One of the growing number of modern conveniences that I never use is the "Speed Dialing" feature on my telephones. The fact of it is that, for the dozen or so people that I call regularly, it's easy for me to remember their phone number and just as easy to dial it. Beyond those people, though, up to the limit of 99 entries (and I've even seen it go to 999) that speed dialing would allow me to call without either looking them up or dialing their number, I don't call them often enough to remember EITHER their phone number OR the speed dialer number that I might have assigned to them, so, for me, speed dialing is just one more geegaw that I never use, and I have to BOTH look them up and dial their number, anyway.
That's just for a relatively few phone numbers, but what about my THOUSANDS of LPs and CDs? Even if I can remember all of the particular pieces of music or particular recordings that I own, how am I supposed to remember which ones sound good? Or which are good music? Or are well-performed? Or well-recorded? Or even which recordings are in what condition ― especially when, as I wrote earlier (See "Formula Vee Racing and Classical Music" Audiophile Review August 29, 2013) there are many pieces of music in my collection of which I may have a dozen or more recorded performances in various formats, by various artists?
The obvious solution is to create a detailed computer spreadsheet or other file giving all of the information I might want about every recording in my collection. The problem with that, though, is that, just as with speed-dialing, I'd have to remember what I've got in order to check out what I think of it! Far better to simply develop a system that would allow me to assess some of the most important characteristics of any of my recordings with just a single glance and be able to make my choice based on that.
That's exactly what I've done, and now I'm offering it to you.
To get started, you'll have to decide what things are important for you to be able to see immediately when you're going to make a listening selection, and that starts with your basic filing system. I simply file all of my records and CDs alphabetically by artist or, in the case of classical music, by composer. You, on the other hand, might want to do it differently ― by genre, by vocal or instrumental, or by whatever else you find significant.
Once you have your basic filing system (which can certainly stay as what you've already got), you need to decide on which and how many other things you want be able to see in making your listening choice. For me, four kinds of information are important: quality of music, quality of performance, quality of sound, and the condition of the recording, in that order. Once you've got that, you'll need to decide how you will want to rate or grade each of the characteristics of each recording. I chose a simple A,B,C,D, grading system, just like we all used in school.
With four rated characteristics, I will mark all of my recordings as follows: On the spine of the sleeve (for an LP) or the back of the box (for a CD or DVD,) I will place four color-coded stickers. I chose narrow strips of day-glo paper tape for mine, but you can use whatever you want ― or even no sticker at all, just a mark with a VERY VISIBLE colored pen. ("Highlighters" are probably a bad choice for this because, being "see through", so you can read what they're highlighting, they may not be sufficiently visible from a distance.) Whichever you use, stickers, colored pens, or something else, you need to establish a FIXED ORDER for your markings. For me, this means that the top marking on the spine or back of all of my recordings is ALWAYS an indicator of the quality of the music. Next below that is a sticker indicating the quality of the performance. Then comes a sticker for the quality of the sound, and finally, at the bottom, will be a sticker indicating the condition of the recording.
VERY IMPORTANT: If you choose to use four (or whatever other number of) markings for your recordings, you must ALWAYS place four markings on each recording. TO DO OTHERWISE WILL DESTROY YOUR ABILITY TO "READ" YOUR MARKS. To illustrate what I mean, think what would happen to my "four sticker" system if I only put three stickers on one particular record. How would I be able to tell which of the four was missing? Would the "top" one still be "Music Quality"? What if the top one were the sticker that I had left off? You see what I mean: ALWAYS USE YOUR FULL NUMBER OF MARKS OR STICKERS!
As to the color coding, itself, I've chosen 1/4 inch (6.35mm) x 1 inch (25.4mm) strips of tape, wrapped around the sleeve or spine so that all four of them, together, take up only 1 inch of vertical space. (1/4"+1/4"+1/4"+1/4" = 1"). Yellow, for me, equals "A" (excellent); Orange equals "B" (good); Red equals "C" (average); and Blue equals "D" (poor).
With all of my recordings marked this way, if I see one on the shelf that "reads" Yellow, Yellow, Red, Blue (YYRB), I know that although it's great music; a great performance, and average sound quality, the record (or CD) is in poor condition and, unless I really want to hear that performance of that particular piece of music, I should probably pick something else. If, on the other hand, I want to knock the socks off a non-HiFi Crazy visitor, I might be willing to pick a record that's less great musically, but has great sound and is in great condition ― even a RRYY might do. YYYY would be better, of course, but if I just want to show off the sound, the sound will be my first requirement.
See how easy that works? See how valuable it can be ― especially if you've got a ton of records and can't possibly remember everything about all of them? Try it, you'll like it!