Organizing your music

If you’re like me, then you enjoy having a well-tagged music collection. All those MP3s’ filenames accurately named with a certain system [eg Album – Artiste – Track – Title.mp3] and also the metadata tags, chockful of all the information that you’ll ever need to drill down to your favourites as your collection grows larger.
For a more personal reason, I’d say this act of renaming actually brings you closer to your music and *nothing* beats the adrenaline buzz of knowing which artist sang the best of 5 renditions of your favourite song.

Unlike digital downloads, CD-Rips, my #1 source of music have very bad names by default [Unknown Album – Unknown Artist – Track 01.mp3]. Also, they’re probably missing album artwork that’ll look good and give function to iTunes Coverflow. A simple rename in iTunes or other jukeboxes usually does the trick, but only the metadata is changed, not the actual filenames themselves. Also some jukeboxes are so unintuitive that the metadata is maintained externally, meaning every reformat or uninstall deletes your changes.
That’s why I use, and recommend MP3Tag. This is THE best tagging utility I’ve ever seen and in the latest version, supports album artwork. Too many other tagging utilities try to do too much and fail miserably at all of them, including a potentially powerful but horribly clunky Godfather.
MP3tag is a lean machine, that focuses on only one thing and does it very well. Although there is no in-house mp3 player, it will automatically call up your default player so you can preview first before you decide to expend any energy renaming it. For a low memory-footprint player ideally suited for the task, try Billy.

The beauty of MP3Tag lies in its shortcuts, both keyboard and hardcoded.
The hardcodes first:

  1. Multiple files with the same metadata can be easily edited all the same time. Album artwork can be added this way too, so this is ideal for entire albums before adding them to your collection.
  2. This is one of the few programs that allows the filename to be changed in the same way and in the same place tags are changed. This is undeniably a useful feature that I don’t see even in say..iTunes?
  3. It is possible in MP3Tag to easily convert filenames to mp3 tags and vice versa. So if you just spent the past hour updating the album names and the artist information for music from various sources and albums, a simple right click to choose the convert option [either tag -> filename or filename -> tag] will bring up a menu that will confirm your preference for data to be present in renaming. The placeholder tags are easy and intuitive [eg %artist%, %album% etc], and there’s a preview option so you’ll know if you did something wrong.

The keyboard shortcuts allow for easy renaming and even file management from within the app itself. For example, deleting a file is possible and this action removes a file from the “playlist”. However a combo Ctrl-Del sends the file packing to the Recycle Bin, from the app itself. No need to muck around and switch from app to File Explorer just to delete an unwanted file. There are many other keyboard shortcuts ideally suited for productivity.

For now the album art has to dragged in manually for every album that doesn’t already have one, but I suspect future version will have the capability to query Amazon for artwork. Besides, it’s GPL’d code, so anyone can pick up and add in the featureset. I would, if I knew how.

Now although MP3Tag is a Windows application, I’ve successfully used it under Wine and Crossover and it works like a champ, so Linux and Mac users will get some love too.

Back when sharing wasn’t taboo, a few files must’ve ended up in your collection with questionable or non-specific non-descript filenames. It’d be hard to identify the tracks especially if you’ve never heard them before. Maybe googling the lyrics is an option, but what about instrumental tracks?
There’s a specialised program from the minds over at the MusicBrainz project that uses acoustic fingerprinting. Picard samples a small section of the dubious files and mathematically narrows down the possibilities to a list of complete metadata you can choose from. In my experience, the list is somewhat accurate, but only for English titles. YMMV.

Album art was no doubt made massively popular by iTunes’ Coverflow. A lot of people had a few tracks with embedded album art before that, but Coverflow made a purely decorative piece of metadata into an enjoyable interface. The problem now is to add album art to the many tracks that don’t already have them. Trust me, I’ve tried and it’s a daunting task.
For Mac users, Fetch Art makes things infinitely easier. The whole process is automated, just get the script running and leave your computer alone for a while. However there are a few misses, especially because Fetch Art is very particular about metadata when it queries Amazom servers.
For Windows, currently I use Album Art Aggregator. I can’t say if this is the best program for this purpose, but I make do. For the really elusive covers, try, a manual search engine.
These are at best good alternatives while we await a native Sinagporean iTunes online Store, thus giving instant access to automatic high-res album art.

What’re you waiting for? Get your music organized. You won’t regret it.


Daniel Tsou is our fabulous host, who decides mostly what we talk about and basically calls the shots, Yes, he does. I, writer of this bio on Mr Tsou is very much afraid that by commiting this post to words, I will be dragged off in the night by a black Truck, or a Segway more like. Other than that, Daniel is tall, lived for a period of time in Venezuela and Spain, and is enthusiastic for all things tech.
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