Why bother with file structure at all?

Back to the mailbag! A recent query hit my inbox, part of which contained:

Why bother about file structure at all? I am thinking about putting all music in a single folder on my NAS, and the music player then displays the tracks according to the view I am interested. Which problems may I run into? Playlists?

I generally agree with the premise that file organisation is secondary to tags, but it is still a structural consideration.

A first reason that it's a good idea to separate files into album-specific folders is that grouping files into releases in a folder is a secondary way of communicating the files all exist together. Examples where this is important are:

  • Where files don't have tags.
  • Where the tags are not as communicative ("Greatest Hits" by "Various").

If the files don't have tags, then the only way of differentiating them in a flat structure would be to name albums and artists in the filename. This makes for long filenames which might be difficult to read and a lot of duplication of the same text.

It gets quite difficult for most people to deal with the "cognitive load" of thousands of files in a folder - having to scroll down a long list etc. is a pain and can make looking through your files difficult.

There are technical limits on the number of files in a folder which can easily be breached for the 1000s of files in a music library. And not just technical limits; but also software that attempts to open a large folder can take a long time to do so.

Finally, some players just won't deal with it very well. For example, less capable car stereos with small displays will struggle to display the full album and track name for a file.

So overall, my advice is to store the minimum possible data in a folder organisation to just identify a file within a release - artist/album/discnumber [if present]/tracknum-track name.

Thanks to eric is what you need for the image above.
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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.