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9 Sep 2010

How I Stay Digitally Organized: Digital Audio Files

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As most of you know, my old media server crashed hard, and was unrecoverable. I lost over 250,000 songs, and countless other things. Being the IT geek that I am, it still boggles my mind that I did not have a backup plan for all that content. So, after learning the hard way, redundancy is key.


First I need to talk about where/how to store important files like media files. All of my media files are stored in one place as a master and other places as copies. I keep my master copy on my home NAS and then I have secondary copies on my External Drive. This is the ideal way to keep this information backed up for me. If I ever find a file that is labeled wrong I change it on the master copy and eventually it will filter down to the copies. Storing everything in one place has helped my organization habits more than anything.


This is pretty simple. I try and keep all my files at the following type and quality. However, this sometimes varies from the source that I get the audio from.

  • Type: MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (mp3)
  • Quality: 192 kbps CBR / 44.1KHz / Stereo


In order to keep all of the files organized I had to make a standard naming scheme for all my files and folders. Here is what I chose. The directory path is named Genre/Artist/AlbumYear-Album and then the songs in each relavant folder are named TrackNumber-TrackName. Extra things that I make sure all my music folders have is that every album folder has a album.jpg file of the album cover art and every artist folder has a group.jpg named after each artist I have. Each file is also embedded with all this information, including album art, called ID3 MetaData.

(Rule 1) Folder Structure

General Folder Structure

Special Folder Structures (see Rule 2 exceptions)

(Rule 2) File Naming

All files must cohere the following format
%Track Number%-%Song Title%

Compilations & Soundtracks
The artist who performs the song goes in the ARTIST field
In the COMPOSER tag enter "Various Artists" and rename the file such that coheres to the following
%Track Number%-%Artist%-%Song Title%

(Rule 3) Albums with multiple CD's

The folder structure will remain the same. The track name will change
%Discnumber%%Track Number%-%Song Title%

So, for example, I have the artist The Black Keys. Here is what the folder structure looks like:

  • Blues
    • The Black Keys
      • 2008-Attack & Release
        01-All You Ever Wanted.mp3
        02-I Got Mine.mp3
      • 2010-Brothers
        01-Everlasting Light.mp3
        02-Next Girl.mp3


I use iTunes to rate my music. I don't do this religiously, and really should, as it helps weed out some of the "bad" songs. It also helps when creating smart playlists and doing other filtering tasks.

1 star
I award a single star to every song that needs to be deleted or re-downloaded. I award it to duplicates, sound effects, holiday music (which also gets tagged with an identical genre), television theme songs, and related tracks that I only want played when I ask specifically for them.

2 stars
This is my least-used rating, but it does come in handy. For the most part, songs with two stars are the very short filler tracks that seem to pop up on a ton of albums these days. Naturally, these tracks are distracting on most occassions, but have their place, for example, if I want to listen to the entire album. I also use two stars for bad music.

3 stars
These songs make up the meat of my collection, but are closely rivaled in quantity by the 4-star tracks. I give out the 3-star rating to the mediocre tracks, the vast majority of my classical collection (except the great ones that receive more stars), and many of the "weird-but-important" tunes that make up my library. Three-star songs are songs that might deserve another listen-through and could potentially be boosted a level from time to time. Where a 4-star rating all but guarantees placement on my iPod, I'll occassionally let some of these guys through for the hell of it, but almost never include them in party mixes.

4 stars
If a track gets four stars, that means it is a winner, a song that I like to listen to. The 4-star rating is pretty much the top rating I award (except as mentioned below). If I like it, it gets 4. These songs are the ones I use to make smart playlists for my iPod and for general listening. Not 4 stars - no deal. This is definitely the easiest category to populate. You know which tracks deserve this.

5 stars
If four stars is the best, what about five stars? Well, five star songs can't really be described, but everyone knows what they are. These are songs that, the minute they come on, get you excited. Like really excited. The songs you have strong feelings for because they remind you of moments in your life. Five-star songs are four-star songs that have transcended. They're just special, and you would never think of going anywhere without them.


I have used Mp3tag to edit all of my songs by hand. Yes it has been very tedious but I have yet to find a automatic tagging system that did well for me. This took a while but is well worth it. Mp3tag is the most powerful editor that I have found to-date. I have also scripted the output so it dumps the information to my SQL server that this site uses, but I will not be going into that.

I am currently in the process of copying all of our DVD's to our home network. This is a new process to me, as I have never delt much with video files in the past. I will post a write-up of how I organized that content, as well as how I did it once I figure out the best way.

Once all my media is organized on one source it is fairly easy keeping it maintained (so long as I am the only one writing to the NAS). Got any tips or questions just let me know in the comments.

One Comment

Posted by Drew
September 13, 2010 @ 12:01 PM

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