Fix your music, then keep it fixed

cosmic soap bubbles (God takes a bath)

It seems inevitable: the longer you have a music library and the larger it gets, it gets disorganised.

One of the ideas involved in the concept of entropy is that nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems.

Carl R. Nave

What do I mean by disorganised? Well, stuff like albums being introduced in new and irrelevant genres, cover art being added that is too low a resolution and album names being introduced with inconsistent disc number artifacts. You know, the sort of thing that brings out the OCD in you.

Fixing music

At any one point in time, it's possible to fix your music library's disorganised state. There are three main options:

  1. Use your music player
  2. Use a music tagger
  3. Use a rule based organiser, like bliss

Using a music player is often the simplest option, and therein lies its main advantage. There are two main disadvantages. First, music players generally don't provide a lot of varied re-organisation functionality. For example, a music player may allow you to rename an album, but not change its genre. The second main issue is one of compatibility; re-organising music with one player may break the organisation of another, or at best have no effect on the other. This has become more of a problem as music lovers employ different music players on their computer, in their lounge, their kitchen and on their mobile phone. Compatibility issues may occur if the different players use music tags in different ways, or store the organisation internally to itself so the other music players cannot 'see' the changes.

So if you want more control over the organisation of your music library, or you want to assure compatibility between your different music players, the next step may be to use a music tagger.


Music taggers work by allowing you to edit the metadata (stuff like artist and album name) within your music files. You need to decide how you want your music to appear, and then translate that to how the tags should therefore appear. For instance, say you decide you only want genres from the fundamental music genre list to appear in your library. If an album has a genre outside that set, you should edit the 'genre' tag of each file for the album so that it is now one of the genres in the allowed list. The disadvantages of this are you need to remember 'rules' such as the fact that only certain genres should be allowed, or which genres are in the allowed list. Furthermore, you need to know what each tag does.

When editing tags directly you are making a number of micro adjustments. The problem with this is akin to "not seeing the forest for the trees". You concentrate on these micro adjustments, but it's the music collection as a whole that's just as important. To quote Fabrice Laporte:

Digital music is like plasticine : bulk raw data crying out for structure. Just stacking it up before playing with it will invariably result in an undescriptable mess with no hope to find your way through. Stand back, have a global view of the collection you’re building. Is it tuneful or conflicted ?

This is not Nam'. This is tagging. There are rules.

To counter this, rule based music organisers such as bliss allow you to state these rules and then perform the work of writing the tags to ensure your music library remains internally consistent. For example, a rule might state 'album art must be above 500x500 pixels' because you like high resolution art. A rule based organiser will alert you when this rule is broken, and potentially fix it for you. With a music tagger, you would have to remember what your minimum acceptable resolution is and proactively check all of your music.

Keeping it fixed

So there are three options for fixing a one-off problem in your music collection, and they all work, with differing advantages and disadvantages. It's easy to talk about one-off hypothetical situations, but in real life can you really be bothered to continually check your music collection? The real challenge for music lovers, particularly those with large music collections, is keeping your music fixed.

Music imported from different sources tends to be organised in different ways. You might be ripping CDs or downloading music but sometimes music will, say, be set to a genre that you don't want to allow, or use disc number labelling in the album title that you dislike. It's just the same problem as before, only it occurs again, and again, and again...

Let's say you notice this and you fire up a music tagger to fix it. You then notice that the genre you wanted to change (say, 'Heavy Metal') is actually quite popular in your music library, so you would like to add it to the 'allowed' list. But by doing this, you really need to go back and change all other albums for that genre (that were previously labelled with the more generic 'Rock) to the newly allowed genre.

Viva Piñata

In a nutshell: it's not just your music library that changes, it's also the way you want it structured that changes with time. And this restructuring can be a large effort, to the extent that most people probably don't bother. That's a real shame, because it leads to a music collection that's harder to browse.

There are two ways you can mitigate this:

  • Use a rule based organiser that retains a music library view of your collection
  • Employ automated assessment

Rule based organisers are built with consistency in mind; after all, they care about applying rules to your entire collection. If you add automated assessment to that, you get a system that can check your music whenever it changes so that your entire collection remains consistent. In the previous example, the automated rule will notify that a disallowed genre 'Heavy Metal' was found, and offer to change it to 'Rock' or add a new allowed genre (which would also re-assess other albums, and move their genre as required). This is far, far simpler than performing all this work yourself with a music tagger.

I think that rule based organisers, like bliss, are the best long term solution to keeping your music organised and internally consistent. They are the best solution because they require less effort and take less time than other methods, and because they are less effort they end up being more accurate, given the possibilities of human mistakes.

Thanks to woodleywonderworks, jmurawski and peasap for the images above.

tags: tags

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.