Tools & Workflow Ideas For Organising Your Music Library

mp3Tag

mp3Tag for Windows is a powerful utility to let you perform all kinds of bulk actions on your musics’ tags.

In An Essential Guide To Organising Your Music Library (which was part four of this occasional series looking at ways of better organising your DJ music collection), we considered how we might like to classify the tracks and tags. My last stage of music library organisation is choosing the right tools and workflow to go from “download to deck-load”, which is what we’re going to look at today.

Before we get going, I’d like to stress once again that these are guidelines and not rules: They’re here to help empower youself to make your own choices. Ultimately, the important thing is to do what works for you!

How it used to be…
Before digital music became so prolific, collectors and DJs would create personalised and often abstract ways of grouping, ordering and sorting their record collection. Many would have piles of records and CDs ordered by purchase date, artist or popularity. When preparing for a DJ gig, you’d be restricted to 100 to 200 or so records to choose from. Each week you’d sift through what you played before and decide which tracks should remain for the next gig and which new records you would add.

Sleeve artwork became the quickest way to identify records, and although it is still valuable to have this for digital tracks the primary way we now search is through text-based tags that we are creating or editing. So how do we edit the metadata and ensure our libraries have the right information in today’s digital environment?

From download to deck-load…

So you’re shopping for music, you’ve listened to a few tracks and have decided to purchase a cart of a dozen or so digital downloads. What next? We’ve already seen that in most cases the information embedded in the files by your music store is either incorrect or inconsistent, so you cannot rely on it. In addition, many people like to perform additional processing on their music downloads before they are actually imported into their library.

To give you an idea of how this workflow might work, I’ll share my personal method for getting my tracks processed before I start to use them. Remember this is just one way of doing it, but hopefully it’ll illustrate some concepts for you.

(By the way, I have a PC-based system and use iTunes and Traktor, both which of course are fairly popular library / DJ applications.)

1. Download
Whether purchasing direct from the iTunes store or some other online store such as Juno, Beatport or AudioJelly, the first thing I do is move the location of the digital files to my editing folder, aptly called “AV Editing”, if they are not saved their in the first place. This is where all my editing takes place.

If downloading from the iTunes store, the tracks will automatically be added to your library. For DJs and those who like to keep control of their music, it is recommended to not “Keep iTunes Media folder organised” or “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” in the advanced preferences of iTunes. This way you can edit the metadata outside of iTunes if you prefer, relocate where you’d like it to be stored in your own folder structure and then import it back into iTunes. If you’re using a different application to manage your library then the same principle applies.

2. Edit
The best tool I’ve found for editing tags in the tracks is mp3Tag because it works on so many different formats, is quick, and is good for both beginners and more advanced users. When setting this up, you can store frequently used naming conventions and completely remove existing tags from “dirty” files if desired.

I tend to select whole releases and start by editing the release (album) title, the year (release date) and artist for all tracks in that release at once. I then look at the extended tags and clear or delete some of them such as the genre and comments unless I see some useful information in them that I want to keep or relocate. Finally, I go through each track and ensure the title and remix is correctly labelled according to my preferences.

You can create some neat macros in mp3Tag that allow you to transform one tag or part of one tag into another. For example, I have an action that allows me to copy the year tag and force it into the iTunes release date field, something which cannot normally be edited within iTunes. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any remotely similar app for Macs.

If album artwork is missing then now is a good time to add it. I prefer to add it to the file itself. This adds a little extra size to the file but prevents the need for multiple cached copies to be stored elsewhere in the other tools and music playback devices you use. Two great sources for album artwork are the Discogs website and of course, Google’s image search. I found all but a small handful of obscure tracks from my 14K library during my library revamp from these two sources.

3. Rename and relocate
Once you’ve edited the tags themselves, a tool such as mp3Tag makes it even easier to “Convert Tags to Filenames” and allows you to choose which tags to use to construct the filename. I use “Album Year Track Artist – Title” but you can tailor it according to your needs. Alternative tools such as Bulk Rename Utility can also be useful for batch editing filenames, but the benefit of doing everything in one tool is that you can convert back and forth easily.

Then all you need to do is move the files to the folder(s) of your choice based on the structure you have set up beforehand. By being in control of that structure you ensure that you know where your files are and this gives you added awareness about your library.

4. Audio processing
Tools such as Mixed In Key and Platinum Notes (the latter of which has just had an upgrade) are quite popular among DJs for making adjustments and musical analysis of the audio in each file. Whether you use these tools or not is up to you but they can add some sparkle and information to help with your presentation. A word of warning though. Be aware of excessive claims by software to turn your MP3s into high quality lossless audio files or anything that actually manipulates the frequencies. This could wreak havoc on certain sound systems and potentially corrupt the original audio composition.

