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How to Automatically Sort, Organise and Tag a Large Music Collection

By December 21, 2013 January 2nd, 2014 8 Comments

I recently decided that it was about time I sorted out my very messy music collection, which I’ve built up over the years every since the MP3 file format really took off. From a variety of sources, whether that’s CDs that I’ve ripped, MP3s bought from the likes of Amazon or Google Play, or any other legal source, things have a tendency to get rather messy and when there’s over 50GB worth of files, it’s certainly not a job I would ever get round to doing manually!

I experimented with quite a few programmes, many of which I quickly uninstalled after I found they weren’t up to the job. In the end, I used 4 main pieces of software to get the job done, and I’m very pleased with how each one performed. I won’t go into great depth on how to use each one because there are already plenty of online tutorials on each one, not least on the vendors’ websites, but if you’re wanting to sort out your music collection, you can follow my recommendations and save time researching and looking for programs yourself!

All but one of these programmes are free, but the one you pay for (Bliss) is a great tool and I’d say it’s definitely worth the very reasonable cost.

To start with, I created a new folder called “Music (Sorted)” to sit alongside my Music folder. The idea was that gradually my Music folder would empty as all sorted music got moved, after which I deleted my Music folder and renamed the “sorted” folder to just “Music”.

1) Automatically tagging, renaming and moving your music files to a structured system: Musicbrainz Picard (free)

Website: https://musicbrainz.org/doc/MusicBrainz_Picard

I found this to be the best of all the apps I tried for the bulk of the work (until I found Bliss – see number 4). This scans your entire music collection and then recognises what’s what and depending on your preferred convention (which you can specify in the settings) it will correctly tag each MP3 file and arrange them into folders for album, inside a folder for that artist. It will also rename all the tracks in your music collection to follow a neat and logical convention.

The simplest way for it to understand what an MP3 is is by the tags it already has, and if they’re incomplete or inconsistent it will sort this out for you. If the tags are no help, it can also scan the track Shazam-style and work out what song it is from its digital footprint. Pretty cool!

2) Get rid of any duplicate music files in your collection: Duplicate Cleaner (free, or £19.95 for “Pro” version)

Website: http://www.digitalvolcano.co.uk/duplicatecleaner.html

After Picard had done its work, it diligently put duplicate files in the right place, albeit with a “(1)” after the main filename. Clearly, this isn’t ideal so running this little program enabled me to weed out any unnecessary files and shave a good few gigabytes of storage space off my music collection’s total, so that’s great news!

It has several options so you can ask it to do precisely what you do want, and it gives you the option of moving files rather than actually deleting them, so you can give it a quick check through to make sure it’s not made any mistakes before you take the plunge and delete forever.

3) Get rid of empty folders with Remove Empty Directories (free)

Website: http://sourceforge.net/projects/rem-empty-dir/

Similar to the above, this handy little tool removes any, er… empty directories. ‘Nuff said really.

This was useful because as I’d told Picard to move sorted files to a new folder called “Music (Sorted)” I was left with a tonne of empty folders, making it a bit hard to see what was left to sort. This fixed that in no time.

4) The pièce de resistance: Scan your music collection and automatically fix album art with Bliss (£30)

Website: http://www.blisshq.com/

At this point I had a really nice and organised music collection but I wasn’t yet ready to upload it all back to my Google Play Music account yet, as it was missing album art. When they heard what I was doing, the folks over at Bliss HQ were kind enough to give me a free copy of their unlimited fixes package, which meant I could scan the whole of my music collection and fix the missing, incorrect or low-quality album art.

I was really impressed with Bliss, and I’m not just saying that because they gave me a free copy for the blog! Had I found this at the start, it probably would have been all I needed as it does sorting/tagging too, so I’d urge you to give this a go before you even look at the others. Rather than running as a Windows application, this runs as a service in the background and you access its user interface via a web application at http://localhost:3220/

I had to uninstall and reinstall it to get it working (which was the only negative point) but once it was up and running it got started straight away and it was even quite fun watching it work. It scours the web from reputable sources such as Wikipedia and Amazon (edit: it doesn’t use Amazon; see comments section below) to find the correct album art, and it can embed it into the MP3 files for you or leave a cover.jpg file in the directory for you – it’s up to you. Once I’d started it going and watched it for a few minutes I left it going overnight, expecting it to take hours and hours… but when I got up the following morning it had only taken about 3 hours to do the whole lot! Some bits of art it couldn’t find, which is understandable as they were from the more obscure tracks, although some other really obscure music it found which I certainly wasn’t expecting!

So, my work was then complete and the whole lot was uploaded back to Google Play, and I now have a much more organised and easy to use music collection for when I’m listening to music on the Android app or via the Google Play web app. It also meant that I could really easily select out 32GB worth of music to put on an SD card for my car stereo.

Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul Freeman-Powell

Paul (@paulfp) is the main presenter of the award-winning Switched On Network YouTube Channel, which covers a variety of interesting topics usually relating to his love of technology and all things geeky. He also founded and runs Innobella Media, where he leads in all aspects of video production, video editing, sound & lighting. A father of 3 children including twins, his hobbies used to include photography, playing the drums and cycling. With a degree in Modern European Languages, Paul speaks French, Spanish and a little bit of Italian, and holds dual British & Irish citizenship.

8 Comments

  • Dan Gravell says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the review. One clarification: bliss doesn’t download images from Amazon.

    Well… it may find images on Amazon via the Google Image search you get when you manually change art, but Amazon isn’t used for the automatic artwork fetch, because to use their API is against their ToS.

  • Paul Taylor says:

    Hi, another alternative is my own SongKong http://jthink.net/songkong/. This does all steps listed: match songs, delete duplicates and remove empty folders. Unlike Picard that only matches from the MusicBrainz database SongKong also matches songs from the larger Discogs database giving better coverage of obscure tracks.

    • Tenkei says:

      Thanks for pointing out SongKong. That one so far worked way better then what was suggested on this page.

  • Tenkei says:

    Wow, bliss and MusicBrainz both got half of my songs incorrect. I know my list has some rarities in it but not that many.

  • Andrew Paquette says:

    So I want to be clear. Which of these programs, if any, changed the names of the actual files? I’m asking because through my research, programs like tune up media actually are just plugins that work through itunes or windows media player and only change the track info in the playlist and not the actual filename of the mp3.

  • HKR says:

    did you use songkong? @paulfpdotnet… if yes , then does it work

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