30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


My collection looks a bit like this, but I have better shelves and more stuff.

I have a complicated music filing system that has taken me years to develop, and I have spent years maintaining it.

Actually, I don’t right now. Most of my stuff is in storage (in order). There is some stuff in my current house. Then there are 8 boxes in the hands of the people at Anglo Pacific of books, CDs, records, DVDs and more. Oh God I hope that stuff is ok.

(A quick shipment track tells me it’s in Antwerp. Yes, that £60 copy of the first Left Banke album I found is in Antwerp)

I am excited about being home and joining my collection together. Yes, it’s nerdy. Yes, some people will find it creepy. But it’s the thing about music, books and stuff for me. I love that stuff, and one of the many things it does to me is bring out my inner librarian. I could spend a whole day just looking through my records. Scary.

Most big music fans have a filing system. Now, you might think you have a system. And you might have a small beginnings of one. But I have met some of the filing greats. People who have been collecting for decades, and/or owned record shops. Where knowing exactly where something is in 10K+ records is a very special skill.

I have a clear memory of Rusty looking for an record once. It was just as I was developing my interest in vinyl. We were looking for something at his house. He found the spot it should be in and pulled the record out. I could barely make sense of the thin record spines. I asked him how he found it so fast.

“You develop the eyes for it after a while.”

Now some kids see sportsmen, or action heroes, or James Dean, and say I want to be like that. I wanted to be the guy who could see records from across the room.

Here are the basics of the filing system. I think it is pretty close to a standard. Most music nerds I’ve found have come to similar conclusions.

Before we begin, one thing that has come up when people have come over and seen my collection. They say, you’ve got your CDs backwards.

What they see is this – if I was listing CDs named 1 to 10 in order, they would appear on my shelf thus:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Now the reason for this is CDs face right when you stand them up, spine facing right. This is the logical way of doing it for me, although I have seen people go “forwards”. I go with the way my records go.

Now, they could still face right and go 1,2,3,4, etc. But then the last part of the sequence faces out, and the first part has it’s cover buried and the back showing. That doesn’t look right.

Now – I have argued with two people about this in my life. I would like to state that I am right. That’s what a blog is for.

The rules

Firstly – Alphabetical.

Easy, sure.

Alphabetical by Surname.

So, Hendrix is in “h”.

Band Name Trumps Surname.

This is controversial. But it needs to be brought up early. Ben Folds Five lives in “B”, where Ben Folds’ solo output lives in “F”.

Yes. I’ve heard it all. Fuck off. I have good reasons for this and we will get to them in a second.

This also means Sonny & Cher goes under “S”, being a rare case of a duo who uses their first names.

Band Name follows Surname

So Paul Simon comes after Simon and Garfunkel. Carly Simon comes in between the two.

It feels wrong when you get to David Crosby (all things do). Crosby Stills and Nash just looks better before David Crosby’s solo album. But, alas, rules are rules.

Numbers last

Sorry 78 Saab and 4 Non Blondes. And no, I don’t use the words for the numbers.

I have been meaning to buy that best of by ? & the Mysterians for about ten years but never have. I would file them right at the very end if I did.

So we have artists sorted. Lets explore the inner world of the artists.

Albums first, in release order.

This includes live albums.

So, for Blur, I have their 7 albums in the order they were released (Leisure to Think Tank), plus the (wonderful) Live At Budokan record from 1996 (a Japanese only release no less, bonus nerd points). On the shelf it would look like

TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

Best of compilations next

If there is more than one, then the order for which they appeared. I don’t own that new Blur compilation ‘Midlife’, but I do own the 2000 collection ‘Best Of’. If I had ‘Midlife’, Blur would look like this.

ML, BO, TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

(you know I am having so much fun writing this)

Other compilations next

This is where it gets a bit complicated. So many types of records fall into this category that it all gets a bit funny. Let’s continue with the Blur example. They have two other compilations I own. The Japanese ‘Special Collectors Edition’ – a collection of early b-sides – and Bustin & Dronin’ – a weird collection of remixes and live tracks. What records fall into this world are in order.

So for Blur

BD, SC, ML, BO, TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

Where it gets weird is for someone like Bob Dylan. The guy has his 7 volume Bootleg Series, and a number of strange compilations on top of that, released within the years of that Bootleg series. So Bootleg Series goes next for Dylan, then things like Biograph and that strange (again Japanese only) compilation of live albums.

