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Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't organise music files by genre

Don't use the genre of your music as a basis to organise your music files. Genre is inherently wholly, ambiguous and subject to change. As such, it does not make a good candidate for organising music files and directories.

I can see why some digital music lovers include genre information in their music file structures. Genre is interesting, it's a way of categorising music that makes sense for choosing playlists. To this end, music playing software and hardware allows you to browse your music library by genre. So why shouldn't you organise files by genre too?

The trouble is that file and directory structures don't lend themselves to structures where the names may change. Genre, because it's inherently wholly and ambiguous is one of the more frequently altered aspect of music meta-data. Music players often identify music by the file path of the music. Changing the file path when you decide to change the genre may reset information about the music stored in the music player, such as play counts, ratings and more.

It's important that meta-data communicated in your file and directory structures are the same as the data within your embedded music tags, give or take file system limitations. This means that when the genre for your music changes it should change both the tags and anywhere else the genre is communicated. If genre is in your file structure, this means changing your file structure too.

You may also wish to assign multiple genres to tracks and albums in your music library. This is perfectly possible and a valid thing to do using tags within the music files. However, because file structures are hierarchical, you can only pick one genre to organise by. Remembering why your chose the one-you-did is difficult, and leaves the potential for further problems at a later date.

So how should music files be organised? I think some level of categorisation is important, because music file organisation is often needed as a fallback when performing some administration tasks and also for music players that are incompatible with your music tags. We need to choose music meta-data that is better suited to use in file structures. This is meta-data that is less subject to change.

I choose to organise files within artist/album directory structures. These data, specifically the ALBUM_ARTIST and ALBUM_NAME tags, generally do not chage and the structure is layered enough to be sortable and navigable. All other meta-data such as genre, year, style and mood are stored within the music files themselves so that I can use them inside my music players.

And that is why you shouldn't use genre in your music file/directory structures.
Thanks to feverblue for the image used at the top of this blog post


  1. well you r right, but i think including "release date" is also important as you will have albums organized by date if one artist will have let say 50 albums released. My structure `mzc/albums` `mzc/singles` `mzc/compilations` and so on and then `%artist% - %date% - %album%/%track% - %artist% - %title%.flac`. In this case you will have big part of your music collection (ex albums) in one dir and you wouldn't have to go through dirs to access you album's playlist.

  2. Yeah, I would argue release date is fine because it doesn't change.

    Unless you invent a time machine!

    Also you are right about number of directories, in some extreme circumstances you can actually hit a limit on the number of files/directories within a directory (on some operating systems).


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