How to Manage Your Music Library

Organize your music folder so you can find the tunes you want to hear

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Many people tend to only listen to music via a streaming service. For those, the playlist is the means by which they organize what they enjoy. For those who have put together an extensive music collection (or are planning to), however, the way that collection is organized can mean the difference between a pleasant and painless experience or a hair-pulling nightmare.

Imagine, if you will, thousands of files on your local hard drive, saved in a haphazard fashion, where you have no idea how to find a particular song or album. It’s absolute chaos on that hard drive and you may or may not be able to locate any particular song you want to hear. Even worse, if you’ve burned music from CDs, you’re going to have an inordinate number of files starting with simple track numbers, so even the act of file manager filtering doesn’t offer you much in the way of relief.

What's the Solution?

Therefore, you'll want manage your music library in an orderly, organized fashion. By doing this, locating the music you want to hear becomes incredibly easy. The good news is that this isn’t terribly difficult. The bad news is, depending on how massive your collection is, it can take some time. The effort involved will also be dictated by how chaotic your current Music folder is.

Before You Begin

Even before you undertake the first step of this process, you need to decide where you want your music library to live. There are a couple of considerations to make:

  • Will your music live on the same drive as your operating system?
  • Will your music live on an old-school platter drive or a newer, faster Solid State Drive (SSD)?

If possible, consider moving your music library to a drive that doesn’t include your operating system (such as an external or internally connected drive). Choosing to go that route has a few important benefits:

  • Because SSDs are faster, quieter, and more reliable, your music enjoyment will be enhanced.
  • By keeping your music library on a drive that doesn’t include your operating system, if your computer dies, you don't run the risk of losing your precious (and costly) collection.

Considering the price of SSDs has dropped considerably, the choice should be a no-brainer. On average, 1000 mp3 files require about 2GB. So if you have a 500 GB solid state drive, you should be able to collect 250,000 songs. A 500 GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD drive can be purchased on Amazon for under $80.00 USD. Buy two of those, save your library to one and use a backup tool to keep your collection backed up to the other.

Manually Organizing Vs Music File Managers and Tagging Apps

If you are serious about your music collection, you’ll want to take care of the organization manually. Why? Because you want to be the one in control of how the directory structure goes. On top of which, some music managers organize folders and files with proprietary algorithms, such that the searching for those files can only happen through that tool. In other words, if you opt to search for a tune through your file manager, you might find yourself out of luck.

Screenshot of a file manager search for a music file.

The same thing holds true for applications that allow you to edit music file tags. Although it is handy to be able to add various tags for songs, most tagging applications do not integrate with file managers. In case of a large music library, your file manager is your best friend. By manually organizing your library, you ensure your operating system file manager will be able to easily search for a single file from your entire collection.

Organizing Your Library

Even if you plan on housing your music on its own, external, drive, you should contain all of those folders within a top-level folder called Music. Why? Because within that top-level folder, you might want to get very granular with your organization. Say, for instance, you are a true audiophile and prefer to listen to digital music in a lossless format (say FLAC, ALAC, or DSD). You might have, within your collection, both lossless and lossy (such as MP3) files. If that’s the case, you might want to further organize that collection such that, under that top-level Music folder, you have subfolders for:

  • Lossless
  • Lossy

Lossy Vs. Lossless

The terms lossy versus lossless has to do with the compression used to create the music file. A lossy format (such as MP3) has a lot of compression (to make the file size smaller), which, in turn, degrades the quality of the music. A lossless file (such as FLAC and WAV) uses much less compression, so the files are larger and do not suffer the same degradation in audio quality.

Within both of those subfolders, you’ll want to organize your collection in the following format:

Artist > Album Title > Audio and Artwork Files

Say, for instance, you just purchased Periphery’s latest release, “Periphery IV Hail Stan.” The hierarchy of that folder would be:

Music > Periphery > Periphery IV HAIL STAN

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

Screenshot of music subfolders within a folder.

If you happen to be audiophile and 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

Various Artists, Soundtracks, and Scores

If you collect a lot of albums that include various artists (such as movie soundtracks) or movie scores, you can apply the same type of logic to their organization. For albums that contain various artists, create a subfolder like so:

  • Music > Various Artists

For movie soundtracks, create a subfolder like so:

  • Music > Movies

Under the Movies subfolder, create these two subfolders:

  • Music > Movies > Soundtracks
  • Music > Movies > Scores

Anyone who’s a fan of movie music knows the difference between a soundtrack and a score. If not, it’s simple:

  • Soundtracks contain songs included in the movie.
  • Scores are the incidental and background music written by a single composer.

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

  • Music > Movies > Soundtracks > Hackers
  • Music > Movies> Soundtracks > Hackers 3
  • Music > Movies > Soundtracks > Underworld
Screenshot of the Music Sountracks folder.

Under the Scores subfolder, you’ll want to create subfolders for each composer. This is done because many composers write scores for more than one film. You might wind up collecting the movie scores by Michael Giacchino, so under Scores you might have:

  • Music > Movies > Scores > Michael Giacchino > Let Me In
  • Music > Movies > Scores > Michael Giacchino > Fringe
Screenshot of folders within the Movie Score folder.

Moving Your Folders and Saving Your Music

With the basic structure of your music library in place, it’s time to start moving those folders from your main drive to the new location. How you do this will depend upon the platform you use, but generally speaking, it’s best to copy and paste those folders one at a time and then, only when you have then entire collection copied, delete the originals from the main drive.

Delete With Caution

Do not delete anything until you know everything has been copied to the new drive. You could even take this one step further by copying everything to the new location and then backing that new location up to yet another drive.

If you’re just now starting to collect music, this won’t be nearly as time consuming. Simply create the new folder hierarchy on the new drive and, as you purchase new music, save it in the proper location. Remember, however, as you purchase a new album, you’ll want to create a new folder to house it. So if you purchase Devin Townsend’s “Empath”, you’d create the folder Music > Devin Townsend > Empath and then save the files into that new folder. Continue doing that with all of your music, and you’ll have a collection that is well organized, easy to search, and simple to backup.