Storing and tagging Music (part 2)


22 mars 2007, 22h52m

After you have you're music setup you'll have tons of ripped songs with possibly bad tags, no order, no structure. This is how I get things in order.

Imagine you just got home from the music store with 4 new CDs to add to your collection. It's basically a three phase process; there's a special folder next to "my music" called "new music" that holds three folders, one for each phase.

Every CD that passes through my hands gets ripped with EAC and LAME then the actual CD is stacked on a shelf and rarely touched again (I also find the album on and tag it with "albums I own" and enter the CD as "owned" into That way the original is always kept in good condition. I learned my lesson a few years ago after I carried my CDs in my car as a backup to my PDA and they got progressively more worn even though they we're kept under a blanket in the trunk. Considering the physical cost to make a new CD is less than $0.10 you'd think if you shipped a scratched CD to the record label they'd replace it for you. Well they won't, they say it's your fault for letting the CD wear out and that you should go spend another $16 for the same CD. Nuts to that!

LAME is used to convert raw lossless music (WAVs ripped by EAC) to MP3 as efficiently as possible with as good of sound quality as possible. The LAME plugin is currently v3.97, and settings are as provided by Hydrogen Audio for the most part.

V0 is a LAME setting that is averages about 230kbps Variable Bit Rate (VBR) depending on the complexity of the song (most of mine average about 250kbps). Some people say that Constant Bit Rate is better than VBR because you know you're getting a full 224kbps no matter what, these people are wrong. VBR maxes out at 320kbps when needed and gets as low as 32kbps if it can, LAME does a great job of deciding when what is needed. The result is a file that will sound better than the CBR at the same size and sometimes smaller because it didn't encode silent spaces at a full 224kbps.

In my own little test and to my ear V0 sounded about as good as 320 CBR, and I could rarely tell a difference between FLAC lossless and the V0, and the size is smaller than 224kbps CBR. Obviously equipment comes into play but my system is no slouch although it's not professional level either; my total cost for my home stereo comes to about $1500 so these aren't just iPod ear bud results. Your results may vary but have your significant other, sibling, neighbor give you a blind ABX test using your own music you ripped yourself and you'll be surprised at how little difference you can hear on even on good equipment. And considering a I get about 6 times the hard drive space to the trade off it's an easy decision to make.

All ripped MP3s go into the first of three folders called "1 EAC and New Music" all raw music that hasn't been though my tagging process starts here. When I have the time I run a few of these albums through MusicBrainz Picard tagger to give them all the correct tags and the MB unique identifier. I also copy a cover image with the name "folder" into the folder from Amazon or whatever source has the correct image at 200 to 500sq. pixels. Then at a glance I can see what albums I've done because XP now has a cover image showing on the folder of all tagged songs. When I'm done the tagged album folders are moved to the next folder called "2 Tagged and waiting"

I also have MusicIP running in the background and it looks into this first folder and adds its own tags to identify the music it has scanned; the tags don't interfere with any others. What MusicIP does is create an audio fingerprint of your track and it can create an exportable playlist of similar sounding songs. This isn't based of other people's preference like or based of a college student's description of the music like Pandora, but an actual computer analysis of the song and finding other songs that sound like it. Plus the fingerprints are submitted to MusicIP's database and they make up the backbone of MusicBrainz PUID identification method. And it's all free.

The second folder is where I make sure the album folder name is correct, the folder image of the album is correct, the EAC log file is there, the tracks names are formatted right (<artist> - <track#> <track>), and there is nothing else in there (I hate having M3Us in the album folder). The only exception is if I have any additional album images other than the cover; they are saved in the album folder in a sub folder named "images".

Once a handful of albums is in there I bring all of them up in Mp3tag. Mp3tag is an awesome tool that shows all of the tags in your files including the odd custom tags that so many programs use. By highlighting all, right clicking, and selecting "Extended Tags" you can see all the tag fields used by the tracks.

