Musical Metadata Madness

November 23, 2005

Entertainment, Music, Technology

As I type these words, I am overwhemed with a sense of accomplishment. OK, it really isn’t a big accomplishment. And it’s not like I’ve done anything important. But most of us know how good we feel when we’ve cleaned out the garage or gone through the attic. With that in mind, I’ll let you know that I feel satisfied/content because I’ve gone through the musical attic, dusted off all the old boxes, sorted their contents, and re-arranged them in nice, neat rows – I’ve cleaned up my musical metadata.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few CD’s. I’ve ripped MP3’s files from these CD’s for the past five years. And in the last few months, I’ve converted some old cassettes into MP3 files. I’ve even spent the time assembling album art wherever I could. But I hadn’t ever been thorough in cleaning up my MP3 metadata. But last Sunday, I got motivated to start the cleanup. And what I thought would take a few hours is finally complete – after a few days.

So what did I do and how did I do it?

  • I wanted to make sure that I had appropriate title/album/date/track# on all my MP3’s. So I did a little research and found MusicBrainz. I’d seen and used this tool about a year ago. But at that time, the tag repository wasn’t very complete. Indeed, I couldn’t match ~25% of my collection. Boy, things have changed. I started with ~3500 songs. And MusicBrainz properly identified ~97% of my collection.
  • For those files MusicBrainz couldn’t identify, I went out to FreeDB and imported the album information into MusicBrainz. This data, combined with the audio “fingerprints “from my files (called TRM‘s by MusicBrainz), allowed me to create new album entries for about twenty previously uncataloged albums.
  • I got rid of twenty or thirty “dead” tracks (15 seconds or less with no real content) that had ended up in my collection.
  • I found a few mislabeled tracks on MusicBrainz, so I submitted “edits” for moderation/inclusion. I’m still waiting for these to get approved by the original submitters.
  • I updated all the ID3 tags on my exisitng MP3 collection with the tags from MusicBrainz. I allowed MusicBrainz to rename all of my files. That way, I’d have good, clean file names. BTW, this meant that my entire iTunes library needed to be rebuilt.
  • I found out that iTunes renames MP3 files on import. That’s not a new revelation. But I didn’t understand which check boxes affected which operations – until now. After renaming all my files with MusicBrainz, I cleared out iTunes and re-imported the files. And iTunes dutifully renamed the files for me. Arrrrrggggghhhhh!
  • So I got the chance to rename the files (once again) using MusicBrainz. I then reloaded the data into iTunes. Just to make a clean start, I deleted all the songs from iTunes and started from scratch. I lost my playlists and the artwork that wasn’t in ID3 tags, but the MP3 collection (and filenames) are now what I want/expect.
  • I tried out the iTunes Album Artwork Locator (by Zelek Software). After using MusicBrainz, this tool made it really simple to identify the appropriate album art. But the free download version is very limited in what you can change. Fortunately, iTunes Art Importer (from YVG Software) is a wonderful tool. Using these tools (and a few web searches), I was able to find album art for all of my albums. Yippee!
  • But I didn’t stop there. I wanted my iPod to also be as tidy as my iTunes directory. So I cleared my iPod and reset it to factory defaults. I then reloaded my entire library. The easiest way to do this is to use the iPod firmware update utility and its Restore funtion. The whole process to reload the iPod took a few hours.

After all of this, my digital music cabinet is now labeled and sorted quite nicely. Too bad the actual CD’s aren’t as neatly sorted and stacked!




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