The other thing I do with Dylan is some weird things like early demos have been released as promo discs. They live in this ‘other compilations section” (after Bootleg Series) – but I put it chronological.

…now this might sound like nitpicking, but I am a collector and this is part of the fun of collecting for me.

Singles AND EPs next

Again in chronological order. This includes EPs that may have come out before a band started recording albums, or in between albums.

Some people put EPs in with albums, but I like keeping the albums on their own. I am a big fan of the album being the major works of an artist. So for a band like Even, who released an EP after their first album, that EP is relegated to singles.

Giveaways/promos etc.

These are officially released and pressed CDs. Single artist newspaper giveaways, bonus discs with a purchase from a certain shop, etc. I have a Blur sampler from the paper when that last live record came out. It would live here. That Elvis Costello promo interview disc I have. And so on.


There are two types of bootlegs really. Live, and not live. Not live goes first – bootlegged Go-Betweens demos, 2 whole CDs of outtakes for Good Vibrations – in order or recording date. New stuff is being found all the time, it’s impossible to find bootleg release dates. They also get repackaged all the time.

Then live stuff, in concert date order. Wilco and Dylan sections of my record collection have 50 albums that fall into this category. Mostly doubles too.


Finally, CDRs. Friend recorded radio sessions, my own b-side compilations, demos given to me by friends. These are roughly filed in the order of when the CDRs were made.

So each artist has their own internal logic. Which is the problem with Ben Folds. I see his solo career as a separate story in his career. And Going through Ben Folds Five then Ben Folds album, then going back to BF5 singles then BF singles – that makes no sense to me.

That’s only the artist side. It makes up a bulk of my music collection, but by no means all. Here are the cut-outs.


I have quite a few comedy records, and they live in their own world. Filed by surname.

See, this is where


In title order. This includes musicals.


This is a big section, all filed by title.

I have often thought about splitting this out further. I definitely tried pulling out Label compilations out (that is, compilations that showcase a certain label) and file them in label name order. Regardless of what they are called, it would be that Bloodshot Records comp, then the Creation Records one, then the Tommy Boy one etc.

I might still do this, because it’s a bit hard to keep track of those Label comp names. It’s just “That Creation Records compilation”.

But this section is mainly one big A-Z. Any better ideas, please let me know.

Mix CDs

I keep many of the Mix CDs people give me, and some people make me works of art. Not just the music on the disc, but some great homemade packaging as well. Alphabetical by title.

Deluxe Editions

I have plenty of deluxe versions of albums, and many are similar to DVD box size. Some are the size of a 7” single. These are filed together on a separate shelf – alphabetical by artist, then chronological from release date.

Box Sets

For space considerations, Box Sets live elsewhere. They have an artist section, chronological from release. Then a compilations section, by name. Some of the odder shaped ones, like Rhino’s Girl Group Box Set, or the deluxe edition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, live wherever I find space for them. The Simpsons TV show album deluxe edition, the only soundtrack box set I have, also lives on it’s own.

Vinyl follows the same rules, except box sets are usually the same size as single albums, so they just slot right into the artist logic.

I’ve got two shoe boxes of various cassettes of things I don’t want to throw out. There’s only one commercial cassette I look after – a cigarette case style package for the You Am I single ‘Good Mornin’. It lives with Deluxe packaging.

It all makes sense to me, and there is a home for every type of record there is, or at least I have. I know where everything is, and where it should be. It keeps me from drowning under tens of thousands of CDs.

Which is perhaps the best reason I do it. If I didn’t allocate a place for thinsg to be put away, then I would never do it. And my collection, and my houses, would be a mess.

So there you have it. Easily the second nerdiest thing I’ve ever written.

The nerdiest is the spreadsheet I have that logs all this stuff. Yes, it’s mammoth, and I have to input it manually because the excel sort doesn’t follow my logic. I’ve been a bit slack with it of late but I do intend to get back into it.

The odd thing I’m running into is what do I do about digital albums? It’s something to consider.

A friend saw the spreadsheet once and she asked me if I kept that for insurance reasons.

I totally said yes. Even though it’s not true.

(I was going to write something about shelving but this has already been too long. If you got to here, let me know. Lets grab a beer and talk shelving)

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