This week we continue our discussion on building your digital music library. This would be the second part of a two part series. Part 1 can be found here. In Part One we focused on how to get your music from the audio CDs you have most likely collected over the years and onto your computer in a digital format. We discussed the various kinds of digital audio files as well as how to rip them onto your hard drive. We even discussed storage requirements and touched on organization techniques. In this part the focus is going to be in getting these digital files we ripped last week prepared to be loaded into your media software of choice. We will also discuss three of the more popular media players out there: iTunes, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. We will look at how these three programs read the tags inside the audio files as well as how those same tags are used to help the programs organize the music for ease of use in finding the song you want when you want it. So without further delay, lets get to it.
By now, you should have a fairly large collection of digital files collected from last weeks ripping article. Or maybe you have just collected a large amount of music files from across the internet, your friends, among other places. This week we are going to look at organizing that collection of files using a couple of programs, one free and the other not free. I should note that the software I am using (and thus recommending) in this series of articles while not free are the ones that I have found to be the most helpful, easiest to use, and the overall best programs on the net for these tasks. I realize that there are several other CD ripping applications out there that are available for free and the same goes for ID3 tag editing. However, I have tried a large variety of them and recommend the one’s used in these articles for that reason. But since, everyone is free to make their own choices, hopefully you can use what you learn here in any of the other programs available. Some things I know can be used across programs because they are standardized (or at least standardized enough to be similar across the board).
ID3 Tags: What They Are and Why They Are Important
All the various kinds of digital audio files out there (with the exception of the WAV format) allow you to “tag” them with all the important information. Mp3 uses a standard called ID3 Tags. ID3 is the tagging standard for most audio files and most audio players support the reading of these tags. While I am not going to go into extreme detail about the difference between ID3v1 and ID3v2 I will give you a quick overview of what each one is and why they exist.
Early in Mp3’s history ID3v1 were the tags of choice. ID3v1 tags were added onto the end of an Mp3 file after the actual audio portion of the file and was very limited. You only got Artist, Album, Track Number, Year, Genre, and Comments. Not long after the Mp3 format became popular, streaming Mp3s over internet radio stations followed. With all the information at the end of the audio file, it made it difficult to know what song was playing when you tuned into these streaming internet radio stations. That and the limited information that could be stored there was a call for a new version of ID3 and thus we got ID3v2. With ID3v2 these two main issues were resolved. First, the ID3v2 tags came at the beginning of the file, making it easier for internet radio to keep the listener informed and ID3v2 was also extendable. By being extendable, a person could come up with their own tags and then parse them out later in writing their own audio player so your organization limits were only that of your programming abilities. Apple did this with their “Compilation” tag, which is not (at least at last check) completely ID3v2 compatible, but it gave Apple a way to organize compilation CDs inside it’s iTunes player. While people could add their own tags several have in fact been include in each new version of ID3v2 (currently at version 2.4) as “standard” flags. Some of these include Part Of Set, Mood, and Beats Per Minute (BPM). So with ID3v2 you can add more information to the tags thus allowing you to be able to organize your music in new and better ways. It should be known that the tagging application we use will save both ID3v1 and ID3v2 tags.
Now that you understand why we have ID3 tags and why there are two different versions, we can look into actually tagging the files you have ripped.
Track Artist vs. Album Artist
Before we just dive right into the tagging portion, we must look two tags that have caused some confusion, especially with the introduction of the “Album Artist” tag into Apple’s iTunes.
While it might seem obvious as to why you might need two separate artist tags, there has been a lot of debate lately. Some even believe that the “Album Artist” tag is for the name of the person who designed the album art work. This could not be farther from the truth. In reality it is actually quite simple to explain and I refer you to the table below for their definitions.
|Track Artist||Album Artists|
|The individual track’s artist||The artist the album would be filed under (say in a music store).|
For example: The first track on The Crow Soundtrack is “Burn” by The Cure. For this track you would make the “Album Artist” to “Various Artists” and the “Track Artist” to “The Cure”.
Another example would be Elvis Costello’s album The Delivery Man is filed under “Elvis Costello” at records stores, but the actual artist is “Elvis Costello and the Imposters” so for the tracks on this album the “Album Artist” would be “Elvis Costello” and the “Track Artist” would be “Elvis Costello and the Imposters”.
Also the distinguishing of the two different artist tags comes in real handy when you have things like on a Glen Phillips’ latest where he had Sara Watkins guest vocal on a song. The “Album Arist” tag is set to “Glen Phillips” while the “Track Artist” is set to “Glen Phillips with Sara Watkins”.
Do you see the distinction between the two tag fields and what each one should be used for? Good, lets move on.
