How to Correctly Tag and Organize a Music Collection

Across computers worldwide, every individual's preferred method of music organization is different form the rest. Because music is shared through the internet in its disorganized state, the proliferation of horribly tagged audio has created a huge problem for anybody concerned with correctness and neatness.

The ID3 standard is available across many different file formats. These are the tags that our music players show and how different media players sort and organize the tunes. A few of the tag, such as Title, Album, or Artist are very standard and definitely used by most hardware/software. However, comments, rating, and all of the other useless information bits do not need to be included in a music file- it only clutters and confuses some players.

For those that are tired of seeing multiple artist/album entries in their iTunes, or for people deeply concerned with the accuracy of their ripped collection, there are no clear standards of which to follow. How music is organized on a drive, and how the file is interpreted after downloading it from the internet are all important aspects that should be diligently corrected and maintained. Now there are certainly a few groups that have attempted standardization (what.cd is a large influence), but inevitably their methods do not work for every instance or situation. The following is a guide written by us here at Sirrico-Net with a purpose of creating a de facto way of organizing. Our goal is to eliminate bad tagging worldwide and bring ourselves closer to an industry standard. This might certainly be boring, but it is definitely important.

How to Organize - File Structure

Where you put your music is a personal preference. In an "Audio" folder, in a separate hard drive, on a removable media, or even in a Win7 "Library", the main location of the music collection is moot. What does matter however, is that the music is isolated by itself.

  • Never keep your music in a downloads folder

Artist

Within your music "container" folder/drive/media is where you will place folders containing artist names.
Picture of Music Folder
The artists' names are typed however they are written and stylized by the artist. Your OS, file system, or file browser may do funny things to the order (such as placing numbers at the beginning or end) but that is not of importance. Artists with "The" in the name should be typed as "Beatles, The". Some filesystems cannot use certain character is folder/file names, so artists with "?" or any other reserved characters should have those specific characters replaced with an underscore "_".

Albums

Albums are placed within the artist folder as another folder. Each album is organized chronologically from release by denoting it with a year, a dash, and then the album name. The following is an example: "2011 - The Best Album Ever". Any style elements should be reproduced as best as possible. Doubt over the year to mark should default to the year that release was published. Re-releases should have the new year, not the original. The album art for that particular release should be placed in the directory with the title "folder.jpg" so older music players can display the artwork. Jpg is the recommended format, as some players refuse to recognize bmp or png files. Other artworks can be included as well, such as back.jpg (back of case) or disc.jpg, but they are completely optional. Picture of albums

Songs

Song titles should never stay "Track 1", "Track 2", etc... as if they were just ripped, and they should also never remain "wwwFREEm00siccom-goodbeats-bytheband.mp3" either. "01 Song Title" is the correct format. First is the track number with leading zeroes. A space, then another space precede the song title. No other information needs to be present here, no disc number, no artist information, and no extra comments. Only the song title information is needed to differentiate files, and the trailing track number is used for alphabetizing in the OS and legacy music programs that cannot read tags. Picture of tracks

How to Organize - Tagging

Newer music programs and hardware players are able to sort music based on the metadata contained within the file. You can tag a file directly through some audio programs, and also some operating systems let you edit the tags through changing the "properties". Here are the only tags that are relevant:
  • Artist
  • Track title
  • Album
  • Release date
  • Current track number
  • Total tracks
  • Disc number
  • Total discs

Ignore (and delete!) all other tags. Always tag in groups, meaning highlight all relevant tracks in an album and tag common information all at once. Then go individually and tag track information, such as the title and track number. Whenever you see a music library with multiple artist/album entries that are seemingly identical, it is because those common tags are different.

Special Cases

As sure as music artists will try to be unique, there will always be situations that bring doubt onto the best tagging/naming methods. The general rule of thumb is to stay as close to the artist's intentions as possible. Here are a few specific situations, though:

File Formats w/o Tagging Capabilities

FLAC, wav, and other common file types may not have ID3 information as part of the file data. Any good audio player will default to the old methods of collecting data - the filename and order as determined by the OS. The entire reason that we worry about correctly naming files and placing them in specific folders is because of these awkward file-types, and so the players can gather what information they can from the context clues. If possible, try tagging weird file types with the usual mp3 information, but if the information does not stick hopefully the player will figure out the rest.

Artist Changes Name

There are a few accounts of an artist releasing an album under one name, but then changing their name later and retroactively applying the new name to the old material. How to handle this is simple- use the name of the artist at the time of release to know what to tag it with. If the album is re-released later we can use the new name, but otherwise that original release should be directly tied to the name it was released under.

Extra Album/Track Information

Some tracks and albums need to be tagged with an extra bit of information, but we have already eliminated all of the tags except the essential ones. Say for instance a band re-releases an album in another country with bonus songs. The name is the same, but it cannot be exactly the same in our file structure or the OS will not accept it. In this case, we denote the extra information in the folder/file name within square brackets. "2001 - Awesome Album [Japanese Release]" would be an acceptable example, and within the track names we could have something such as "08 - Best Song on the Album [Live]". The main concept to gain from this section is that pertinent information should not be placed in tags, but rather in the file/folder names within square brackets thus explaining it is not the official title but that extra information is needed.

Different Mediums

Some albums we may have multiple releases of in different mediums, such as a 24 bit vinyl rip or a cassette release. Just as we did in the above section, we need to denote this in the folder name with brackets- "2011 - The Best II_ Return of the Best [Vinyl]". We do not denote CD releases because they should be the "master" release, or the release in which all others are compared to. Furthermore, because vinyl and cassette tapes usually use A and B notation for the side, we must use that same notation within our tagging.

Splits

Splits, or releases done by multiple artists should be labeled separately from the individual artists. The folder name should have both artists included, such as "Band, The & Buck Naked". The artist appearing first should be the "main" artist, or the artist whose record label produced the release. If this information is unavailable or there is doubt, the written order should be the order they appear in the track. Single tracks with guest artists (such as those commonly done in hip hop) should not have separate releases in tagging or file names unless the artist specifically denotes it. In most cases square brackets will suffice- "02 - Hippidy Hop [feat. Young Hoppy]", but if the song is actually called "02 - Hippidy Hop feat. Young Hoppy" then leave out the brackets.

Compilations and Soundtracks

Single artist compilations and greatest hits collections should be treated as albums. Record label samplers and multiple artist compilations are tricky, but it is probably best that they be put into a [Compilations] artist folder with album titles within. Moreover, soundtracks should be placed into a [Soundtracks] artist folder with "1999 - Movie Name" as the album folder titles. Tag compilation and soundtrack albums with the correct artist names, but the album title should be the movie soundtrack name or compilation title.
singles

Singles

Singles should be treated as albums, because they are indeed releases. See below for unreleased singles.

Un-categorized or Loose Tracks

Finally, tracks that were never released or leaked albums should be categorized as though they were official but with a [Leak] or [Unreleased] in the folder/title filename.

Conclusion

Correctly tagging our music collections is not only important, it determines the quality of our digital music for future generations. Whether your media player is a mess, or whether you are sick of searching through your downloads folder for the exact tune you want, consider tagging and naming your music with the correct conventions.

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