Getting Started

Welcome to beets! This guide will help you begin using it to make your music collection better.


You will need Python. (Beets is written for Python 2.7, but it works with 2.6 as well. Python 3.x is not yet supported.)

  • Mac OS X v10.7 (Lion) includes Python 2.7 out of the box; Snow Leopard ships with Python 2.6.
  • On Debian or Ubuntu, depending on the version, beets is available as an official package (Debian details, Ubuntu details), so try typing: apt-get install beets. To build from source, you can get everything you need by running: apt-get install python-dev python-setuptools python-pip
  • For Arch Linux, try getting beets from AUR. (There’s also a bleeding-edge dev package, which will probably set your computer on fire.)
  • For Gentoo Linux, beets is in Portage as media-sound/beets. Just run emerge beets to install. There are several USE flags available for optional plugin dependencies.

If you have pip, just say pip install beets (you might need sudo in front of that). On Arch, you’ll need to use pip2 instead of pip.

To install without pip, head over to the Downloads area, download the most recent source distribution, and run python install in the directory therein.

The best way to upgrade beets to a new version is by running pip install -U beets. You may want to follow @b33ts on Twitter to hear about progress on new versions.

Installing on Windows

Installing beets on Windows can be tricky. Following these steps might help you get it right:

  1. If you don’t have it, install Python (you want Python 2.7).
  2. Install Setuptools from PyPI. To do this, scroll to the bottom of that page and download the Windows installer (.exe, not .egg) for your Python version (for example: setuptools-0.6c11.win32-py2.7.exe).
  3. If you haven’t done so already, set your PATH environment variable to include Python and its scripts. To do so, you have to get the “Properties” window for “My Computer”, then choose the “Advanced” tab, then hit the “Environment Variables” button, and then look for the PATH variable in the table. Add the following to the end of the variable’s value: ;C:\Python27;C:\Python27\Scripts.
  4. Open a command prompt and install pip by running: easy_install pip
  5. Now install beets by running: pip install beets
  6. You’re all set! Type beet at the command prompt to make sure everything’s in order.

Windows users may also want to install a context menu item for importing files into beets. Just download and open beets.reg to add the necessary keys to the registry. You can then right-click a directory and choose “Import with beets”. If Python is in a nonstandard location on your system, you may have to edit the command path manually.

Because I don’t use Windows myself, I may have missed something. If you have trouble or you have more detail to contribute here, please let me know.


You’ll want to set a few basic options before you start using beets. The configuration is stored in a text file: on Unix-like OSes, the config file is at ~/.beetsconfig; on Windows, it’s at %APPDATA%\beetsconfig.ini. Create and edit the appropriate file with your favorite text editor. This file will start out empty, but here’s good place to start:

directory: ~/music
library: ~/data/musiclibrary.blb

Change that first path to a directory where you’d like to keep your music. Then, for library, choose a good place to keep a database file that keeps an index of your music.

The default configuration assumes you want to start a new organized music folder (that directory above) and that you’ll copy cleaned-up music into that empty folder using beets’ import command (see below). But you can configure beets to behave many other ways:

  • Start with a new empty directory, but move new music in instead of copying it (saving disk space). Put import_move: yes in your config file.
  • Keep your current directory structure; importing should never move or copy files but instead just correct the tags on music. Put the line import_copy: no in your config file to disable any copying or renaming. Make sure to point directory at the place where your music is currently stored.
  • Keep your current directory structure and do not correct files’ tags: leave files completely unmodified on your disk. (Corrected tags will still be stored in beets’ database, and you can use them to do renaming or tag changes later.) Add both import_copy: no and import_write: no to your config file to disable renaming and tag-writing.

There are approximately six million other configuration options you can set here, including the directory and file naming scheme. See .beetsconfig for a full reference.

Importing Your Library

There are two good ways to bring your existing library into beets. You can either: (a) quickly bring all your files with all their current metadata into beets’ database, or (b) use beets’ highly-refined autotagger to find canonical metadata for every album you import. Option (a) is really fast, but option (b) makes sure all your songs’ tags are exactly right from the get-go. The point about speed bears repeating: using the autotagger on a large library can take a very long time, and it’s an interactive process. So set aside a good chunk of time if you’re going to go that route. (I’m working on improving the autotagger’s performance and automation.) For more information on the interactive tagging process, see Using the Auto-Tagger.

If you’ve got time and want to tag all your music right once and for all, do this:

$ beet import /path/to/my/music

(Note that by default, this command will copy music into the directory you specified above. If you want to use your current directory structure, set the import_copy config option.) To take the fast, un-autotagged path, just say:

$ beet import -A /my/huge/mp3/library

Note that you just need to add -A for “don’t autotag”.

Adding More Music

If you’ve ripped or... otherwise obtained some new music, you can add it with the beet import command, the same way you imported your library. Like so:

$ beet import ~/some_great_album

This will attempt to autotag the new album (interactively) and add it to your library. There are, of course, more options for this command—just type beet help import to see what’s available.

Seeing Your Music

If you want to query your music library, the beet list (shortened to beet ls) command is for you. You give it a query string, which is formatted something like a Google search, and it gives you a list of songs. Thus:

$ beet ls the magnetic fields
The Magnetic Fields - Distortion - Three-Way
The Magnetic Fields - Distortion - California Girls
The Magnetic Fields - Distortion - Old Fools
$ beet ls hissing gronlandic
of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? - Gronlandic Edit
$ beet ls bird
The Knife - The Knife - Bird
The Mae Shi - Terrorbird - Revelation Six
$ beet ls album:bird
The Mae Shi - Terrorbird - Revelation Six

As you can see, search terms by default search all attributes of songs. (They’re also implicitly joined by ANDs: a track must match all criteria in order to match the query.) To narrow a search term to a particular metadata field, just put the field before the term, separated by a : character. So album:bird only looks for bird in the “album” field of your songs. (Need to know more? Queries will answer all your questions.)

The beet list command has another useful option worth mentioning, -a, which searches for albums instead of songs:

$ beet ls -a forever
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Freezepop - Freezepop Forever

So handy!

Beets also has a stats command, just in case you want to see how much music you have:

$ beet stats
Tracks: 13019
Total time: 4.9 weeks
Total size: 71.1 GB
Artists: 548
Albums: 1094

Playing Music

Beets is primarily intended as a music organizer, not a player. It’s designed to be used in conjunction with other players (consider Decibel or cmus; there’s even a cmus plugin for beets). However, it does include a simple music player—it doesn’t have a ton of features, but it gets the job done.

The player, called BPD, is a clone of an excellent music player called MPD. Like MPD, it runs as a daemon (i.e., without a user interface). Another program, called an MPD client, controls the player and provides the user with an interface. You’ll need to enable the BPD plugin before you can use it. Check out BPD Plugin.

You can, of course, use the bona fide MPD server with your beets library. MPD is a great player and has more features than BPD. BPD just provides a convenient, built-in player that integrates tightly with your beets database.

Keep Playing

The Command-Line Interface page has more detailed description of all of beets’ functionality. (Like deleting music! That’s important.) Start exploring!

Also, check out Plugins Included With Beets as well as Other Plugins. The real power of beets is in its extensibility—with plugins, beets can do almost anything for your music collection.

You can always get help using the beet help command. The plain beet help command lists all the available commands; then, for example, beet help import gives more specific help about the import command.

Please let me know what you think of beets via email or Twitter.

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