For my needs, I use a tool called iVolume to adjust the “Sound Check” level used by iTunes and iDevices to ensure a consistent volume when listening to my music. This is basically level normalisation but with the caveat that the audio in the file itself is not actually affected, just the playback software is told to alter the volume. In addition, I import and analyse the tracks in Trakor which then adds both the BPM and key information to the digital files.

iVolume

iVolume, like MP3Gain, alters the volume of the file to make it as loud as possible but without changing the actual music, just a “flag” within the tagging,

5. Add to library
The final step is to import or add the new files into my music library, iTunes. All the metadata I added and edited in the files themselves is then read and pulled into the iTunes database, ready to use. There are a few things I might amend within iTunes once this is done. For instance, I might ensure Album Artist exists if required, check whether the selection of tracks is a compilation or not, and of course add the new files to my “Rate Me” playlist.

This is the playlist I use to add information such as genre, star rating, comments etc. which I prefer to do while actually listening to the track. You may also need to import or transfer the new tracks into the DJ software of your choice if you haven’t already done so.

And there we are – we’ve reached “deck-load”. With all your tracks refined and organised, it should now be much easier to find, load and play your new tracks as part of your well organised library.

Baby steps are better than no steps…

Back in the second article of this series I recommended that you “start as you mean to go on” when it comes to music library organisation. Starting somewhere is important. Some may argue that this workflow is too much effort and again it’s down to you to determine where you start and what you’re willing to do. Nobody is saying you have to do this all at once (like I did) so here are a couple of extra tips and ideas to get you motivated. Many of us listen to music via our phones, music players and tablets. Whatever music and playlists you have on those devices, why not organise this while you’re listening to it, a few tracks at a time.

“But I can’t edit tags on my phone” you might say. Wrong. There are things you can do. Sure it may not be as direct as with a keyboard and large screen but here’s what you could try:

  • Rate each track using the star ratings in the music player (all iPhone/iPads have this)
  • Create new playlists titled as genres. Add new tracks with the same genre to these playlists as you listen to them. When you synchronise your device with your music library the playlists should transfer across. You can then select all tracks in that playlist and edit the genre tag for all of them to be the same, permanently adjusting their genre. Repeat this technique for other fields that are common among tracks eg energy levels in the comments field
  • Write notes about tracks that you need to adjust or organise. Put them in a separate “to do” playlist
  • Prepare cue points and loops using apps on your devices or note down your desire to do this. Some iOS DJ apps now allow you to prepare your tracks for DJing while you’re on the move (Traktor DJ, djay). This is an excellent tool and although not strictly speaking, part of your music library organisation, it certain aids the workflow and speed to using the track when playing

Each of these are examples of making use of what you have to hand to aid your music library organisation. Nobody is forcing you to do this but it may just help.

Finally…

Having a workflow is important and there are plenty of other tools you can use. I’d really like to hear about your suggestions, particularly if you’re a Mac user. Your workflow may be a lot simpler than mine and it would be great to know what works for you and if you have any tips for all of us.

What workflow do you follow when adding new music to your collection? are there any extra tools that are part of your process? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Eric B. says:

    Great insight overall. Heck, I feel like my tunes would be able to perform open heart surgery if I followed all these steps regularly. As more of a beginner, I find that checkmarking the “copy to library” and “keep music folder organized” options have helped me out in the long run since I don’t do much editing outside of iTunes. I usually download, find key of song manually and type it in “comments” for the song, then import it into Traktor and find BPM, make cue points, etc. It’s true: “Starting somewhere is important”… it’s all about just finding what works for you and adding more intricate elements and steps as you go on.

    • Shenoizy says:

      This is perfectly fine, if it works for you then great. I know that some people rely on a folder structure that they can navigate so letting iTunes manage it all would mess this up for them. It can also cause problems for some DJ software which is expecting a fixed structure.

    • I find exactly like you Eric. but something else that might speed up your key finding workflow (freeware for mac) http://www.ibrahimshaath.co.uk/keyfinder hope this helps. I also use Traktor to analyze Bpm and also have Traktor Dj on my Ipad so it also analyzes everything in there..key, tempo etc. not sure if and how it stores the metadata for visibility on Itunes..Hope this helps some cheers JKA

  2. DJ Tommy-V says:

    You can use MP3TAG on a Mac if you use WineBottler (http://winebottler.kronenberg.org/). This is a tool to let you run (simple) Windows software on OS X. My DJ music all gets the MP3TAG treatment this way …

    • I purchased Parallels just to be able to run MP3Tag on my Mac. everything runs perfect. Benefits of using Parallels over Wine, is that you can upgrade to the latest version as you would on a PC. Drag and Drop works like a charm too!

