Regardless of how you organize your library in databases like SoundMiner, Basehead, etc., how do you sanely file your recordings on your hard drive, especially between initial ingestion of the raw recordings and where the edited and mastered recordings go? Do you store them by date, by event/project, by sound type? Or do you store them "flat," in a less organized way, and let your sound library sort it all out?

To kick things off, I name all my raw recording sessions by date and event/subject (if for a project, with a 3-letter project code instead of an event or subject), and I never erase or over-write my raw originals. I then do have many separate subfolders for edited sounds by type, and I leverage my SFX library software/database for searching and cross-referencing sounds via metadata. While this feels pretty redundant, having an organizational system in the file system in addition to all the metadata entry, at least I know that I've got some sensible hard-drive-level organization if my database ever becomes corrupted.

But, I'm always assuming there's a better way, though. What methods do you use?

(Note: Related to this earlier question, but focused on file-system-level organization, not the librarian software!)

  • Glad you asked this. Right this instant, I'm trying to figure out a good system too... Looking forward to reading answers. Commented Mar 31, 2010 at 15:46

7 Answers 7


I had a chance to collaborate with a librarian that worked for Soundelux for almost almost 15 years. He suggested the best way to organize a library was to be very specific and blunt in the folder structure, such as:

Vehicles: Aircraft, Automobiles, Locomotives, Spacecraft, Water Craft

Then using sub-folders to list each type of vehicle in its suggested master. The glue that holds the entire system together is the meta-data. His goal was to be able to find any sound effect he wanted without having to use Soundminer. So if wanted a laser blaster it would be filed such as: Weapons/Guns/Sci_Fi/Laser

As far as mastering is concerned I label every recording in my 702 before I record it and save the files to my "To Be Mastered" folder that is within my SFX library structure. This gives me access to the files even if I have not had a chance to master yet. I too save the originals to a separate folder outside of my database using the method used above.

  • Thanks for this, Nick. Encouraging that pro's also use the file system as a backup to whatever librarian software they're using. Thanks for the insight! Commented Apr 1, 2010 at 15:01
  • Wow, Nick. I think I've worked with the same man: PP. I can attest to this structure working. I interned beside him for a semester in the library of a relatively new sound editorial company, and the method was highly effective. The biggest issue there is it is a LOT of work to conform large libraries. But if you start your library this way it's awesome.
    – user209
    Commented Apr 7, 2010 at 14:48

I have some strong feelings on this topic, so apologies in advance for the longish post.

Here's how I organize my audio files: I don't! Before you throw up, let me explain…

What I mean is that I don't sort, file or otherwise organize my audio files into folders in my operating system. Not at all. My entire working sound library is nothing more than several bazillion files living inside one single folder on my computer, I barely even give them names any more. Most still have the default generic name from whatever device or application they spawned from. "file0483.wav", "Reaktor52-28983.wav"

Heh, I bet there are a lot of people who are getting increasingly agitated by this. Contrary to how it may sound, I am actually a hyper-organized person, and I do have a great organization system in place. But over many years of using and designing custom media databases, I came to understand that audio has many inherent qualities which prevent it from being organized in the same way as, say, text files. Here's why…

Audio is too alive There are several good reasons, but the biggie is: Audio is not always one dimensional. What good is your "Nature/Animals/Jungle/Birds/Parrots/Macaw_Rainforest_Morning_Take_15.aiff" filing convention, when that file also clearly has the sounds of 20 other types of birds, a fan boat, some chainsaws, a bunch of tourist chatter, and a thunderstorm in the background? A really awesome thunderstorm.

Why force yourself to make boring administrative decisions about where a file lives on your computer, a decision which may inevitably hinder its usefulness later, depending on where you decide it should go at that moment? Your computer doesn't know what that file is. It doesn't care how awesome the thunderstorm is. It's just a file.

It's creatively restrictive In a pinch, after 14 cups of coffee, you've decided that the cool synthy stabby thingy file should live in your "Instruments/Synth/Analog/Leads/" folder. Great. But I think we all know that any one of us could take that little bloop sound and transform it into an epic pad or soundscape, or a bass, or a whatever. Point is, organizing the actual files themselves does little more than limit your use of them.

