Four ways with multi disc MP3s

Ghosts I-IV - Contents

Multi disc albums are releases that cover more than one CD or vinyl record. Depending on the number of CDs or records involved, they are sometimes called double albums or triple albums. There are two main types of multi disc album: compilations of tracks from different artists, such as the Now! series in the UK; and multi disc albums from one artist, either part of one continuous work or a compilation of different works. An example of the latter would be Speakerboxxx / The Love Below by OutKast.

Such releases are a legacy of the pre-digital age. The main reason for having multi disc albums in the first place was that the running time of a release was longer than would fit on the recording medium. To illustrate this rather mundane practicality, All Things Must Pass spans three vinyl records but just two CDs. Digital music doesn't have the same capacity restrictions. In addition though, artists often vary the styles of music between discs, or have differing themes running through the different discs. So while we know we will not necessarily need to change a CD or record, when organising multi disc albums we do still want to replicate the artist's ouevre when playing an album. It's important, for instance, to at least play the tracks in the order they would be played in the physical medium, rather than, for instance, playing both first tracks of each disc, then both second tracks and so on.

Here are four ways to organise multi disc CDs.

Disc number in the title: yes or no?

It's common to have disc numbers in album titles. Here're a few examples from my own collection:

  • 101 Party Hits (Disc One)
  • All Things Must Pass (Disc 2)
  • Atlantic Soul - CD1

If you prefer a disc-oriented approach to your music collection, and are concerned about maintaining this integrity whichever music player you use, retaining the disc number in the album title is a good idea. This is also the most transferable solution because whichever player you use, or even file explorer you use, you will see the disc numbers. However, consistency is key and having different ways of representing the disc numbers looks really messy. Therefore, adopt a consistent approach, and also consider having the total number of discs in the title. For instance:

  • 101 Party Hits (Disc 1/2)
  • All Things Must Pass (Disc 2/2)
  • Atlantic Soul (Disc 1/2)

Here, the standard adopted is to use the word 'Disc', use numbers to denote the number of the disc, include the total number of discs, and wrap the lot in parentheses. This will make browsing through music a lot easier on the eye. It will also make finding multi disc albums easy from your music player, file explorer or even the command line.

Add multi disc tags

Adding relevant disc numbers to album titles is one way of denoting a multi disc album, and it's probably the most transferable way. But it's not the only way. It is also possible to use tags to describe a multi disc album.

Why would you want to do this? Well, some people don't like the way disc numbers clutter album titles. If your music player supports disc number then it can do the heavy lifting of separating sequences of tracks according to the disc number. For instance, if it sees two albums with the same name, but with different disc numbers, it can separate them so that the order of playback is retained. In addition, some players allow a formatting of how the separated discs are displayed in your music collection.

The exact tag used, and its syntax, depends on the music file format you use. Here are the most common file formats:

  Tag name Syntax example
ID3 (MP3) TPOS 1 or 1/2
Vorbis comment (FLAC and OGG) DISCNUMBER 1 or 1/2

Organise multi disc files and folders

It's always a good idea to synchronize your music files and tags. This makes finding music on your hard disc much easier, for example when backing up your collection or moving/copying it to a different device. For multi disc albums, this means that if your album name appears in your folder or file names (which it probably does) this will include the consistently-formatted disc number. If you went the tag only route instead, it's probably worth including the disc number tag in the file system. This means you'll be able to find and organize multi disc albums easily on the file system. Including the disc number is already a much requested feature for bliss, and something I'm looking forward to implementing.

Regulate the volume as befits the album

Regulating the volume of your digital music makes for a more pleasant listening experience. How you do this for multi disc albums depends on the nature of the album. If the album is one you listen to in order, disc by disc, then you should adopt a ReplayGain album gain value for all the discs in the multi disc set together. This regulates the volume through the album, but also keeps intentional differences between tracks. If the album is more of a compilation of various artists, however, you can apply album gain on a disc by disc basis.

I hope this post has given you some ideas as to how to improve multi disc album management!

Thanks to PabloBM for the image above.
tags: tagging files album art multi disc
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.