Mp3 Tagging Best Practices

The phrase “best practices” gets thrown around a lot in IT (Information Technology).  You have best practices for programming, server configuration, SOA, and even software installation.  There are best practices for other things like cooking, organizing, and cleaning.  So today we are going to take a look at some of the best practices that I use when tagging and organizing my digital music.  Some of these go against other “best practices” for tagging that you might find on the internet, but everyone has their preferences and you are not stuck to listening to just me.

Album Artist & Artist Tags

This is a topic that gets confusing to some people, but I wrote a nice article on this a while back that I feel really covers the basis for the differences between the “Album Artist” and “Artist” tags in a mp3 file.  Essentially, the artist tag is for the artist of that particular song while the “Album Artist” tag is for the overall album artist.  This works really great on multiple artists compilations.  Make sure you understand the difference between these two tags and how to utilize them correctly.  The article referenced is: Artists Versus Album Artist.

Follow Proper Title Casing

For some people this is not a big deal, personally though I hate with “A” and “The” are capitalized incorrectly in the titles.  Drives me bonkers, this is probably why my wife calls me “anal” but who knows.

Proper title casing means the first letter of the first and last word are capitalized.  All other words with a character count of 4 or more are capitalized as well.  Exceptions include pronouns.  Examples:

  • Incorrect: “Shoot Me In The Smile”
  • Right: “Shoot Me in the Smile”

Disc & Track Numbers

Some people will tell you to only use the Disc Number tag when the album has more than one disc.  I disagree with this approach.  Mainly because if you’re going to do it for some, why would you not do it for others.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Also, make sure you fill in both parts of the numbers so an album that has 3 discs will be “1/3”, “2/3” and “3/3” and likewise for track numbering as well “1/1″, 2/10”, and so on.  This makes it really easy to get an idea of how tracks and albums connect together when you are looking at them in a spreadsheet or in your music organization application.

The exception to this rule are miscellaneous tracks, things like 1 off tracks that you may have downloaded or what not.  You can strip these tracks of their track and disc numbers since they do not associate with an album.

Album Art

Everyone likes album art.  Album art really makes iTunes shine in coverflow mode.  However album art that has dimensions of less than 500 pixels detracts in a big way.  If you can not find the album art online and you own the album, scan your copy in.  You will be much happier with a minimum of 500×500 image that you made yourself than some 250×186 copy you find off of Google Images.

Some people get crazy and want to add images for the CD, the internal art, and rear artwork.  This is entirely up to you.  There are ID3 tag designations for each of these artwork types, so if you want to be completely archival, then go nuts.


I don’t feel that one should get overly specific with their genres, but getting kind of specific can help you when creating playlists (especially smart playlists in iTunes).  For example, I have Christian Rock and Christian Hard Rock genres in my collection because I want that level of granularity when making playlists.  However, the genres are not so overly specific that it’s overkill, especially since I have a lot of music under both genres.

Your Best Practices

Do you have any best practices that you follow when you organize your digital music?  If so, leave a comment or two.  I’d love to see how other people handle different things with their music collections.

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4 Responses to Mp3 Tagging Best Practices

  1. JR Johnson says:

    Gonna have to disagree with you on the disc number, Michael. 99% of the albums out there are going to be of the single disc variety. Because of this majority, it makes sense to only distinguish the very, very small minority. When playing a song, you will also be tipped off that this is a multiple disc set if you see that the track comes from Disc 1.Thanks for the great article.

  2. Michael Koby says:

    While you are correct in that most albums will be a single disc, Ipersonally can't stand seeing a bunch of empty tags in iTunes (drives mebonkers). Your digital music is yours to tag and label as you please,that's the beauty of it all.There is really no such thing as an absolute “best practice” so those listedhere are really more of my personal practices than anything else.

  3. When playing a song, you will also be tipped off that this is a multiple disc set if you see that the track comes from Disc 1.

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