The right way to name music files and my Picard file-naming script

Last year I got deep into using MusicBrainz Picard to help tag music before I add it to my collection. The MusicBrainz database is fantastic, and it saves me a lot of time tweaking metadata. Most of the time I can just look up an album and it finds the correct info automagically. As an added bonus, it’ll rename the files so that the folder and filenames all match the same scheme. You know, the right way to name and organize music files.

Random filenames

I think I downloaded my first MP3 somewhere around 1997, using a super-speedy 56K modem. This was when you had to have a download manager for huge downloads that measured in the multiple megabytes, and a 1GB disk drive would be consider spacious.

My MP3 collection grew pretty slowly, since portable MP3 players were still a few years off and CDs were still the most convenient way to listen to music. Digital downloads were just for novelty or rarities that I couldn’t get on CD like some unofficial Tori Amos tracks off a fan page.

My collection grew slowly and organically, and there wasn’t much organization to it. Eventually I got a Creative Nomad player the size of portable CD player. It had, I think, a whopping 6GB of space. Eventually I got an iPod and kept adding to the collection.

The correct directory (folder) and filename scheme for MP3s, FLACs, and other music files

At some point, after the collection passed the 200GB mark, the digital mess started bugging me and I started experimenting with naming schemes and attempts to clean up the structure and tagging of all the files.

The structure that works best for me, and is therefore the correct structure, is:

Album Artist/Album name (Year)/NN – song title.mp3

To break that down, Album Artist is the overall release’s artist. If it’s a compilation with multiple artists, it gets “Various Artists.” Album should be pretty much self-explanatory. If it’s a single, I just use the single’s name as the album name or whatever is in MusicBrainz or Discogs as the canonical title for the release.

The (Year) should be the original release year of the album, not the release year of the album on whatever media it was digitized from. The Beatles catalog may not have made it to CD until the late 80s, but I don’t care about that. I want the original year of the album’s release. (Deluxe editions are a special case and that’s a different discussion.)

Song title, again, is pretty self explanatory. The NN is the track number with the optional structure of DD-NN where DD is the disc number and then the track number.

Picard custom file-naming script

The default scripts that ship with Picard don’t quite match that, so I tweaked one to get a custom script that gets what I want:

%album% (%originalyear%)/
$if($gt(%totaldiscs%,1),%discnumber%-)$num(%tracknumber%,2) - %title%

Nothing too fancy. Picard’s file-naming scripts have a lot of flexibility. The last line has an if statement to add the disk number if there’s more than 1 disc, otherwise it just uses the track number and doesn’t add a disk number to the scheme.

You can edit these in Picard under Options -> File naming script editor. To edit the presets you have to make a copy, Picard won’t actually let you edit the presets.

If you have any tagging or naming tips and tricks, or just want to argue about the right way to organize music, leave me a comment. Happy tagging!

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