FILE NOTES

If you have an awful lot of music, the question inevitably arises, ‘How should I file it?’ The debate has been raging forever, or at least since Thomas Edison kicked off music collecting. In fact these pages have recently seen some lively Commentary.

That’s file as in ‘put a physical object somewhere where you stand a better-than-even chance of locating it when you want to’, not file as in a bunch of 1s and 0s masquerading as something real. Neither is it the tool baked into a cake to assist your incarcerated mate make like the AC/DC song. Or the shuffling queue for the toilets at a three-day festival. Or anything to do with fingernails.

Now I’ve always tended towards the ‘Complacent Patronising Arsehole’ end of the spectrum in this debate. ‘Oh, pure alphabetical’ I drawl, sipping a hideous cocktail and readjusting my cravat. But that’s simply not true and if there was any such thing as karma, the tiny paper umbrella adorning my drink would lodge in my lying nostril as the neck scarf laid some strangulatory justice upon my windpipe.

It’s often the case, isn’t it, that we perceive ourselves in terms of our aspirations and intentions and others in terms of their actual behaviour? Makes for a comfortable life on the high moral ground. I certainly enjoy the air up there, being toasted by my CPA colleagues.

But recently, down on my knees ferreting amongst the home-burned compilation CD-Rs for something to soundtrack a trip to the coast, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realised there might well be a considerable gap between my concept of intelligent design and the actual system evolving in the Vinyl Connection music room. Doubts even surfaced as to whether the word ‘system’ was applicable. So in the interests of honesty and perhaps even improved emotional well-being I will now attempt an unprecedented feat: to describe the VC arrangement as it actually is.

THE RULES

  • Vinyl LPs and Compact Discs are filed separately, each A—Z.
  • Where there are multiple titles by the same artist, these are filed chronologically.

EXCEPTIONS

  • Unheard Music  A plastic crate sits atop one set of shelves, holding those albums as yet to receive the mandatory two listens prior to filing. Some have been sitting there a couple of years, begging the question: if it’s that uninteresting, why the hell is it still there? But that’s a topic for another post (and another Valium). Newish CDs are in a shelf in the family room. There is no satisfactory explanation for this other than space concerns.

Crate of LPs

  • Current Listening  Albums on the current playlist are in a small rack next to the turntable. Sometimes LPs migrate between the crate and the rack several times. They never tell me why.
  • Singles  None. They are not in the database, ergo ‘Computer says, “No!”’. Except there are about forty or fifty in a box in the wardrobe and a number inserted into the plastic cover of their parent LP. Yet for filing purposes they don’t exist. CD singles are filed with the CDs of course, trailing after the parent album like ducklings behind mum.

Donald Fagen - The NIghtfly LP

  • Jazz CDs  This is the biggest exception by far; hundreds of discs on their own shelves. I find when I want jazz it is easier to have them grouped together. Then why not extract the jazz vinyl too? Dunno. And why no other genre sections? Electronic, Blues, Gamelan Orchestras. I guess because jazz is the largest group and too many exceptions would (ahem) fragment the library. Crikey, stop asking these awkward questions, would you?

Bruce Springsteen Live 1975-85

  • Boxed Sets  Vinyl boxes are easy. The wide cardboard containers slot into the record shelves perfectly and add a satisfying sense of solidarity to the particular row they grace. As VC uses record covers on all LPs, the naked boxed sets stand out with pleasing clarity in a blurry plastic-shrouded world. But when it comes to CD sets, it’s an altogether different situation. Back in the day, when CDs were first making inroads into the vinyl market, companies came up with the comforting idea of multi-CD sets in 12” LP sized boxes that could sit alongside your records. But as the digital medium took over, the twelve-inch square packaging was no longer attractive and companies went for a variety of CD-depth styles… many of which have specialist storage needs. Then there are the unique one-offs… About now, I’m regretting this project.

Motown CD Box Hitsville USA

  • Soundtracks  Another curly one. They live in a section in the A—Z where the artist known as Soundtrack would reside. Can you have exceptions to exceptions? Exception2 perhaps? When an artist has multiple other albums, I tend to put the film work with their non-soundtrack releases, examples being Tangerine Dream and Rick Wakeman. Oh, and the albums within the Soundtrack section are filed by film title, not artist (mainly because many have multiple artists).
  • Various Artists  Like Soundtracks, these used to be grouped together at VARI in the alphabetical section. But a while back I moved all compilations (except Soundtracks) to the end of the A—Z. There was probably a very good reason at the time, but it somehow escapes me now. Compilations are filed by album title (obviously) within their section, with a little module tacked on the end for those ubiquitous TV advertised compilations with names like Ripper!, Scorcher! and Blasphemer!
  • Home-made Compilations  Until someone comes up with a 3-D printer capable of making records, this is a CD-only category. And not really a current one, either. But who can chuck out those lovingly compiled discs with their endlessly re-adjusted running orders and bespoke cover designs? Of course, there are comps made oneself, and those received, but we’ll just skip over that for now.

