How to Organize Movies, Music and Other Media

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Today's average household resembles a library with growing collections
of CDs, DVDs, digital music files and home movies in a dizzying
array of formats. Cataloging and organizing your media will enhance
your enjoyment of it and make managing it fast and easy. Digitize your
movies, music and photographs, and there's no end to the amount of
fun you'll have creating multimedia extravaganzas.

General tips

  • Sort movies and CDs by type, then by category or genre. If you're not sure what categories to use, visit a video or music store, a library or an online photo archive for some ideas. Sort alphabetically (by artist or title) within categories.

  • Unload items you don't want anymore. Give duplicates to friends, donate them to a library or sell them. Contact a radio station or university to gauge interest in your old record collection. See 12 Get Rid of What You Don't Want.

  • Count or measure your newly sorted and culled collection to make sure you have enough space to store everything. Purchase additional storage shelves, boxes and trays if necessary. You'll find a variety of items ranging from plain boxes to specially designed racks everywhere from Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot to office supply stores and specialty shops (Ikea, Hold Everything, the Container Store, Staples).

  • Bear in mind that all digital media (music, video footage, photographs) requires software to organize it (known as an asset management system) and adequate storage space.

CDs and DVDs

  • Put address labels on your books, CDs or DVDs if you loan them out. Use 3-by-5--inch cards to track which items you've loaned out, when and to whom.

  • Consider managing your collections on your computer. Simply list items in a word processing file, or catalog them in a spreadsheet to track titles, artists, release years and special features. Better yet, create a database that allows you to search for specific attributes (genre, title). If you have a valuable collection, a computer-generated list is useful for insurance purposes.

  • Update your catalog seasonally, quarterly or whenever you purchase new media or get rid of older items.

Digital music files

  • Choose a listening device for your music (computer, stereo, portable music player, digital audio receiver) before downloading music from an online store or loading songs from your CDs onto your computer. Different devices require audio files in specific formats, including MP3, AAC and WMA.

  • Download songs for a fee from online stores such as Apple's iTunes (apple.com/itunes) or Napster.com. Search for a song by artist, title, genre and many other options.

  • Take your tunes to go. Portable CD players have long been making way for fast, tough MP3 players with a variety of storage capacities, including the Dell DJ, Samsung Napster and Rio iRiver. Apple's iPod (apple.com) has become invincible in the personal digital music player market. Available on both the Windows and Macintosh platforms, the iPod stores up to 10,000 songs on a 20- or 40-gigabyte hard drive. Coupled with a number of thirdparty accessories, the iPod has tremendous capabilities:

Digital video footage

  • Pull footage directly from your camcorder or camera into your computer. Organize clips in a film-editing application such as iMovie or Final Cut Pro (both available at apple.com). Set up folders for each movie with files for clips, stills and so on.

  • Purchase an external hard drive with as much storage space as you can afford for the enormous files you'll be processing.

  • Save completed movies in a size and format suitable to their intended use and that will work on specific output devices.

Slides and home movies

  • Store slides and Super 8 and 16 mm movies in an area protected from light, humidity and heat, all of which will cause the gelatin in the film to eventually degrade. Take a cue from the pros, who are moving away from the original metal canisters and opting instead for acid-free cardboard boxes.

  • Digitize your home movies and slides to protect them from time and the elements. Even better, once these assets are digital, you'll be able to combine them with digital photographs, and add music and titles. Edit the whole thing into a home movie, then burn DVDs to send to all the relatives.

Tips & Warnings

  • See 53 Organize Your Photos for tips on managing photographs and digital images alike.
  • Select categories that work for you. You might prefer to categorize your music or movies by its mood or emotional impact (such as "uplifting" or "calming") rather than by genre.
  • Back up digital files regularly to CD or DVD and store them outside the home for fire safety--with a trusted friend or in a safe-deposit box. See 464 Formulate a Family Emergency Plan.
  • Firewire (Apple), iLink (Sony), SB1394 (Sound Blaster) and Lynx (Texas Instruments) are all trademark names for the IEEE-1394, a standard multimedia connection that allows instant transfer between computers, digital cameras, VCRs, camcorders and TVs.
  • MP3 is a music compression format that allows files to be reduced to a size that's small enough to load onto portable music players. The process of compression, however, does involve a loss of quality from the digitally perfect original. iPod owners can enjoy the new Apple Lossless encoder for sound quality that's virtually indistinguishable from the original CD file at about half the size.
  • In order to prevent illegal use of licensed music, online music stores embed rightsmanagement coding directly into their songs. This allows them to be played only on specific devices, and to be burned to a limited number of CDs before listening rights are terminated.
  • Some new DVD players can record analog VHS footage onto DVDs. Pioneer's DTR- 500 makes the transition from analog to digital a snap--and even cranks out VHS copies for your lowtech friends.
  • The simplest (and cheapest) way to convert those old Super 8 and 16 mm movies is to set up your digital camcorder on a tripod and film the movie as it plays on the screen. Presto! Digital movies. The better the camera, slide screen, light and sound, the better the end result. Digitizing slides is slow and expensive as they have to be scanned one at a time.
  • Weigh the time needed to input, edit and transform any media into the format you need against the very hefty cost of hiring a professional transfer service.
  • If any of your 16 mm or Super 8 movies has a vinegar-like smell to it, immediately isolate that can from the others. "Vinegar syndrome" is contagious and causes film to degrade.

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