The two approaches to organising music automatically

Music automation robot

When working with large music collections automation is an important tool to keep your sanity and save you time. There are a couple of ways of approaching automation. One is human initiated automation. This is typically where the user chooses a process that is applied to a large data set in a batch operation. The second is computer initiated automation, true automation, where the computer reacts to events in the music library and applies changes on behalf of the user. In addition, computer initiated automation tends to automate more of the manual activity and awareness of the lower level digital music management concepts such as ' tagging' and the structure of music file formats.

An example of human initiated automation is deriving information from the filenames of music files and storing that in the music files themselves. For instance, you could define a process that took filenames as so:


... and derived the album name, track number and track name and stored that in the music file. This is a way of 'tagging' untagged music so that the music can then be navigated in your music player. This can be done across all music files in batch by applying a pattern to the files:

[track number].[album name]-[track name].mp3

This is a common feature of music taggers. It's sometimes called 'fill in tags' or the 'process tags' feature. It saves a lot of time and frustration when organising a large number of files.

But it's not a cure-all. For starters, you need to know how music files are tagged, what the tags mean and more. Further, you have to know when to apply the batch processes. Do you need to do it each time you add music? Finally, each time you execute the process it must work in the same way, otherwise you will end up with an inconsistent or incorrect music collection. In general, human initiated automation still requires a total awareness of your existing music and how it is organised and also some form of documented approach to organisation such that consistency is not lost.

How can computer initiated automation help?

As computer initiated automation reacts to events, such as the addition of new music or the updating of existing music, you can be assured that your organisational processes are continuously applied. This, combined with an inherently documented and codified organisation scheme (because you have to tell the computer how you want music organised when events occur) makes for a more consistent music library. It's also less effort, because the computer both reacts to events and where possible fully automates the changes required.

How far can you take full music automation?

Music automation helps achieve equilibrium

Fully automated responses are not always possible. The only thing worse than no automation is automation gone wrong because it can take a lot of effort to fix. The probability of an automated change being correct is dependent on three main factors:

  1. The nature of the organisation, e.g. is this some objective missing data being filled in, or choosing something subjective?
  2. The quality of the information source, e.g. when filling in missing data is the source reliable?
  3. The quality of the data used to lookup information, e.g. is the original data correct? Garbage in, garbage out is a cliché but it's also often a truism

These define the likelihood of an incorrect action. To decide whether to perform a change, the computer must also consider the impact of the change if it is incorrect. This is the automation risk. Where it is too risky to automate a change, the computer should offer the user a one-click option to apply the change, essentially making the process semi-automated and as automated as it can be. Of course, the music lover's own appetite for automation and trust in the music organisation software should also affect how far the software goes.

Human initiated automation is a useful tool but its drawbacks lend us to computer initiated automation, which offers greater consistency, higher reliability and less work for the user. However, music automation software must be aware of the likelihood of failure and the impact of this failure to decide whether a given change can be fully or semi-automated.

Happy automating!

Thanks to Mike Licht, and Ella's Dad for the images above.
tags: tagging automatic
blog comments powered by Disqus

The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.