    • I also use winebottler for use with Tag&Rename.
      I tried paralles but found it to be overkill to just run a simple tagging tool.

  3. Brian Foster says:

    What do you guys do when you are starting to have songs with the same name in your collection? I’ve gotten to that point; so much music, that I am getting multiples with the same name.

    • I use the comments section to differentiate them. I might add a comment like “vocal version” or “the one I like most”. Just something that, when read, will help me identify the track quickly. Hope that helps, cheers!

      • DJ Homei says:

        Personally I just add “Inst” “Dub” etc. into the title if the official title doesn’t work. It’s my collection!!!

    • Shenoizy says:

      I run into this problem quite often because I’ll get a single release of the tracks and then find it on a compilation or album a few months later. The first thing to do is label them correctly and check which version they are e.g. a radio edit or extended club mix. This should be included with both track titles so you can differentiate. The length of the track also helps with this. Finally, decide which one you’ll want to use more and highlight it somehow. I tend to use non-radio edits where possible and by rating each mix will know which one to use. The single version is also likely to have more distinctive album art so might help you differentiate further.

  4. This is what I mean when I say that being a good DJ takes hard work and dedication. If you’re willing to go through this process, or one similar to it, it will be reflected in your performance. After a while it gets easier and faster to get your tracks into your library. OCD helps too lol!

  5. To tag on my phone I use an Android app called “AudioTagger” which works ok. Other than that I use a similar method to the article except without iTunes

  6. Stavros says:

    All this is well and good. Shame you cannot attach tags to videos…or can you? i started using video clips for a gig i do once in two weeks. what can you do with those? any ideas? or is the folder structure the only way to go?

  7. DJ Homei says:

    I find smart tags can with the utility side of prepping and sorting your collection. Some I use:

    “added in the last 3 day (also 3 weeks)”
    Really helps me keep track of the newer songs that may need additional comments and data tweaking.

    “stupid genre”
    A list of broad, useless genre tags that from the store for re-naming: Electronic, Techno, Dance, etc.

    “missing . . . ” (cover art, year, whatever)
    Great for keeping collection consistent and mp3s that still need some additional tagging love.

  8. I use a Macbookpro with itunes and Traktor. This is what I do from download to deck load ;)

    -After downloading I group all my files in a special folder (inside my downloads folder). Here is where I analyze them with Mixed in key

    -Then I import my tracks to the itunes library and do the editing here:

    1. correcting and/or editing track names and artists (I like to place the remix info in with the artist info) 2.rating 3.copying them to different playlists

    *for electronic music I have different playlists organized by genre or by subgenres depending on the style, e.g. I have one for DnB but I have 4 playlists for House such as Deep House, Tech House, Electro House…

    • evil twin says:

      MIK is pretty useless nowadays, now that Traktor (as of 2.6.1) can detect the key… so you can skip the special folder part.

      • No so fast… I have the latest version of traktor BUT I make my set lists in iTunes and thats why I need the to have the key info in iTunes.

        I really hope there will be better integration between these two programs in the next traktor updates. It’s begging for it.

      • evil twin says:

        rob, you can still use Traktor for key detection and refresh the iTunes library later on.

      • What do you mean. As far as i know, traktor doesn’t write the key info on the metadata. You can only see it while running the software. So if I want to have that info in iTunes I have to use Mixed in key…

        I would love to have TRAKTOR key info with my iTunes playlists INSIDE Traktor. Otherwise I have to make these playlists again in Traktor and honestly I can’t be bothered. I hope some NI guys read this stuff every once in a while.

        I you have any suggestions to do this I would appreciate it.

  9. Definitely to each their own this one. I have always had ticked the two boxes you don’t in iTunes, and it has always been a HUGE blessing. The reason for me is I forget to do stuff sometimes, and iTunes keeping it all organised for me save me messing up. I find the iTunes and Traktor integration to be quite excellent. I do have primary playlists in Traktor, usually saved histories/set lists of a particular night, and also mixes that get posted online. I use iTunes Playlists to organise newly downloaded tracks (and of course archived classics) into first date acquired (month & year) and then genre. So for May 2013 for example, I’ll have at least 3 or 4 for this month of differing ‘how I like to categorise’. This works for me!! I plan a few ‘crates’ for different stages of the night in advance of about 7-9 hours worth of music. I’ll even give a very rough order for those tracks in each crate (of course this usually goes out the windows after the first 20-30 minutes when I settle into a groove, but I feel a bit more comfortable having the first 4 or 5 planned. Of course if they are not working by track two for the crowd you have, then its out of the window, and after an hour or two if its all going well and people like the vibe, I’ll start trawling for that one classic tune I can sing but CAN’T REMEMBER THE BLOODY NAME OF!!!! :)

  10. Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

    I use Tag&Rename for tag work, sounds as powerful as MP3Tag.