It's an artistic hindrance. You are an artist, but there is absolutely nothing creative or artistic about naming, sorting and moving around files. You are forcing your brain to bounce back and forth between left and right function, thusly sucking the creative energy out of yourself and eating away at your day.

Tag, in context Sure, there are plenty of sound files that are just_one_thing, but your system should be flexible enough to accomodate ALL situations. Giving one file one name and sticking it in one folder forever isn't flexible. What is flexible? Tags. A file can only have one name, but it can have as many tags as your heart desires. Tags are clickable, searchable, quick to apply, short, sweet, are based on creative usage, require no typing, the list goes on. File and folder names are long, tedious, manually typed, manually sorted, and prone to human error.

Believe it or not, there is nothing more flexible than a single folder with a million files in it. As long as you use tags, and apply those tags in a creative context. What I mean is, applying simple and meaningful tags to your audio files WHILE YOU ARE USING THEM creatively. < This is important. There is nothing more lame or prone to bad decisions than an all-night file organization session. Instead, apply tags to files while in use, while the juice is flowing. Clicking on a handful of tags while you are doing some real work takes a few seconds, and will result in far more meaningful context than at 3am when you are playing file clerk.

Portability It doesn't matter what tools you use. Soundminer, Snapper, Monkey, the plain old Finder, iTunes. Makes no difference. I've used every pro audio database out there, and designed several custom ones of my own and for others. My tool of choice these days is AudioFinder. It's a little on the ugly side, a bit bloated, but auditioning and searching are fast, and it has some editing and batching functionality that I've grown to enjoy using. It also has an excellent tagging system, and it applies those tags to the files in OS X as Spotlight comments. That means I can take that big fat folder anywhere, and with a few scripts I can get my entire tag system into any piece of software I choose and move on with my life.

Don't get me wrong. If I need to deliver files to anyone else on earth, I will name them and put them into a nice folder for people. Hell, I make sound libraries for a living. Those final products are neatly named, given metadata, etc. But during the time leading up to that final product, I am focused 100% on creative output. That is largely made possible by the low administrative overhead of my system. My non-system system, which happens to be orders of magnitude more productive than any other method I've seen or used.

It takes a lot of fortitude to cut the cord and just go for it. But once you do, it's really quite liberating, and is really much more conducive to creative work. I've helped others transition from some really massive directory-based systems over to this way of working and they've all said the same thing. They all love it.

You are an artist. Do whatever you can to keep your brain in creative thinking territory. Organizing files is the antithesis of that. Just my 2 cents.

  • an interesting approach - i personally detest spotlight & doubt it will be an OS in 5 years time so not sure being dependent on it is so wise.... the other thing I find a little odd with your reasoning is that it is so incredibly easy to autoname recordings at the time of recording, without impeding your creativity, that I can see no motive for not even bothering to do that - there only seems to be potential problems in this approach?
    – user49
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 23:07
  • Should emphasize; It's not file names that I am against. It's more just the tedious attempts to organize them into folders and subfolders. That's the part that I dropped. I should also emphasize; I only feel strongly about this because of the significant positive impact it had on my productivity. Obviously no method will work for everyone. This one just worked for me. I certainly don't feel it's the "right" way to do it. I don't think there is such a thing. Yeah, Spotlight is useless. I never use with it directly, just an automatic fallback for tags. I have them elsewhere as well. Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 2:02

Everyone has different searching habits and based on these its easier to create your own system.

My system for my folder maintenance is purely based on project coding. I have created a legend and started labeling them according to the legend which made my life easier.

When I am in the folder Project ClientName, I have sub-folders like 100221_FR_Pr which stands for the Processed Fields Recorings made in 21st of February. I also have codes for the studio recordings, raw files, mixed and mastered files, etc.

