How to identify music tracks on the PC and auto-rename files

Track down missing music track information with MusicBrainz

Suppose you have a collection of music tracks on the computer that have random filenames or just numbers like Track 1, Track 2 and so on. How do you identify them and rename the tracks?

Use MusicBrainz Picard to identify unknown music tracks and add meta information

This was a problem I was asked recently and there is an interesting story here about the meta information stored by files and how to identify music tracks when you have no information about them.

Identify music with Shazam

There is a great app for Android phones and iPhones called Shazam that is brilliant at identifying music. One way to discover what a track is, is to play it on the PC, turn up the volume and run the Shazam app on your phone.

It would work, but imagine if you had 100 tracks you wanted to identify. You would need to play each track on the PC and hold up your phone with Shazam to find out what it is, then you would need to edit the filename on the PC.

You could do it with one, two or even half a dozen tracks, but beyond that it becomes tediously slow. What is needed is the equivalent for Windows PCs. MusicBrainz Picard is not quite perfect, but it goes a long way to doing what you want and it is free open source software. Let’s take a look. It works on the PC and Apple Mac.

Open the file properties

To test MusicBrainz we need some unknown music files with random filenames. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it looks because information is buried in music files. To see it, right click a music file and select Properties on the menu.

The right click context menu in Windows Explorer


View music file details

Select the Details tab in the properties window and you can see that the file contains the track title, rating, artists, year, genre, and other information. If you have just a few files to identify and the files contain meta information like this, you could manually get the track title and rename the file. You wouldn’t want to do it with a lot of files because it is tedious and slow.

The meta information stored within a music file in Windows


Remove the properties

The meta information that files contain can be stripped out by clicking the link at the bottom of the window, Remove Properties and Personal Information. Select Create a copy with all possible properties removed, then click OK and OK to close the windows. Files are saved with the same name, but with ‘Copy’ added to the end.

Remove file meta information and properties in Windows


Rename the files

After removing the information from a collection of music files, they were then renamed. So now there is no way to tell the track, album or artist. This collection of music files is ready for testing with MusicBrainz Picard.

Windows Explorer


Add files to MusicBrainz

Get MusicBrainz Picard and install it. Run it and click Add Folder or Add Files to select the music files you want to identify and name. The files are added to the Unmatched Files folder because there is no information about them.

MusicBrainz Picard software for Windows


Scan for fingerprints

If these music files had complete meta information in the file as we saw earlier, the Lookup toolbar button could be used, but our files contain no information. Select all the files and click the Scan button.

Fingerprints of the files are uploaded and checked in online databases. The result is a list of albums and artists. When an album is expanded, the track from it is highlighted. Full details about the track, album and artist are automatically retrieved.

MusicBrainz Picard identifies music tracks


Get the filename

It is not obvious from the listing which track is which filename. Just click the Info button in the toolbar to get the details.

MusicBrainz file info feature


Save tags and rename files

Now here comes the clever part. Go to the options menu and select Rename Files and Save Tags. Then click the Save button in the toolbar. This adds all the music information to the file (the file properties we saw earlier), and renames the file with a more suitable filename.

Options in MusicBrainz software


Check the results

The results were not quite perfect and some tracks were not identified, one was a Beethoven symphony, but many tracks were correctly identified. I actually ran the files through MusicBrainz twice and some tracks that were not named the first time around, were renamed on the second run.

MusicBrainz went a long way to reconstructing all the missing tags and filenames that I had stripped out. It did not do them all, but if you have a collection of unidentified tracks, it could do a lot of the hard work of renaming and tagging them with meta information.

MusicBrainz Picard identifies music tracks by fingerprint


Customise the filenames

MusicBrainz can be controlled by a scripting language. It is not for novices, but if you go to Options > File Naming you can see the script that renames the files. There is a link to show the scripting help on the website.

MusicBrainz Picard options

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If you have a little technical knowledge, you could customise or rewrite the File Naming script to get better filenames.

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