Broad or deep folder structures?

folder

Music file and folder structures are a topic I've discussed before on the blog. I've discussed the subject in terms of dos and don'ts, but I recently received an email from a reader of the blog which made me think of the subject in different terms...

I am still debating between what seems to be more common "<album artist>/<album>/" directory structure vs. <albumartist> - <album> (<year>)/ structure. I like the later format, because it allows me to random browse all my artist/albums without click in and out of directories. I have not seen other people discuss the merits of either structure. So unsure what is the best way of organize my music.

Let's break this into some examples, using some example albums. First, the former structure:

Ben Howard
	Every Kingdom
		[tracks]
deadmau5
	4x4=12
		[tracks]
	> Album Title Goes Here <
		[tracks]

Now, the latter structure:

Ben Howard - Every Kingdom (2012)
	[tracks]
deadmau5 - 4x4=12 (2010)
	[tracks]
deadmau5 - > Album Title Goes Here < (2012)
	[tracks]

In this example, the reader's former example is a deeper structure than the latter. 'Deeper' because your file and folder structure constitute a hierarchy of files and folders, and by having album folders as children of artist folders you get more 'levels' of folders. The latter is broader.

You can imagine more extreme depth and breadth in a folder structure, some more practical in usage than others. Multi disc releases may be more usefully sorted with a disc number artifact, making them potentially deeper. Less useful would be storing every track in one folder, complete with album and artist name.

So clearly all of these possibilities exist, but what are the relative advantages and disadvantages of each?

Advantages of a broad file/folder structure

The chief advantage of a broad structure was touched upon in the reader's email. If you commonly use your file and folder structure to navigate about your music collection, you may find you have to click around into folders far less often. All you need, in theory, is the music folder opened and you can access each albums' tracks with one click.

Advantages of a deep file/folder structure

... but then the rubber hits the road. In reality, there can be costs in a broad structure. The more child folders you have, the longer these take to be listed when you browse them in your file explorer. This problem is amplified if you use a music server or NAS to store your music. More information about the contents of each folder must be transmitted across the network, which may make for a slower browsing experience.

Deep file structures also have less duplication in file names. In the broad structure above you can see the text 'deadmau5' is duplicated, yet it isn't duplicated in the deep structure. It's not a big deal, but small differences in this text can lead to a less tidy looking library and, when changing the names, requires more changes to make the folder names tidier. In this case, two folder names must be changed, in the deeper structure there's only one to change.

Finally, and this is not such a problem in this example, but in more extreme forms of broad folder structures the filenames can get so long as to be difficult to read. This may be a problem in certain music players that play music from the filesystem and only show filenames (for example, less sophisticated in car music players).

And so...

The inevitable conclusion is that the choice between depth and breadth depends on how and why you navigate your music folders. If it's a common activity, perhaps choosing music to play, then so long as you don't have too much music it might be easiest to plump for a broad structure. Not having much music also makes the likelihood of having inconsistent artist names less.

However, if you have more than, say, five hundred albums, it's probably best to begin to look for deeper structures, especially if these folders are stored on network storage.

This figure of five hundred files or folders per album can be taken further to also imply when to further nest your file and folder structures. Eventually, for example, you may get more than five hundred artists in your music folder. This is why folder grouping was added to bliss. This way, you can group folders by the first 'n' characters of their name.

Currently I have around seven hundred albums in my own collection. I operate a artist/album/disc*/track structure where disc is only used if I have a multi disc release.

And remember to use only identification and structural tags!

Thanks to Christian Guthier for the image above.
tags: files folders
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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.