Home made CD-R compilations

  • Christmas Music  Like Soundtracks, except Santa’s section lies between The Chills and Suzanne Ciani. Within ‘Christmas’, albums are alphabetical by artist, of course. A mate used to issue an annual Christmas CD compiled from his extensive Op Shop collection. There are a number of these, but no question that they belong in ‘Christmas’ rather than ‘Home-made Compilations’, right? And being ‘Various Artists’ they are at the end of Christmas. Obviously.
  • Comedy  See Soundtracks. Is this becoming a joke?
  • Moog LPs  I started this a few years back when I was collecting those anonymous Moog albums that rarely tell you the performer’s name. ‘Why not file them under Moog?’ I thought. So I did. As most of these albums are not terribly interesting, the whole lot could be disposed of resulting in one less alphabetical anomaly. Perhaps a New Year’s resolution for next year. Or sometime.
  • Western Composed Music (aka ‘Classical’)  Having this as a separate section makes some sense. In the room I like to call the Vinyl Connection Library, both LPs and discs have alpha-sorted shelves. But here’s another one that has exceptions on its exceptions. The CDs are alphabetic by composer (how most normal people do it). But because I’ve been accumulating some composed 20th Century music on vinyl and only have a sprinkling (fifty, maybe?) of ‘classical’ records (including early, baroque, romantic, etcetera), I’ve filed these albums chronologically. This does not work very well at all, there being two major problems. Firstly, it requires my remembering the year of composition, an increasingly challenging task as neurones die off faster than Boomer rock stars. Secondly, albums often have two composers represented, one side being allocated to each. Where to put them? When in doubt I use what it says on the spine of the record, but the whole thing is deeply unsatisfactory and causes anxiety. The angst is often quelled by red wine, an approach not entirely aligned with neurone retention.
  • Spoken Word  Somewhere down at carpet crawler level. I don’t visit every often.
  • Cassettes  Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Cassette player

 

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57 comments

  1. just an A-Z guy with a stack of stuff I’ve not yet listened to… love the ‘high fidelity’ method though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The High Fidelity method is for the strong of heart and eidetic of memory. Cheers, Douglas.

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  2. I’ll tell you my story… in a post! Cool beans.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s what she said. 😉

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  3. ANONYMOUS CONFESSION TIME: I’ve ripped everything and dumped it into iTunes over the years. Farted around with TuneUp! to get the correct metafilters (yes, I check!) and that’s it – +80,000 songs to keep me occupied.

    This is the result of an expensive city and small apartment and in the last few years, I’ve ended up buying mostly single songs from iTunes from a list I keep adding to from various radio stations I listen to with my Radium radio menu app on my iMac. My screensaver tosses up the album cover of whatever it playing and I play stuff on use some decent Bose speakers.

    But that’s why I love coming to this site – I miss the tactile nature of vinyl and the larger covers and your knowledge is deep and writing eloquent.

    Happy new year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Firstly, thank you for the lovely feedback. Much appreciated.

      Secondly, I hugely admire your openness and bravery in coming out as a digital guy/gal. Truly in the spirit of this post. I have a mate with twice the vinyl and similar CD quantities to VC. Poor fella has to move house very soon. I suspect if he reads your contribution, he might well be torn apart by the powerful forces of scorn and envy.

      Thanks for de-anonymising, BW.

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  4. My collection is, to the untrained eye, a total mess! Luckily, I still seem to be able to find what I need. There is maybe only one instance per year of “AARGH WHERE IS [ALBUM TITLE]?” But I can live with that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s all in the training of the eye, then?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah… umm… I don’t know haha. Maybe you’d have to just be me! Not sure about the “to-be-listened-to” section either. I’ve been toying with that but I think the survival of the fittest method works fine for me still!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That sounds suitably ‘metal’, Scott. I’m sure Ted Nugent, at least, would approve.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Haha yes! I’m not sure his albums are gonna fare all that well if I abide by this system though!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You caught me on a bad day. Sunk some time into reorganizing. Found way too many unheard albums. In despair at complete breakdown of storage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One advantage of the exception about unplayed albums, it that it does avoid your experience. On the other hand, you are regularly confronted with this massive wedge of albums that you’ve paid for but not consumed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have at least four, if not more, unplayed Marillion albums. Sealed. That was disconcerting to find.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I consider my own rules to have been handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of some (self) righteous stone tablets. I believe I may have alluded to them previously.