    Greetinx,
    C.

  11. Beginner’s Question about iVolume: if iTunes already adjust the “sound check” level, why use iVolume? Is it more consistant? Is it helping in the DJ software like Serato or Traktor meaning you don’t have to adjust your gains as much?

  12. I just found http://musicbrainz.org/ has a program called music brainz picard which auto tags. I copied my library before letting it make changes and there is some mistagging, but it’s mostly spot on.

  13. Does anyone know a good duplicate file finder for osX? I have used them on PC to clean up my sample libraries in the studio but can’t find an equivalent program from my mac I use as my DJ computer.

  14. I use Tagscanner.

  15. futureglue says:

    There’s one thing I don’t understand here: rating your songs…

    Jesse Saunders used to say: ‘ I don’t have any 7 or 8s in my crates. I might have some 9s but the rest are 10.’

    That’s the way a song enters (and exits) my collection. if it’s oh-hum why/when would I ever play it?

    I pride myself of having only cream in my stacks. And god knows there’s enough great music out there…

    • If you’re remixing live, especially with 4-decks, many times there are only sections of certain tracks you want to parse and incorporate into a mix.

      You also have to be prepared to play some tracks you don’t care for but you know are crowd pleasers. Take any Guetta or SHM track, for instance. The crowd may think its a 10, but in DJ bones you know its really a 2 or 3. Regardless of what you think of a given track, the dance floor is a democracy and you’re paid to play the 10s.

  16. MP3 Tag all the way baby
    you can even import folder name to “album” field
    (recently found out how to do this)
    plus i can add a whole bunch of folders, including subs and apply batch tag like genre… etc
    plus there are scripts to clean up file names like change those stupid .s and _s to spaces Capitalize names

  17. could anyone help me? i am trying to copy key data from traktor into the comments tag any idea how i can do this without doing it one by one??

    • A bit of a “round-about” way, would be to use Mp3Tag / Tag&Rename, highlight all the tracks you want, then batch rename the tracks using the tags, something like: artist – title – comment (key). Once all are renamed, use the “get tags from filename” to get the tags, obviously now putting the comment at the end of the filename into the key section of the tag. Once done rename the tracks from tags again, this time without the comment (key). Although this is a 3-step process, it should still be relatively quick as each step is a batch process.

    • B.B. Koning says:

      You could use Rapid Evolution 3 to do this. It is free software.

      You can set it to put either the camelot code, key or both in the comments field of the mp3 tag. Just make sure there are no other comments in the field prior, because sometimes RE does not want to put that info in if there is something already there.

      http://www.mixshare.com/software.html

  18. Tagging certainly has been made easier with software, but one thing I still struggle with is getting album art for all my older tracks I ripped years ago. It’s a massive collection that just takes forever manually searching song by song.
    Anyone have suggestions for an “auto” album art finder?

  19. I pretty much follow the steps as described in this article.
    I rip cd’s with ez cd audio converter or download the music files. For missing tag info I have been using mp3tag for many years now. For semi automatic tagging multiple folders I use magic tagger.
    For key detection I use mixed in key. For old vinyl files I have heard – and seen through the wave forms – spectaculair improvements through platinum notes.
    I have been using mp3collector for many years as my music database program. I still cannot get used to iTunes as a database program, think because of my addiction to mp3collector.
    For my video files I use moviecollector.
    Virtual DJ is what I use for djing because it’s capable of handling video files unlike Traktor.

  20. mac tools:
    1 – cleanup mp3 (m4a, flac, ogg) tags with Media Rage
    2 – get key/energy with Mixed In Key (“key – energy” in comment)
    3 – fix mastering/volume with Platinum Notes
    4 – put files into music folder
    5 – use iTunes only for private music (still with me – just in case)

    Media Rage can do almost everything that mp3Tag does: http://www.chaoticsoftware.com/ProductPages/MediaRage.html

  21. I highly HIGHLY recommend this program:
    http://tspotter.net/

    It takes a while to get used to and is a little buggy at times (but with a great programmer that listens to suggestions on the support forums), but it has saved me HOURS of time tagging my tracks.

    Automatically pulls info from Beatport or Discogs into the fields you select.

    I love it.

  22. Great Essential Guide To Organising A Music Library, there must always be someone to give us some tips

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