Tag and Rename
The first program we will be using for tagging our audio files is called Tag and Rename. This application costs $29.95 but like Easy CD-DA Extractor from Part One, is worth every penny. This program effectively tags Mp3, OGG, AAC, WMA, FLAC, and other audio file types. It combines both FreeDB and Amazon lookups (including album art). It handles all the current ID3v2 tags and even iTune’s Compilation tag. It combines tagging and renaming so both of these task can be handled in a single application. If FreeDB and Amazon don’t work, you can also grab tag information from filenames.
Tagging Your Digital Audio Files
Hopefully you have installed Tag and Rename and are ready to start tagging. To start things off, using the explorer like navigation on the bottom left side of Tag and Rename, navigate to one of the folders that contains an album you ripped from our last article. Once you have a directory open, lets take a few minutes to look at the features we are going to be using the most. Note that if you did in fact follow my advice in Part One and input as much information as possible into Easy CD-DA Extractor, several of the tags are already filled in. What we are doing here is basically clean up, assuring that we are consistent through out all our files.
First and foremost, the Amazon.com lookup feature. This feature will, in a few clicks, give us several things including; album art, compilation information (if applicable), comments, an Amazon URL, record label, and several other items. So first we need to select every item in the folder in question (the usual Alt-A will accomplish this, so will using the menu via Edit\Select All). After all the mp3s in a directory are selected you can press the F10 button to bring up the Amazon search dialog box. If the Artist and Album tags are filled in already they will be auto populated in the Amazon search dialog. Once the Artist and Album values are inputted (inputting just the Artists will also work) you can click the “Search!” button. Doing this will show a list of possible matches. If you find a match, double clicking on it will bring up another window that includes all kinds of information including album art if Amazon has it on file.
You can even edit some of the information on the bottom this will help you stay consistent through out your tagging ventures. Once the information is to your liking make sure the “Save cover art into file tag” checkbox is checked and then click the “Write Tags” button. This will write all the information Tag and Rename gets from Amazon into the ID3 tags, including the album art. Note that saving the album art into the ID3 tags will cause your Mp3 files to grow in size since you are essentially embedding the image into the file. If your album can not be found via the Amazon.com lookup you still have options on getting tag data. The first is to use the FreeDB lookup. This will allow you to tag your compilations with the correct “Track Artist” and grab other information like year and genre. If you used Easy CD-DA Extractor, this stuff should already be filled in.
You have tried the Amazon lookup and you have already used the FreeDB option during the ripping phrase and you still do not have enough information for your liking? Well you are in luck, with everything still checked, you can click the “Edit All Supported Tag Fields” button and get a window that looks like this:
This window combined with All Music Guide can allow you to enter a lot of information on an album or per track basis. What All Music Guide is, is a database of artist, cd, and track information. While manually typing in data is quite time consuming, doing so when needed to can have a tremendous impact on the quality of your ID3 tags. Remember, the better your tags, the better you can organize your music. The quality of ID3 tags can help greatly in the creation of what iTunes refers to as “Smart Playlists”. Smart Playlists allow you to create a playlist automatically based on a set of criteria that you give iTunes. These playlists can auto update if you’d like them to make them the ideal way to build playlists. While Windows Media Player does have something similar called “Auto Playlist”, it is quite limited in the fields you can use to create the playlists. Basic point of this is, the more accurate data you put in your ID3 tags the easier it is to find, use, and organize.
Beats Per Minute
Beats per minute (aka BPM), is the number of beats per minute in a song. This is what DJs use to line up tracks when doing live mixing. Most good DJs (like Sista Stroke) can do this beat calculation in their heads without too much effort. But for us mortals out there, we have to rely on computer software to help us out. Besides, hand typing in BPMs into ID3 tags is just way too time consuming. MixMeister makes and distributes a simple little application called the BPM Analyzer. What BPM Analyzer does is analyzes each mp3 file you load into it’s processing list, figures out the BPM, and then adds that BPM to the correct ID3 tags. Like I said above, the more information you have the better and BPM information can definately help in the creation of Smart Playlists inside iTunes. My playlist for going to the gym is based on songs with BPMs of 100 to 140 which ensures a nice set of upbeat songs, perfect to listen to when working out.
With the tools I’ve shown you over this two part series, you should be able to get control of your digital music library and begin moving away from CDs. While I do not think that the CD is going anywhere, with the invention of portable media players the idea of carrying around a bunch of CDs just doesn’t seem all that smart to me anymore. I hope that you have found this series helpful.
In closing my first two part article series, I would like to ask that if there is something in these two articles that you as my reader feel that I missed, please feel free to leave a comment, email me, or contact me in general. I am here partially for you guys and your input helps me decide what to write about. I hope that you use my tips and tricks here to better your digital music collection. Good luck and God speed.