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Organizing Your Music Collection For Replay On Your Streamed Audio Multi-room Music System

written by: Profacgillies•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/2/2009

One of the key advantages of having a music collection organized on a central store and distributed over a network is the ability to select, sort, and locate tracks. This article describes the process of organizing your library by editing your metadata to get the best out of your collection.

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    Why is Organizing Your Music Collection Important?

    One of the key benefits of a music collection stored in one place is the ability to locate your music quickly and to play individual tracks, albums, or music types either sequentially or using shuffle mode. The key to this facility is properly ordered metadata.

    If you get your music from CDs, iTunes, Amazon, then it will come with metadata describing the artist, genre, year of release and track number. This will help you organize your collection so that you can play individual tracks, albums, or music types either sequentially or using shuffle mode. For example, you may like to play all your tracks by one artist in shuffle mode or play sequentially through all your folk music, or just want to play an entire album in its original order, for which you need track number metadata.

    Inevitably when you create a large library, the automated metadata is not perfect. In my library I found two particular problems:

    1. Artists being tagged with similar but not identical names eg Emerson Lake and Palmer; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Emerson Lake & Palmer; Emerson, Lake & Palmer are four different artists to my music player software
    2. A proliferation of genres eg Folk, Folk-Rock, Folk/Rock, Folk-Pop

    You will need to decide first which tags you want to use, and then edit the data manually to achieve the desired result. This can be achieved with either the editors built into your music player or using a specialist editor such as EasyTAG, an open source editor available for PC, Mac and Linux.

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    Edting Your Metadata In Songbird

    Accessing the EditorUsing the Editor
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    What Tags Should I Use?

    When I assembled my music library, mostly from my existing CD using dBPoweramp's CD ripper application (see for a review), I focused my efforts on the artists and genre metadata as these are the labels I use most often to identify what I wish to listen to.

    It's worth thinking about how you want to organize things before you do it. Take artists for example. Some manual editing arises from artists being tagged with similar but not identical names. Decide what your preferred version is, and then standardize on your preferred choice. You can generally tag a whole album at once to save time. If you list your artists alphabetically it will generally highlight problems by locating them together as in the example above. More complex is the situation where an artist has made albums with a number of bands. Thus, Bruce Springsteen has produced albums as Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band. Do you want to tag these as separate entities or all as Bruce Springsteen? If as I do, you sometimes wish to listen to his entire catalogue in shuffle mode, then you need to store them under one single name.

    Similarly with genre. Automatic tagging often produces a proliferation of genres. I suggest that you should restrict the number of genres to make best use of this facility. The first stage is to combine different versions of the same genre eg Folk-Rock, or Folk/Rock. The second stage is to consider how many categories you wish to have. Do you want to subdivide Folk into Folk, Folk Rock and Folk Pop? Or Rock into Rock, Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Punk Rock? The third stage is to consider whether to combine very similar categories: I combined Musicals with Soundtracks, Swing with Big Band, and New Wave with Punk Rock. Finally, you need to decide whether an artist fits within a single genre. I have made the conscious decision to tag all the output from a single artist with the same genre. You may disagree and find it unimaginable to tag electric era Dylan tracks as Folk, for example. I suggest that in spite of the esoteric satisfaction that can be gained by being able to define the difference between say Folk Rock and Rock Folk, a smaller number of genres will actually prove more satisfying.

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    Making effective use of metadata tags is vital to gaining maximum benefit from your multi-room music system. The three golden rules are:

    1. Use a music source which reliably tags most of your music automatically like iTunes, Amazon MP3, or a CD ripper such as dBPoweramp
    2. Think about how you want to organize your music before starting to manually edit your metadata
    3. Use the facilities of your metadata editor to work smart and change multiple selections at one time