In the decade or so since the rise and fall of Napster, it’s become very hard to find a single person who doesn’t keep a super-size collection of MP3s on their hard drive. That’s all well and good, but what happens when you get a new roommate or move in with a significant other, and want to merge two music collections into one? Windows 7 and most popular music library managers, like Windows Media Center, iTunes, and WinAmp offer solutions for sharing your music library over a home network, but a big decentralized library (likely with lots of duplicate files) spread out over a network is inefficient, hard to manage, and hard to keep backed up. In this article, we’ll show you how you can use a free program to merge multiple libraries into a single, organized music archive.
Step 1: Put Music in One Place
So, what’s the first step to merging two libraries? Start with the heaviest lifting—mash them together. That’s right, the very first step will be to just copy every single music-holding folder into a single repository. A NAS box or home server is the best place for this folder, of course, but you can also use a large hard drive on one computer. Don’t worry too much about keeping things organized, just dump the contents of all your music folders into your new archive. If you have folders for each album (and hopefully you do) just drag the whole album folders over.
It might take quite a while for all those files to transfer, especially if you’ve got a lot of music. But when it’s done, you’ve got all your music in a single library, right? Wrong—you’ve got all your music in a single, sloppy pile. Next, you’ll have to get it cleaned up. To do so, there are three steps to follow:
Step 2: Remove Duplicates
The biggest problem with your music library right now is that (unless the creator of every library you’re merging has completely different tastes in music) it’s probably got plenty of duplicate files, which take up extra space and make the library a mess to browse through. Perfect duplicates, with the same exact name and in the same exact folder in each library will be automatically taken care of during the merge, if you choose to overwrite existing files, but most duplicates won’t be quite so clean-cut.
There are plenty of programs for cleaning out dupes, but we prefer to use MediaMonkey (www.mediamonkey.com), a fantastic iTunes-alternative and media management program. Just download it (the free version has all the tools we need) and install it, selecting to import music from your merged music folder.
In Media Monkey, you’ll see a list of all your music files. On the left, there’s a tree view of your library, which lets you browse through your music by any of the normal criteria: title, artist, album, and a bunch more. If you keep scrolling past the normal sorting methods, you’ll see one called Tracks to Edit. This branch contains nodes that let you isolate your music by anything that might be wrong with it, including missing tags and duplication.
To get started cleaning out dupes, click the Duplicate Titles node. This will show you a list of every set of songs that share a title (image A). Select the duplicates you don’t want to keep, and press Delete. You’ll be asked if you want to delete the file from your computer, or just remove it from your library (image B). Choose to delete it from your computer. This can be an easy way to clean out obvious dupes (if a whole album is duplicated, for instance, it will appear prominently in the list), but many items on a list won’t be legitimate dupes. For instance, if you have the same song on an album and an EP, you don’t want to delete the dupe, even if they have the same name, as doing so will leave a hole in one of the albums. Don’t kill yourself trying to figure out exactly which dupes to delete, as there’s an easier way to find them.
Once you’ve gotten all the obvious dupes from the initial list, click the node called Duplicate Content (image C). A window will pop up (if it doesn’t, double-click the Duplicate Content node) informing you that your tracks haven’t been scanned for redundancy. Tell it to go ahead and perform the scan, and go make yourself a sandwich—this will take some time.
When it’s done, the Duplicate Content node will still be empty of tracks. That’s alright, just click the plus next to it, and you’ll see a new node for each song that has a duplicate. You have to deal with the dupes on a case-by-case basis, which is a little irritating (this is why you should remove as many easy ones as you can using the Duplicate Title feature) but it doesn’t take too long, and it’s generally very good at finding actual dupes.
Step 3: Repair Tags
Now that the music library is more or less free of duplicates, it’s time to make sure that everything is tagged. This can take some work, but when you’re done you’ll have a library that’s much easier to manage and organize. Fortunately, Media Monkey can make the process less painful.
To see what you’ve got to deal with, in terms of untagged tracks, click the right-hand node called Unknown Artist. This shows you any track that doesn’t have an Artist ID3 tag, and any song lacking an artist tag is probably completely without tags, so this should be all the tracks you have to fix.
The actual process of fixing the tracks isn’t too difficult, thanks to Media Monkey’s feature which auto-tags tracks from an online database. The only downside to the feature is that it only works one album at a time, so you can’t just do your entire collection at once. Assuming your old library’s had some sort of file structure, you can usually group albums together by choosing to sort the Unknown Artist tracks by their filename, which will put any files that were in a folder together next to each other on the list. Drag a box or shift-click to select an album’s worth of tracks (image D), then right click and select Auto-Tag from Web.
A window will pop up, with a possible album match for your selected songs (image E). Frequently the auto-tagger will get the artist right but the album wrong. If this is the case, click the dropdown menu at the top, and select the correct album. You’ll know you’ve got the right one when the tracks turn yellow, indicating a good match. Click Auto-Tag, and the songs will be given the proper ID3 tags. Repeat this process until you’ve eliminated most or all of the untagged songs in your library. Now you’re ready for the final step.
Step 4: Reorganize Your File Structure
Now, we’ll have MediaMonkey reorganize all the files in the media archive, based on their ID3 tags. To do this, return to the tree view on the left side of the window, and scroll down until you see the node titled My Computer. This node shows you the files as they actually exist on your computer, rather than by how they’re classified in MediaMonkey’s library. Navigate to your merged music library and right-click the root folder. Select Auto-Organize Folders (image F).
You can now select how your music is to be organized. The default is .\<Artist> <Title> which is definitely not what you want. In fact, all the defaults start with the .\ that indicates that the new files should be placed relative to their current location. We want an absolute path, so if you wanted to have your music files look like: K:\Music\The Beatles\Abbey Road\1 - Come Together, you would enter the following into the destination bar:
Click OK, then let MediaMonkey do its thing. Just like that, you’ve got a pristinely organized music library file-structure, full of well-tagged, non-duplicated songs. Now everyone in your house can access this library using Windows 7’s homegroup sharing, MediaMonkey itself, or iTunes’ homesharing function.