Music in digital formats has changed the way we discover music. Our approach to owning and storing music must change as well. We come across multiple new tracks that we like everyday or think we might like, and since acquiring them has become so easy, we end up with a huge pile of junk in our music library.
Do you remember the time and effort it took to find that record/ tape with that song we liked on radio? A few days probably went by just looking for the artist, album and track name. Today, we have apps like SoundHound and Shazam for those one-off listens, and anyway all music is pretty much discovered on TV or the Internet where finding track information is easy. Owning the track is just a matter of visiting a website and clicking for a quick download.
This has brought about one BIG problem – too much music media stored in every computer, music player and phone. We don’t have time to decide whether we actually like the track before we buy/ acquire it. In fact, I have been on the music hoarding bandwagon since the digital era began, with well over 100GB of music in my library. All this gets on to my iPod classic (love the classic for that). I’m pretty sure I haven’t explored even half of it.
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to discover ‘new’ music within my music library. I realised that no matter what music I dumped there, I still listen to only the few that I recall. Most of them are the ones I owned earlier on records or tapes. I recall very little new music because I keep adding to it. To make it easier to recall music I’ve acquired digitally, I set on a re-dicovery journey. Of course, it took some effort, but it was well worth it. Here is what I did, in two phases:
1. Re-discover my music library
2. Clean up my library
Re-discover my music library
iTunes is smart, but only as smart as you are.
Metadata is the single most useful thing in your digital music library. It keeps you informed of all track information and also helps iTunes catalog it. iTunes will be able to sort tracks in lists of albums, genres, artists among others only if the Metadata is present. Depending on how you imported the tracks into iTunes you may or may not have this information. Make you manually enter this as soon as you identify a track that shows up as ‘Unknown’.
On the Mac you can use MusicBrainz Picard to help you automatically identify and input meta data into tracks before/after importing into iTunes, before is better. I’m sure there exists a windows equivalent of this.
Shuffle mode on iPod or iTunes is the quickest way to rediscover your library. I use this all the time because it is easy and really mashes up your playlist. I also did realise that shuffle has a tendency to play the tracks most played. If I am on iTunes and shuffle plays a track that I don’t want on shuffle, I go to track info and check the ‘skip when shuffle’ option. That’s a good starting point.
The Genius Mixes are nice but they don’t really play through all the music that you have. I realised that the genius mixes kept repeating only a set list of tracks, probably the ones most played. This makes them useless for someone like me who likes to come by new music. So, after a few months I stopped using these playlists.
Genius Playlists based on a song fare better but they are unavailable for most of the songs. You must try them, they do a decent job as long as they are available.
Album Playlists. I realised that playing an album through, like the good old days, didn’t happen any more. We just listen to one track and then go to another artist/album. I created playlists with full albums and played them through. It was rewarding. I realised there are other tracks on the albums that I like more than the one that gathered all the attention on charts. Try this.
Smart Playlists. This is where the iTunes becomes as smart as you! Explore making smart playlists. Here are some I made;
a. Least played – playlist with music, about 100 tracks, not played in that last 2 weeks
This pulls up music you haven’t played in the last 2 weeks, forcing you to listed to new music.
b. Genre based – playlists with genre, about 100 tracks, not played in last 2 weeks
Does the same as ‘a’ but for a particular genre.
c. Most played – Playlist with music, plays is greater than 0, tracks about 25-50
Arrange this playlist in descending order of plays. This will make for a nice feel-good playlist.
Album Art doesn’t always get imported along with your music. Not the easiest thing to fix, manually. But trust me it is the most rewarding thing to do. A library with all the album art in place, wow! I did it gradually over the years where I would add album art to tracks/albums as I come across them in iTunes.
Clean-up My Library
Sometimes, I avoid putting my iPod or iTunes on shuffle or a smart playlist because a lot of music it played was terrible. Of course I was responsible for that terrible collection, so decided to do some house keeping. This was a task I kept pushing for years but finally got down to it. It wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be.
Step 1: Sort by artist/album or repeat it twice, once with artist and then album
Step 2: Arrange all music in ascending order of last played. This will bring all the music you never played to the top. Skim through it artist and album wise and delete stuff that you know is of no use. Pro-tip, if you haven’t played in over a year, you probably never will.
Step 3: Arrange tracks artist-wise, then album-wise, and skim through artists and albums. There will be a few sticking their necks out screaming ‘delete me’! You will know.
Step 4: Remove duplicates. Duplicates of a track often exist in our libraries, sometimes more than twice. Folks at Apple know this and have built-in a convenient way to deal with this.
For starters, I know what’s on my iPod. And, I’m rediscovering my music – old and new. And of course, the space issue – the clean up brought my music down to about 50 GB from 100GB. That’s almost half my library. You can imagine my relief! It makes searches easier and plays stuff I would actually listen to.
These are some basic steps, you could improvise around this. What do you do to organise your music library? Do you think you’ll use these tips? Do let us know in the comments.