Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taming Digital Music

Would you believe it's been 18 years since the MP3 digital music format went public and forever changed the way we look at music?  It probably seems like a shorter span of time but digital music has been a mainstay on the Internet almost for as long as the Internet itself has been publicly available.  The small file size made the MP3 format ideal for sharing online and it wasn't long before that became a problem.  It only took 5 years before the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started cracking down on file sharing.

I really didn't want to get into the legal history of digital music though.  The good news is there are now many avenues available to purchase music legally online; much more than we had back in those days.  However, that doesn't mean our digital music lives are hassle-free.

In this post I want to point out many of the most common annoyances your average digital music enthusiast would face in this day and age.

1.  Ripping Music (aka taking music from a CD and making it into a computer file)

Yes, they still sell physical compact discs with music on them.  I don't think they'll ever be as vintage as vinyl or the 8-track though.  That's because they're so incredibly easy to make.  What I find though is many people don't know how to rip a CD and add digital music to their collection.

Here's the good news.  The major brands of operating systems support an embedded mechanism to rip audio CDs (sorry Linux users, you've got some extra work to do there).  In the MacOS you've got iTunes (which is also available for Windows).  In Windows you've got Media Player.  The problem with the embedded audio rippers is they want to default you to their audio format.  iTunes likes their AAC format while Media Player likes WMA format.  Why the different formats?  While I like to think it's to lock you into using their products the more prevalent reason is digital rights management (DRM).  True these formats can be shared with a variety of music managers but some are designed to be played only the device you downloaded it on.  Ever tried to share a song you downloaded from iTunes?  It won't work.  If you move the file to another device the only way to play it there is to "authorize" it to.  For example, if I transferred an iTunes downloaded song from computer A to computer B I would have to go into the iTunes Store on computer B to tell Apple that computer B is now authorized to play the same songs I downloaded on computer A. I don't know about you but that's just a pain the ass to me. That's why I work strictly with MP3 which is open and doesn't have an DRM restrictions. 

Ripping music with either iTunes or Windows Media Player is easy enough.  You just pop in your CD with the programs open and they guide you through it.  You've going to want to go into your setting though and change your default ripping format to MP3.  Trust me on this.  It'll make life simple.

You want it to be MP3.  Seriously.
2.  Tagging Music

Now, you're probably all eager to rip after going through all that but you might want to be connected to the Internet before you start.  Why?  Because iTunes and WMP will connect to the Internet and look up what it is you're trying to rip.  Don't worry, it's not a bad thing.  See if you weren't connected these programs would have no choice but to use it's generic naming schema while ripping.  You ever try to manage a music collection made up of Track1.mp3 and Track2.mp3?  It's a nightmare.  That's why you should tag your digital music right from the onset.

If you didn't get your music tagged when you first ripped it you can also use these programs to tag music you already have.  In my opinion though they don't do it very well.  You best option for tagging your music is MediaMonkey.

One more thing about tagging and naming music files.  Watch out for foreign characters.  Recently I added Gangnam Style to my collection only to discover that all the Korean characters in both the file name, the path name and the tag did NOT jive with my DJ software.  After I edited it it works fine.  And just because I can:

3.  Finding Music

Remember when I mentioned legally downloading music.  Well there's a really good reason for doing that and it's not avoiding a lawsuit from the RIAA.  I'm talking about viruses.  I too used to avidly troll file sharing programs but I haven't used one since Limewire shut down (it's been almost 2 years now).  It got to a point where it seemed like every search I did lead to downloading a virus.  Fortunately I'm no sucker and I had up to date antivirus.

My main source of music these days is eMusic. I mostly jumped on because I kept getting offers for a massive download if I joined.  When I jumped on, eMusic wasn't really all that great but they've since improved their site and selection.  A big plus is they don't give me hassle for downloading in the US Virgin Islands (unlike AmazonMP3; someday I'll try you guys again).  There are tons more you can try out though. And if you do come back and tell me about them. :)

4.  Fixing Music

Ever get a song and there's an annoying pop or skip somewhere in the track?  Well you can actually fix that with the right software and a little patience.  I've been using Audacity for years to clean up music files.  I'm a do-it-yourselfer so I like to isolated the exact pop and erase it but if you're not so confident in your editing skills there's a built in click removal tool among many others.

5.  Backing Up Music

If you've spent a lot of time and money on your music collection you should do your best to ensure it's longevity.  That means backing up your music to alternate media.  I say this often but it's true: It's not of matter of if your computer crashes, it's when.  With proper care and regular maintenance your standard computer can last you a good 5 years or more before it finally craps out but it is going to crap our eventually.

These days your average CD isn't going to cut it.  The maximum they hold is 700 megabytes.  Your average mp3 song clocking in at around 3.5 minutes takes up just that many megabytes so expect a CD to be able to hold 200 songs in their raw format (audio CDs clock in by the minute which for a CD is 80).  A Data DVD is a better option as it stores up to 4.7 gigabytes (that's 4700 megabytes or just over 1300 songs).  Your best option though is an external hard drive.  These badboys are available in terabytes.  1 terabyte is equal to 1000 gigabytes.  I'll let you do the math on that one.  That's a lot of storage!

Want another option?  Online storage is very reliable.  One of the big names out there is Carbonite, but it's an emerging market so lots of other companies are joining the fray like Google and Amazon.  The good thing about online storage is it's offsite so if anything happens to your physical property you know your data is available to you from an offsite location.  Pretty handy on an island in the midst of hurricane season.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. The one thing I find most annoying about all the various programs you mentioned is how none of theme seem to consider the possibility that the music you want to digitize is YOUR OWN MUSIC in the first place. Needless to say I've had to do a massive amount of hand editing to get Windows media player to begin to understand my live music collection. And of course since I keep all my original files in lossless formats which DON'T have headers.....well, you get the idea.

    Speaking of freely available, DRM free music however you should definitely explore the live Music archive at Why you can even get the last show Frank and I played at Latitude!