    I’m off on Tuesday and I need to catalogue my singles properly (3-400-ish, at a guess) as, like you, they currently don’t exist. I’m looking forward to it too.

    All my CDs live in a series of plastic storage boxes under the bed in the guest room, or in the loft – apart from a select few that live in the car. Mrs 1537 has a shitload of classical ones and they live in a huge, unsightly disorganised sprawl next to the stereo that makes me want to uncontrollably.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Makes you want to uncontrollably what?!

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  7. Ha! Great post, had me laughing all the way through (“carpet crawler level” — brilliant). My problem is that is that I spent the last 30 years masquerading as a professional librarian. But within that realm, I was a mere reference librarian, which means I was subject to the whims and controls of the more powerful cataloging librarians. Oh, the battles we would have over where a certain book would be placed on the shelf (i.e. is it “Nazi” or “National Socialism”?).

    So take that kind of regular battle going on every week at work and translate it to the so-called calm of my personal record collection. With no cataloger to argue my decisions, I nonetheless argued with myself. Should Graham Nash be in the “N’s” or because he had such a limited solo output, perhaps I should just for convenience sake place him in with the rest of the CSN(Y) mothership in the “C’s”)? That’s just one example — I’ll spare you the rest because you’ve apparently been there already on your own! 🙂 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Marty. I can only imagine the extra layers of suffering and anguish that arise from a professional role in placing things on shelves mindfully… then having the external battles mimicked internally at home. Of course, my attempts at humour notwithstanding, it’s really about what works, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post. Nodded along in agreement and contentment at a great system that mirrors my own (though soundtracks go at the arse end of mine in the ‘various artists’ bit alphabetically by title) until you got to my own pet peeve – the CD box set; why, WHY must we be tortured so and forced to find space for box sets with ‘unique’, ‘fun’ or stylised boxes which have absolutely no chance of sitting alongside their correctly organised back-catalogue brethren? Almost as infuriating are those ‘collector’s editions’ which, while perhaps only home to an extra track, come in a case made to look like a book (or similar) which stands too tall to slot within the cd shelves….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m most relieved to find a comrade equally frustrated by the ‘unique’ CD packages that bedevil a well-organised system. Makes me think of a post: “Top 5 Irritating CD packages”.

      Thanks for your contribution, Tony.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m a genre kinda guy. Had a mate who went for the colour coding system. Naturally he couldn’t find anything but had the mother of all Pride statements.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love the statement, pity about the access. Thanks for contributing to the colourful responses, Kid S.

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  10. Great post. Cassettes got a big chuckle. I’m an A-Z/chronological guy. But I have more flexible storage options-record storage furniture, which makes my life a bit easier. Keep my various anthologies after my Z’s–After ZZ Top, etc. In one of my record cases i have my non-rock/pop/ r and b stuff. Comedy, soundtracks, easy listening and c and w goes together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s the exceptions that add the, er, colour, don’t you think? I rather like the idea of Comedy and Country together.
      Thanks for joining in the conversation, KGS.

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  11. Bruce, we’re pretty much on the same page regarding music filing, although you’ve added a few more categories than I have. But the basic rules of alphabetical artists, chronological albums within each artist, two listens for “unheard music” before it earns its rightful place on the shelf, etc. are what I’ve been doing for decades.

    As for jazz, I decided to lump any instrumental music into one category (although if a rock/pop artist releases an instrumental album it stays with that artist’s other work). So Fela Kuti sits comfortably next to Gene Krupa.

    I still have four 120-count carrying cases for my cassettes, none of which have been opened in 10-15 years. Once our house renovations are done later this year and I have access to my physical music collection again, I will sort through those tapes & likely unload/discard most of them. I am, however, considering a brief series where I discuss my old rules for personally-curated single-artist cassette compilations. I believe my 90- and 100-minute collections are stronger than any officially released compilation on the market, but I’m humble that way. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, the home-made compilation. Sigh. Another High Fidelity connection there of course, though he was doing ‘Various Artists’ comps.

