How to Manage Your Music Library

Organize your music collection to make it easier to find songs

A large collection of CDs



If you have an extensive music collection on your computer, then you should 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, you must first decide where you want your music library to live. If possible, consider moving your music library to an external hard drive, preferably a solid state drive (SSD) since they are faster, quieter, and more reliable than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) That way, if your computer dies, you won't lose your music collection.

On average, 1,000 MP3 files require about 2GB, so if you have a 500GB solid state drive, you should be able to store 250,000 songs. A 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD drive can be purchased from Amazon for under $80.00 USD. 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 Organizing Music vs. Music File Managers and Tagging Apps

While there are plenty of 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 specific tool. If you'd rather search for songs using your system's file manager, you might be out of luck.

The same thing holds true for applications that allow you to edit music file tags; most tagging applications do not integrate with file managers. Taking the time to set up your own 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 its own 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

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.

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

Organizing 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.

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. 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.

Do not delete any music files until you know for sure that everything has been transferred to the new drive.