When the tags are all the same for the highlighted files the tag info shows, if multiple files are highlighted and have different info it will just <keep>. If there are any fields you don't need you can highlight them, and click the delete button to eliminate them forever, the same can be done to any cover art embedded in the MP3. I hate any extra crap hiding in the tags that I didn't put there so most of it goes except for what MB, MusicIP and EAC added. Plus getting rid of odd tags avoids the problem of WMP11 splitting albums into two groups when they should be kept together.

After cleaning the tags and eliminating the usually incorrect or badly sized cover art, I run some actions on all the files. Programming these isn't hard but does require some understanding of the process; the people at the Mp3tag forums can help although most all you'll want to do is already documented if you search the forum. One of the actions I run copies the "folder.jpg" each folder to the MP3's cover art field; it's smart enough that you can do 10 separate folders at a time and the right picture will will go into each album. The other action converts the track number format from "1/16" for track #1 to "1". This is also the time to make sure any Various Artist albums we're labeled as such, WMP uses the "Band" tag to store what it displays as "Album Artist" and depending on your MB Picard settings the album artist may not be VA which will spread the album all over WMP's library.

The last step in this folder is to Replay Gain the tracks with MP3Gain. MP3Gain is used to adjust all of the album volumes to the same level (92db is what I use). The problem comes from the fact that most CDs ship with the gain up so high that when they play back the waveform is clipped by the player when it maxes out. 90% of the time it goes unnoticed but in extreme circumstances it can cause bad distortion. Lowering the gain to eliminate clipping will eliminate this distortion but the tracks will play at a lower volume. However by boosting the gain through your volume control on your sound system and amplifier you can get the same volume but now without the distortion. Of course the other benefit is that now all your music plays at about the same volume so less volume adjustment when your MP3 player is on shuffle.

MP3Gain actually has two modes, one is album gain where the rise and fall of the volume in the album is saved, the other is track gain where every song is at the same volume. Stick with album gain to maintain the flow from high to low in your symphonies, some music is meant to be quieter than others; but all albums will still average the same level.

After checking the folder and file spellings, and running through Mp3tag and MP3gain to get the right tags the album is moved to the last step "3 Rate and move".

This third folder is discoverable by WMP so about 3 minutes after you move the album over to folder 3 the songs are playable in the media player. Now you can play with them as you normally would, I personally add my own genre tags and 5 star ratings to every song; and sometimes additional tags as a subgenre to make more dynamic playlists. If you don't really do much of that then you're ready to permanently graduate the album into your "My Music" folder.

One major gripe I have with WMP11 is that with the upgrade from 10 to 11 there's no way to tell it not to overwrite your folder image with its own album image. I've never had it replace a good image with the wrong one, they're always the same, but it compressed it down to a grainy 200x200. Whether this is a bug or deliberate I don't know, my settings are to not have WMP touch the files at all. However it's a moot issue, within WMP11's library the image shown is from the embedded copy unless none exists. And Mp3tag actions can be made to copy the embedded MP3 image back to the folder.jpg image. For now I let WMP do what it wants with the folder.jpgs until I find a better player or they fix that issue. As long as the embedded image is good I can fix things in just a few minutes later on down the line.

I have had some bad experiences with some music programs which is why I keep the backup of all songs, by doing a 100% copy to the external drive before trying a new music program. The worst was a music DJ program I tried out. It was really cool because it calculated the BPM for all songs and entered that tag info into the file then matched beats in custom playlists. What it doesn't tell you is that other than artist, album, and track, all other data is erased. Not covering it with ID3 2.4 or APE tags or something but ERASED. Ratings - gone, genre - gone, MusicBrainz IDs - Gone, EVERYTHING GONE. Thank god I had backed up the day before; after I erased every instance of that program from my computer I was able to bring all the music back with all the info needed. And since the filenames and structure were all the same WMP didn't even notice that the files had copied, deleted and resaved while it had been offline and everything played like nothing had happened.