      Also intrigued by your ‘instrumental’ section. Wouldn’t work for me (too much — all that droney electronic stuff) but does sound fascinating as your example demonstrates.

      Hope you are staying on the sane side of the renovations, Rich. All the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful again, Bruce. A while back I couldn’t even begin to explain how my music was organised. I had the High Fidelity system going on for a good few years. Mainly because I always added new stuff to the end of the shelf when I started. Then I kept going as the collection expanded. Never had an issue finding anything, either.

    A few years ago, after moving, I cut a lot of the collection down. Thousands of CDs became hundreds. I wasn’t listening to as much music and more CDs went. I got into records a few years ago and I started focussing on buying vinyl, cause I liked sitting down with the sleeve. Most of the CDs went when we needed more space.

    Anyway, I went off topic there, but I was trying to get to this: it’s A-Z. Everything. No genres set aside. All lumped together…

    Except similar ‘new additions’ and ‘rotation’ selections. They’re the records I keep right under the record player.

    Numbers filed under the letter, soundtracks, etc kept under ‘V’ (unless it’s Ennio or Ry Cooper, then, y’know). Solo artists tend to sit with the band unless it’s the likes of Ryan Adams or Mark Lanegan, who have long established themselves as solo artists. Eh… have I missed anything?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, so some serious CD culling along the way, eh James? I think many others either have done this or are considering such a move (especially with the capacity for hard-driving the discs).

      As for your description of your ‘pure’ A-Z, it almost brought a tear to my eye as you reached your fifth exception.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha. Yeah, I realised after hitting reply that there were a few exceptions (and probably some more if I looked at the collection!)

        I guess that’s the beauty of browsing someone else’s collection, huh? It’s not just that there are likely titles to discuss, but there are points about the filing. Well, in the ideal world that type of thing interests us all enough to discuss it! Or am I on my own there? Ha!

        As for CDs, I lost quite a chunk of the music due to hard-drive ‘malfunction’. That was a killer and I’ve been gradually trying to rebuild much of the library, which has meant re-purchase. Luckily, CDs have been fairly cheap to obtain (most expensive being little over £5). If it’s been reassessed as essential I’ve attempted to nab vinyl if it’s reasonably priced.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “Hard drive malfunction” are three words to chill the heart of a digital downloader. Canna beat a physical object, can you?

          As for the interest in this topic, look at this bulging comments section! Course, it may just prove that we’re all a bit weird.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. The malfunction certainly highlighted that digital is no replacement for the physical product. I mean, I guess I could misplace a CD or whatever, but I’d likely recover it after a few minutes looking around. The digital files are well and truly gone.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Put me in mind of “The Library of Babel” … so you are writing top shelf stuff Bruce (sorry!).
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice image. There is certainly a babbling Babel tinge to it all, DD. Cheers.

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      1. If you’ve not read Borge’s “The Library of Babel”, it yields plenty of laughs in jus a few minutes, then, perchance, something to reflect on for, maybe, years.
        http://www.arts.ucsb.edu/faculty/reese/classes/artistsbooks/The%20Library%20of%20Babel.pdf

        …”the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues…”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for the lead, DD. Sounds fascinating.