The funny thing is it gets some time to get used to your own system but it really works after a while. For me this really helped when I had to pick up a specific audio when talking to a client.


mmm...this is a digital library problem....

people with a computer science background organize files with the following structure:

root / project / sources OR deploy / libraries / soundA / ...

where: root is the name first level directory; project the name of the project you are working for; sources OR deploy, two directories at the same level containing raw material or finalized one; libraries is the name of a sounds library; soundA is the name of a sound of yours.

examples: //nike_commercial/sources/voices/male.aiff is a male voice used for the project of your nike commercial and you want to use it only for that project


is the boom effect of an explosion you created at 13th march 2010, it is part of a general directory called special_effects, in which you archive all these kind of sounds, created not for a specific project, but you can use it freely anywhere.

anyway all this structure could be more searchable if you use metadata, such as tags, in which you add information about the natutre of the sound.

examples: boom_03132010.aiff some tags: loud, synthetized, recorded, london, stereo, ...

but to achieve this you have to use a specified software to manage metadata, you can't do that using directories


I think for sound design elements (very basic things like a low thud, tool clutter, cork pop) it is good to give files a rudimentary searchable name. For finished sound effects with many elements you might want to add terms to the name or give it tags. Personally I would love to be independent of metadata. My library is still a work in progress. The most important thing in my mind is for you to KNOW your library. Get familiar with the files included in the libraries you own so that you know where to go. As mentioned above a file's applicability relies not on the name or location, but in the actual sound contained within. If you don't listen... if you've never heard the contents of the file before, the naming convention might prove of little use. I've removed a lot of files from libraries because I just didn't like them or felt they were redundant and I already had x similar files.


Question Do you guys ever merge libraries? like... do you have a folder called "foley" and there you have foley from every library you own?

Or is it divided by libraries and then each library under their own category ie foley?

....that lead me to an unexpected question: Do you ever RE-organize libraries you buy so that they fit your "personal system" as mentioned by @Selcuk?

  • 1
    Actually, I do this with all of the boutique libraries I purchase - not that the creators did anything wrong, I just like the metadata methods that SI/HE and Soundstorm use, so I modify the metadata appropriately to my needed and re-embed it (usually it's just tagging a proper Source tag with enumerating index numbers since everything else is there). For example, With Frank's North Country Trains, I change out the Source tag "The Recordist" to NCT01_xxx (the xxx matches the suffix number on his wav files so it's a direct match). It helps be get to the material I need faster when I'm working Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 8:09

First of all, sorry if my english is sometimes bad but like theodorejordan, I really feel inspired by this thread. For a long time, I’ve tried to create many templates of organization for my sound library, but I always got some troubles sometimes when I want to quickly search a sound. Then I’ve finding inspiration in Ric Viers’s book «The Sound Effects Bible» to create rules I use since more than 1 year now.

My hd organisation: I have one dedicated HD on my mac pro for my sounds with only 3 folders on the root: RAW : once I’ve work on my raw, I delete them to don’t waste space. Before, i used to keep them but I realize I’ll never come back on it. It’s brutal but I assume. The names of my raw are directly created on my Nagra when I go in a recording session (Name, Take, Date, Comments)

PERSONNAL SOUND LIBRARY / no subfolders, with all my sounds (I’ll explain later why)

SOUND LIBRARY I BOUGHT / with all the subfolders of the different library. I don’t want to waste my time to reorganize them. One backup on an external hd and one backup on my serv (never enough safe)

Filenames : that maybe looks useless at first but I’m writing the names in capital letters only. My goal is to be readable when I have to work fast and that helps me a lot. Maximum 31 characters (it’s the mac filename limit, if I have to give more informations, I’ll put them in soundminer). All my files have the same name structure: CATEGORY NOUN VERB DESCRIPTION LISTNUMBER.wav Put too much category or subcategory names makes me feel lost. All my files have one unique sound. I mean, if I record 3 sounds of matches in one take, after I’ll seperate them in 3 files, not like some professional libraries who contain 10 sounds of the same source in one file. I’m lazy, I’ll just listen the first one. I put them in one folder. I remember the categories I’ve used to name my files, so if I’m looking for a specific sound, I open my folder and I directly go to the first letter of my category (no need to spotlight). My goal is still to work faster as possible. For non-english speakers (...like me): I always name my sounds in english, not in french. I use to work sometimes with international companies, so it’s better if I give my sounds to someone, that people directly can understand what is that sound.

With this method I really surprise myself to use Soundminer, just in some rare occasions, like when I need sounds from other libraries or when I need a really specific sound that I didn’t enough comment on the filename, but enough in the metadata.

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