MusicIP which I do run also has some irritations; it uses the popularimeter field to store ratings but MusicIP doesn't read these so they don't reflect ratings. And it seems that they keep ratings in an internal proprietary database like iTunes so the only way to migrate is to hand rate stuff. And I'm not going to go through 30k songs by hand just to migrate the rating. I'm still messing with it and hopefully can come up with a solution that will improve on MusicIPs cool features.

One of those cool features in the licensed version of MusicIP is that you can have it compare its fingerprints and show you what songs you have duplicates of, even if the tags are completely different. It calculates fingerprints on the first 4 minutes of a song so some extended versions show up as identical, and if you have compilation albums you'll have duplicates anyway. Personally I like keeping full albums so I don't delete these duplicates since I have two full albums containing the identical track. MusicIPs main feature that I mentioned earlier is that you can choose a song or groups of songs you want to listen to and it will find others that sound similar. You can go through these playlists weeding out songs with commands such as "More like this" or "Less like this" to narrow down what songs are a part of the playlist. When you're done you can export the playlist to your media player of choice and listen to it there.

First tagging your entire collection like this is a bit of a chore but once it's done it's pretty easy to keep up. The hardest thing is listening to and rating files once they get into folder three but it's a good excuse to listen to your new CDs, and get a bit of variety in your listening.


  • jesus2099

    Hi Kerensky97 ! Have you ever tried foobar2000 ? Well probably yes. It's what I use instead of [b]WMP[/b]. For it has tabs, Unicode and replaygain. You can also interface mp3tag and foobar with foo_run to make mp3tag appear with a keyboard shortcut. etc… :) You use [b]band[/b] where I use [b]album artist[/b]… I don't know which one is better. foobar2000 knows [b]album artist[/b] (mp3tag learns it the first time you use it). And [b]band[/b] sounds strange for a singer [no, don't tag them all over again :)]. You know what Kerensky97 ? Thanks to you I discovered another nice website (last time it was musicbrainz) : ! Is it some kind of CD exchange program ? Is it free ? I'm going to read it. Sometimes, I sell CD I don't like. but exchanging them for free would be really great ! I must have a look to see if it works from somewhere else than America too… Thinking of foobar2000, as far as I know, it doesn't support rating system (★★☆) like you say. Maybe there's a plugin for this though…

    10 mai 2007, 18h40m
  • figlt

    You are a little (actually a lot) more anal about your CD transferring than I am, but we share very similar habits. I also use WMP 10/11 (depends on the computer - there are some things about 11 that I detest) and ReplayGain (as MP3gain) for all my files (92 dB is the same setting I use, go figure!). But I had not heard of MusicIP. That sounds fascinating, I will have to give it a whirl soon. When the site was being banded about, I remember being very excited about the prospect of exchanging CDs from a large user database. But with all the different editions of a CD (remasters, deluxe editions and more), I wonder how they keep it all straight. So unfortunately, although I have an account, I have never actually used their services. There are also some out-of-print editions that have (in some cases much) higher values than a still-in-print CD. How do they equalize this disparity on the lala site (if they even do)? I tend to keep all my CDs anyway, even if I don't like them at first spin. I noticed that years down the road I might go back and listen to something that was filed away since the first time I bought it. That also means that I have no use for the Ratings. I might like a song for a day, week, month or year, but things will eventually change. Cheers, Toni

    21 sept. 2007, 22h58m
  • LogainUB

    $16 for one CD is very cheap...

    7 déc. 2007, 13h02m
  • mobilez

    Nice guide thanks... I hadn't heard of MusicIP or mp3gain (the app rather than the concept!) before, but have now added them to my track processing. The fingerprint duplicate finder and album gain functions will really help me - thanks :)

    7 jan. 2008, 22h21m
  • mobilez

    Nice guide thanks... I hadn't heard of MusicIP or mp3gain (the app rather than the concept!) before, but have now added them to my track processing. The fingerprint duplicate finder and album gain functions will really help me - thanks :)

    7 jan. 2008, 22h21m
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