          Like

  14. I love heariing how people organize collections. For large ones it’s necessary. I worked/work in record stores too, so it’s interesting to see how different stores file stuff. Your system is pretty close to the best I ever worked with back in the 90’s at my first record store gig. Genres were chronilogical from early blues and big band stuff then into RnB Soul Funk Disco followed by 90’s Hip-Hop and Dance stuff. All the Rock music was in a back room, mostly 60’s psych Garage and obscure prog and Punk stuff. This was a small store and the guy catered to people with more specific tastes, mostly DJ’s and early ‘diggers’ by the mid 80’s into the 90’s. All artists were strictly alphabetical with lp’s chronological in the bin followed by 12’s in chronological order, solo artists following that, so Kiss would be followed by their solo albums UNLESS a solo artist trancends their previous group work, so Lionel Ritchie for example had his own bin, Curtis Mayfield was separate from The Impressions but we might keep Steve Howe with the Yes records. ‘Number’ artists were filed alphabetically.
    My set up is pretty custom to me and for space reasons, I have things in a few places in my house. The main sections is what I call ‘General Pop’ so anything you might hear on the radio from all eras but mostly 60’s and 70’s Classic Rock and 80’s Pop. I have a large section of 80’s Hip-Hop and Electro 12’s and LP’s. A large section of Soul/Funk/Disco, a large section of Punk and Industrial and Death Rock as wella s 90’s era ‘College Rock and UK stuff. I split my Jazz into Big Band era stuff and everything else, though I keep all my ECM stuff separate. Small sections are 60’s Garage Punk/Psych, 60’s Psych/Folk, Stoner Rock, Krautrock, Avante Garde/Electronic, Classical and Early Music, in another room I have Comps, Soundtracks Reggae/Dub, Blues, Folk, Private Press, and various foreign and Spoken Word/Comedy records…78’s
    Of course, I have random piles of stuff being processed as I currently work at a record store and acquire things faster than I can absorb them sometimes…so there are ‘floor records’ too! 🙂
    45’s separate from 7 inch stuff with covers etc. same categories.
    CD’s are another story! Those are all over the place, stacked on shelves and a bunch in those binders…tons of tapes from my youth and virtual tons of digital music too!
    Cheers and happy collecting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Like, wow!
      It does sound as if your home system has been influenced by some of the commercial arrangements in record stores. And why not? It’s likely for all of us that, past a certain threshold of titles, all systems have more exceptions and idiosyncrasies than rule-followers. As long as you can find that obscure Electro 12″ when you want it…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. One of the big advantages (in theory) of the digital age is that you can just throw all your digital artefacts into a big bin (called a database) and organise it in multiple ways. Indexed by artist? Sure. By release date? No problem. Genre, rating, girlfriend’s name when you first heard it? Of course! The computer can do ad hoc searches, too – much faster than carpet crawling. And, if you meticulously catalogue your vinyl, CDs, etc. you can (again, in theory) get all those benefits for those disc-shaped material things, too. But who wants to go to all that trouble when you have rooms full of LPs, singles, boxed sets, etc.?

    (Confession: My collection no longer contains any vinyl. I have around 150 CDs but most of my music sits on the hard drive of my computer, including those CDs. I still agonise over the CD filing system, though. :-))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A database (like Numbers or Excel) is certainly adequate for searching and sorting. Why only last week I tried out a new ‘genre/category’ system before being subdued by the scale of the project and the uncertain benefits. Having said that, chronological by girlfriend is fascinating.

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  16. Interesting. A new lick of paint in my home necessitated a complete overhaul of my filing ‘system’ recently. When it was time to put everything back, I couldn’t be arsed to repeat the system, so have pretty much ended up with a random selection of stuff (though in vague sections for each genre). I have to say, it’s been quite liberating… Am listening to stuff I haven’t for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ‘shake up’ ploy is a good one. Even seeing things as you move them or re-organise can inspire a spin. Good stuff.

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  17. Fun post (and continuing of filing theme) Bruce – I laughed out loud when I got to the filing system for cassettes!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Alphabetical, then chronological here too, but no genre divisions, That said, the bulk of my collection (mainly CDs now but some LPs) are in storage back in Virginia so I’m mostly digital for the moment. This is only acceptable because I know the physical item is back there awaiting me. New physical purchases — never buy digital — picked up during my current assignment are catch as catch can in a CD tower. Amount of time spent “perfecting” the digital metafilters on 25,000+ songs. to include consistent capitalization and song-based years of release on any compilations, more than I’d want to admit in “normal” company.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always have max respect for a man who values release data. Context is all.

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  19. […] by THIS EXCELLENT POST AT VINYL CONNECTION, I took a much-needed look at how I run things in my own collection. Turns out, given years of […]

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  20. […] most recent Sunday Pondering was a fun one – how I organize my collection! Inspired by THIS POST by Bruce, I shared how my collection currently stands (and it’s a wee bit of a mess). My post […]

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  21. The thing I’ve always been confused about is, if I’m filing by last name, does Townes Van Zandt go under V or Z?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Where do you file Ludwig van Beethoven?

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  22. By catalog number here 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You champion! Love it.

      Like

  23. […] Got it! I’ll write about all the albums entitled Time Something located alphabetically between SCHO and SCHU. Than heavens for the filing system. […]

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  24. How bout Woody Guthrie’s method. Good pile, bad pile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, but who decides? Woody? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not Woody. That was just his filing system.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. […] Where do you file your ‘Various Artists’ albums? By title in the A-Z? In their own section? Luckily that’s not what we are here to discuss and anyway it was extensively canvassed not long ago. […]

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