Starting over again: how would you rebuild your music library?

reseteando el mundo

Rewind to the very first MP3 you downloaded or purchased, or the very first CD you ripped. Now consider what you have learnt as you have built your collection from one album to hundreds or thousands of albums.

If you're anything like me, you've learnt a lot on the way. If you were to rebuild your entire music library today there'd be certain things you'd do a lot differently.

I don't mean the cool stuff you find out about that you can add retrospectively to your music library. For instance, it's easy to use tools like bliss to download and embed cover art. Using appropriate automation and software it's possible to add these things after the fact.

No, what I'm talking about are far more intrusive things. Work that will take hours or days and will require you to re-synchronise all of your music players, potentially lose valuable playing statistics and generally make you consider the meaningless of life. You can tell I've been there!

Here are my three things I'd make sure to do properly if I were to rebuild from scratch.

Use lossless

I bang on about this all the time. I think it's probably the most common mantra I preach to other digital music enthusiasts. If starting from scratch I would rip to lossless, preferably a well supported format such as FLAC or Apple Lossless.

Underlying my evangelicism is a hatred of throwing away data. Lossy codecs like MP3 throw data away from the incoming audio stream in the name of lower storage requirements. This is ok for portable devices where storage is limited, but has no place in a master library. By throwing away data you are limiting your future options because you can never recover that lost data.

Imagine: you've built a large collection of thousands of CDs over the years, and then you get interested in audiophile equipment. Naturally you want the highest quality audio to stretch your system to its limits, but if you only have MP3s it's a dead end. You cannot improve their quality.

If you have the music on CD then at least you can re-rip. If you purchased the MP3, you are probably doomed to lower quality forever (or you can repurchase. And so the music industry perpetrate another round of format upgrades. It seems to be one of their most reliable revenue streams).


No whitespace in filenames

It's my impression that Windows and Mac users are quite used to having spaces in their file and folder names and they prefer it so. It just looks better: "The Rolling Stones" is much easier to read than "The_Rolling_Stones".

The thing is: the aesthetic properties of folder and filenames are less important these days now that music players rely pretty much entirely on internal tags. In my experience, outweighing that advantage is the limitations that are imposed by whitespace in filenames when scripting or working with the files in different tools.

Scripting from the command line is more difficult with files with whitespace because whitespace itself holds significance in command lines; spaces separate arguments. As a result you have to perform various gymnastics: surrounding with quotes, using escape characters and so on. It's easier to just replace the spaces with underscores in the first place.

If you do have whitespace in your filenames, you can always rename them with bliss.



I know, backups are a boring subject. I'm boring myself right now thinking about them. But they are essential, and a hard drive failure just this week for me pushed them back to the forefront of my mind.

I didn't lose any music, thank goodness, as it was my laptop that suffered from the failure. I lost a few scripts and my CD ripping configuration... it only took fifteen minutes to get it running again. But if it had taken my music library I would have been... upset.

Of course, I already run a music backup routine and I've written before about it. To lose your library is to lose all the time you've put into building your library: searching, downloading, ripping, organising. When you consider all that time wasted, surely that's motivation enough?

Thanks to Amio Cajander and mblakeaway for the images above.
tags: digital music files lossless
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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.