "Mozart" next to "Mudhoney" next to "Miles Davis". Or if you choose by genre I get a list of 150 different electronic music albums all together. I may yet just stick to my hierarchical folders afterall, although I still want to clean up tags and have album art.

As for iTunes, it's off-topic so I'll just leave you with a self-link to my blog litany of iTunes / Windows problems.
posted by Nelson at 3:51 PM on February 20, 2008

Just to chime in again, the j river media center also has automatic tagging from the YADB database which is pretty good.
posted by merocet at 8:09 AM on February 23, 2008

Response by poster: After a lot more playing around, I think Media Monkey is the best tool I could find for automatically updating the tags on a large MP3 collection. The key feature is the "Auto-Tag from Web", which looks album names up on Amazon. Works great for recent releases, spottier for old classical CDs, obscure stuff, etc. But the UI for editing tags makes it very clear what info you're changing and from where. The file renaming UI is also quite good. Nice tool.
posted by Nelson at 3:08 PM on March 1, 2008

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