How to Manage Your Music Library

Organize your music collection to make it easier to find songs

If you have an extensive music collection on your computer, then sort your songs so that you can quickly find the track, album, or artist you want to listen to. Here are some tips for the best ways to organize your music library.

Tips in this article apply broadly to all operating systems and digital music formats.

Where to Store Your Digital Music Library

Before you begin, first decide where you want your music library to live. If possible, move your music library to an external hard drive, preferably a solid state drive (SSD) since these are faster, quieter, and more reliable than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). That way, if your computer quits working, you won't lose your music collection.

On average, 1,000 MP3 files require about 2 GB, so if you have a 500 GB solid state drive, you should be able to store 250,000 songs. A 500 GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD drive can be purchased from Amazon for under $80.00, for example. If you can afford it, purchase two SSDs and save your library to one of them, then use a backup tool to keep your collection backed up to the other.

You can also back up your song files to a remote server using cloud storage. There are cloud services that let you stream music to any device.

Manually Organize Music vs. Music File Managers and Tagging Apps

While there are free music management tools, there are benefits to manually organizing your music collection. Many automated programs use proprietary algorithms, which means that you can only search for files using that tool. If you'd rather search for songs using your system's file manager, you might be out of luck.

The same holds true for applications that allow you to edit music file tags. Most tagging applications don't integrate with file managers. Taking the time to set up music folders ensures that you can find songs without the assistance of third-party software.

How to Organize Your Library

Even if you plan on housing your music on a separate drive, you should contain everything within a top-level folder named Music. If you are a true audiophile, you may want to create separate subfolders for Lossless and Lossy audio formats. The standard format for organizing digital music is as follows:

  • Artist > Album Title > Audio and Artwork Files

For example, for the album Periphery IV Hail Stan by Periphery, the hierarchy of the folder would be:

  • Music > Periphery > Periphery IV HAIL STAN

The Periphery IV HAIL STAN folder contains the associated music files for that album. This hierarchy is important, as it allows you to house all albums by a band in separate subfolders. So in Music > Periphery, you could have folders for each of the band's albums you own.

Albums by Periphery in a Music subfolder.

If you have the same album in both lossless and lossy formats, the directory structures for that same album would be:

  • Music > Lossless > Periphery > Periphery IV HAIL STAN
  • Music > Lossy > Periphery > Periphery IV HAIL STAN

Organize Songs by Various Artists, Soundtracks, and Scores

If you collect a lot of albums that include various artists, such as movie soundtracks or scores, you can apply the same type of logic to their organization. Create a Various Artists folder in the main Music directory, then create more specific subfolders. For example:

  • Music > Various Artists > Movies > Soundtracks
  • Music > Various Artists > Movies > Scores

Under the Soundtracks subfolder, create a folder for each movie title, such as:

  • Music > Movies > Soundtracks > Hackers
  • Music > Movies> Soundtracks > Hackers 3
  • Music > Movies > Soundtracks > Underworld
Subfolders containing movie soundtracks in a music directory.

Since many composers write scores for more than one film, create subfolders for each composer in the Scores subfolder. For example:

  • Music > Movies > Scores > Michael Giacchino > Let Me In
  • Music > Movies > Scores > Michael Giacchino > Fringe
Subfolders containing movie scores by Michael Giacchino in a music directory.

Move Your Folders and Save Your Music

With the basic structure of your music library in place, it's time to move those folders from your main drive to the new location. Generally speaking, it's best to copy and paste folders one at a time, then delete the originals from the main drive once the entire collection is copied.

Don't delete music files until you know for sure that everything is transferred to the new drive.