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Organising Your CD Collection

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A CD collection.

Arranging your music collection may seem simple at first, but if you have anything resembling a reasonably-sized collection, you'll soon find that it is in fact a difficult task with a bewildering array of options. Perhaps you are like the protagonist of Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity, who reorganises his music collection in times of stress; perhaps you just want a tidy up. Either way, this entry is here to help.

When ordering your music collection, there are a number of different methods to choose from, depending on what suits you the most. This entry will refer to CDs but also relates, for the most part, to records and tapes. It will not deal with music stored on a computer or music-playing device such as an iPod, as these sorts of devices have an irritating knack for arranging your music for you.

Type of Storage

There are three main methods for storing your CDs:

  • Shelving or a cupboard – assuming your CDs are placed side by side with the spine vertical, as opposed to on top of one another, this is simple as the discs simply stack up next to each other and can just slide out of place. If the CDs are in a cupboard, bear in mind that your splendid taste is not clear to any visitors to your house, though it may protect your collection in the event of being burgled.
  • A pile or stack – this method may appear more convenient as it dispenses with the need for a storage unit and discs can simply be put back on the pile, but is annoying when you need to access a CD from the bottom - see below.
  • A CD rack – designed specifically for CDs, these are usually freestanding and can be placed on your floor or on a surface. They provide easy access to your collection, although there is a major problem with the racks: they often have individual slots for CDs, which makes it impossible to fit double CDs in and also means that if you want to add a new CD in the middle, the only way to do it is by moving every CD below it down one space. To solve this problem, leave an empty slot at intervals. Alternatively, buy a rack that has shelves fitting multiple CDs rather than slots which hold only one.


This is the most obvious method for organising your music. You might begin with AC/DC, then Aerosmith, for example. Some bands deliberately choose a name that will get them an obvious spot in record stores, which usually organise their music in this way. However, it is not as simple as it first appears. When sorting solo artists, do you place them by their first name or their surname? Usual practice in record shops is by surname, but it all comes down to personal choice. Would you prefer Michael Jackson to be under 'M' or 'J'? What about someone like Elvis, who is usually known by his first name?

Of course, if you want to organise alphabetically, it doesn't have to be by artist or group. You could organise by the album title, or even the record label!


Organising by genre may be your preferred method if you go through moods in which you listen to only certain types of music. The obvious way to utilise this method would be to order by genre alphabetically, so that the early part of your collection might consist of blues, followed by classical, comedy1, country, easy listening and electronica2. Within this you could then order the artists alphabetically too. This may cause problems if the group or artist genre-hops. Do you separate their CDs into different sections? Organisation within the genre method is open to experiment. If you have a very wide range of music but only a few CDs for each genre, organisation within genres is not really necessary.


This method has two subdivisions – by time of purchase and by time of release. The first arranges your CDs in the order in which you bought them, which requires either an excellent memory, a lot of receipts, or a small collection. The second is rather easier since you can look up such information on the internet or on the case itself. However, this method is difficult as it requires you to remember at least vaguely where the CD is located, or of course the year it came out or was purchased, in order for you to find it quickly.

Frequency of Use

If you're not especially organised, this is probably the method you use. The CDs will likely be put back in their pile, shelf, or rack in approximate order of how often you listen to them; this means that your favourites will probably be at the top or the most accessible point of your collection, especially as many listeners will find themselves listening to a CD frequently for a while before perhaps moving on to another. The problem with this becomes clear when you have a hankering to hear a CD you haven't listened to for a long time. It is not so problematic if your CDs are kept in a rack, though it may involve getting on your hands and knees if the rack is kept on the floor, but if the CDs are in a pile, you will have to remove all of the CDs above the desired disc or slide it out while being careful not to knock any others over.

Not recommended.


This final method is for those who are rather more aesthetically than practically-minded. Arranging CDs by the colour of their sleeves may produce a pleasing rainbow effect but it may well take some time to locate the CD you're after.

Sub-divisions and Other Considerations

Within these methods are a few other factors to consider. For example, how do you order CDs by the same artist? Alphabetically? Chronologically by release date? You might end up with a CD collection organised alphabetically overall but in which individual CDs by the same artist are arranged earliest to latest, or just randomly. What if there are different case types, such as a mixture of jewel cases3 and card cases? It's really up to you.

Furthermore, what about special editions, soundtracks, seasonal albums, live CDs, compilations? It might be easiest to give compilations, soundtracks and seasonal albums a section of their own. Some people will prefer to put live CDs and the like with the other CDs they might have by the same artist, others might have a genre section for live or special edition CDs.

If you share a house with someone else, you may wish to keep your individual collections separate or alternatively, mix them up. The obvious peril of this is arguments over who owns what if you go your separate ways!

A suggestion to consider, especially for those with larger than average collections, is to create some type of database, perhaps on a computer, that will tell you where to find anything. You can order this any way you choose.

One final hint - make sure to put each CD back in the correct case, otherwise it will take you forever to find! Of course, this is easier said than done. Imagine the scene. You've got a hankering to listen to your favourite CD, so you take it out of the case and are about to put in in to play when, horror of horrors, you discover that there is already a CD in there! This requires you to put one of the CDs down while you hunt for the case. A slightly risky business, as CDs can scratch and a serious scratch may ruin the listening experience4. Also, you may have a lot of trouble finding the case! You have two options here: put it in an empty case of another CD while you try to find the correct case, or keep several empty cases specifically for this purpose.

With any luck this entry has helped you to navigate the potential minefield that is organising your music. Good luck!

1Not all CDs are music, after all.2If so, give yourself a pat on the back for your eclectic taste.3That's a standard transparent plastic case, for those not in the know.4There are services available that may be able to fix a scratch but it often works out cheaper to buy the CD again.

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