How to Organise a Music Library (out of iTunes) Effortlessly

Sept 11 is a unfortunate date to remember; my hard disk unsuspectingly crashed on me the night I returned home from my hometown. One week before, I had manually backup-ed all my documents, movies and most importantly, pictures into my new 1TB external hard disk… do you notice something missing? I had conveniently forgot about the music!

For a month since then, I had exactly three albums in my iTunes; Spring Waltz OST, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack, and a recent billboard list, adding up to a total of less than 100 songs. This was until last week, where I discovered that on the very same day that I painfully backed up the documents, movies and pictures manually, I had miraculously used the Time Machine (an Apple backup utility) in a separate hard disk. This meant that I had unknowingly backup-ed all my music! – lucky me!

My Music directory size increased from about 0.5GB (<100 songs) to a whopping 30GB of songs. This included some songs that were previously given so generously by my friends through their external hard disks and Dropbox. Although it was exhilarating to have almost 4000 songs in one night, everything was all over the place and made it difficult to filter what I want to listen and what needed to go to the trash.

The Goal

My goal is to sort up all the songs into directories by artist, with subdirectories by album before I add them into my iTunes. If there was one thing I was particular, was organising my music library. Manual sorting for a couple of songs is easy, but in large chunks, it can put off some people.

Artist > Album

To speed up the process, I followed a system, which I will share in the tutorial below. This tutorial (adapted from here) aims to organise a massive music library autotag and rename music files automatically using Music Brainz Picard tagging software. 

(P.S. If you just want to tag and rename music files (without changing the location), follow this tutorial.)

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

– Bill Gates

The Process (shown via Mac OS)

Step 1: Locate the  Primary Directory

This directory that contains all the music files and subdirectory that you want to sort. Name your primary directory to something you can distinguish easily, e.g. Music Unsorted. It does not matter if there are other file extensions inside as Picard will only extract music files extensions (e.g. mp3 and .m4a).

Step 2: Download and Install MusicBrainz Picard (Freeware)

Go to this website to download MusicBrainz Picard and download the version compatible to your operating system. It is available for three main OS, Mac, Windows and Linux.

Start the application.

MusicBrainz Picard interface

MusicBrainz Picard interface

Step 3: Edit the preferences

Go to the MusicBrainz Picard > Preferences. There are a few details in these tabs:

3.1. General 

Check the automatically scan all new files box.

Picard will immediately scan and tag all the songs that are added to it.

3.2.  File naming

(a) Check the “Rename files when saving” box

(b) Change the “name files like this” to:

%artist%/%album%/%artist%-%title%

This shows that the files will be moved into a directory based on the artist, and a subdirectory based on it’s album artwork. The files will be named based on Artist name – Title of Track. Example, if The Script release the song “Nothing” in the album Science and Faith in 2011, the file will be arranged to:

The Script > Science and Faith > The Script – Nothing.mp3

(c) Check the “Move the files to this directory when saving” box

Determine the output directory. Example, name it as Picard. All the songs that are processed by Picard will be saved into this location. If this box is unchecked, the processed files will be in the same directory.

Sample of File Naming

Sample of File Naming

3.3.  Fingerprinting

The fingerprinting calculator should be similar to below. If it is not available,

/Applications/MusicBrainz Picard.app/Contents/MacOS/fpcalc

Obtain the API key by clicking the “Get API Key” It will redirect you to a website to identify yourself when submitting fingerprints. Every computer will generate a unique API key.

Fingerprinting

Fingerprinting

This is extremely necessary to identify the songs! 

Step 4: Run the application.

At the interface, add the primary directory  into the unmatched files area. It would start loading the album information with the appropriate metadata in the songs.

Run.. run...

Run.. run…

Step 5: Save  SAVE SAVE! 

On the right column, select all the entire list and watch the magic happens. It will move all the music files into appropriate folders as set in Step 3.2. Go to the relevant directories to determine if it works! To check the information of the file, select any song and go to

File > Get Info

The file information will change to the correct album, artist and year. See the two samples below and determine teh difference.

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

When you import these (sorted) songs into iTunes, iTunes will automatically fill in the metadata, which saves tons of work in the my next tutorial: How to Organise Your iTunes .

Step 6: What is MISSING? 

In your original folders, there are residue of files of which the metadata cannot be properly located, thus not converted and saved into the new directory. There are other applications to work on this issue, unfortunately not covered in this tutorial.

Step 7: Enjoy

Enjoy your properly sorted music!

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Disclaimer: This tutorial was not written with any intention to subvert copyright laws. Although these steps worked for me, I make no representation to any misleading information or errors that may arise in your trial. Please ensure that you have a backup of the library and media folders before running the application.

For personal use only.

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