Fix my music library

Lockdown jobs

Greetings from the Couch
Aug 9 · 5 min read

Melbourne’s in lockdown again, and I’ve got all the toilet paper I need.

So it’s time to fix my music library, the one that’s been butchered by iTunes, Groove Music and two decades of attempts to fix the metadata and cover art.

What about music subscriptions?

Why don’t I just subscribe to Spotify and Apple Music and get all the music I can eat for a small monthly fee? Well, there’s three reasons I’m not doing that:

  • The services don’t include everything
  • They monitor my activity like I’m a bug under a microscope
  • They’re prone to disappearing without trace when the company grows bored, like Groove Music a couple of years ago, and now Google music which is being killed in December 2020.

Call me old fashioned, but if I don’t own it outright, I don’t trust it.

Also, I’ve spent a lifetime collecting music I like. I’ve music from LPs, CDs, and Downloads from various services. And I’d like to be able to listen to this music, please.

So define the problem

Music apps have attempted to automatically identify tracks with varying levels of success. Some have even replaced tracks with copies of their own to “make things easier” for me. This has often resulted in DRM (Digitital Rights Management) locked tracks that are only playable in iTunes.

On top of this, the music players that look good and are user friendly rely on metadata to group albums together, and if it’s messed up, so are the tracks.

Alternatively, music players that respect file names and just play what’s selected look terrible on high DPI monitors (like my MS Surface Pro and Philips 4k monitor).

Even I squint to see a play/pause button that’s the size of a grain of rice.

Hang on, what’s Metadata again?

It’s a way of cataloging files.

We usually think of files on a computer as items on their own that you can put into folders. It’s a bit like a filing cabinet.

Metadata allows additional categorization of each file. On a windows computer you right-click the file and choose Properties, then click the Details tab.

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Look at all these extra settings you weren’t aware of!

Enough talking, let’s get to solutions!

There are a few services that promise to fix your music collection automatically. My response is: Once Bitten, Twice Shy.

I’ve spent five evenings working through possibilities, and here’s what I’ve found works best.

This is not a fast process, but it is accurate. Sometimes it’s best to do things by hand and get it right than rely on others.

So, there’s two applications to use:

  • Musicbrainz Picard (Windows 10, Mac, Linux)
  • MP3tag (Windows 10, Mac)

When you install MP3tag, make sure you tick the File browser option at install. This adds a right-click action which makes life a lot easier.

Start with Musicbrainz Picard

This automatically identifies tracks based on existing metadata and analyzing your music against several online databases.

I recommend you do this process one artist at a time. I’ve tried it as a bulk job with everything and it messes things up too easily

Tracks that appear in the left panel can’t be identified. To edit metadata on these:

  • Click Cluster which gathers them based on the existing metadata.
  • Click the file name and edit metadata at the bottom of the screen.
  • If even that doesn’t work, skip to the next section: MP3tag

Identified tracks appear in the right panel, but not always in the right album or the right order.

  • Tracks with a green music note and black text are MISSING from the album.
  • Tracks with a green tick and green text are found and allegedly correct.
  • Just because you’ve got the right album name, doesn’t mean the tracks will match. Albums are issued and reissued, they’re marketed to different countries and regions. The tracks may or may not match. Music labels are bastards.
  • Drag and drop tracks to the right album.
  • If the track isn’t in the album, right-click and Search for similar tracks…
  • If the album is all screwed up, right-click the album title and choose Other Versions (This can be have unexpected results).
  • Click Refresh if things go wrong, which loads the tracks once more.

When everything’s fixed up, add the album art.

  • Right-click the album name and click Lookup in browser. You can also just do a web search for the cover art.
  • Drag and drop album art to the bottom right of the screen to update album art on all tracks.

Then assign an acoustic fingerprint to all tracks, which ALSO helps music player apps put the correct track in the right place.

  • Right-click the album name and click Generate AcoustID fingerprints

Next, save the album.

Finally, select all, then click Remove to clear the interface for the next set of albums.

Rinse and repeat…

Fix the stragglers with MP3tag

I’ve been fairly orderly with my album collection, and created Artist folders, with album folders within.

For tracks that won’t identify properly, “Best of” or “Mix-tape” collections you’ve created yourself, you’ll need to manually set the album name.

  • Open the album folder and Select All.
  • Then right-click and choose MP3tag.

All the tracks appear in the right panel, with values in the left.

  • Select all, then enter the album and artist.
  • Enter the disc number (for multiple discs, enter (disc number)/(total discs) — e.g., 1/3 for disc one of three.
  • For albums with several artists (e.g., soundtracks), add “Various Artists” to Album Artist
  • Add a year. This can help.
  • And Save

Then go through and add to each track:

  • Title
  • Artist

Finally, find album cover art in your web browser.

  • Select all tracks
  • Drag and drop album cover art to the bottom left panel.
  • And save.

And to avoid doing all this again…

First, don’t make the mistake of trusting iTunes, Groove Music or anything that will “fix” your music collection.

I’m using Dopamine. There are other apps that do similar things. There are others, like Musicbee (Win 10) and Clementine (Win 10, Mac, Linux).

Second, backup your collection. Seriously.

I’m using SyncFolder (Windows 10) with a custom job to backup TV, Movie and Audio files to a honking great 10TB backup drive.

Disorderly Instruct

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