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Dustin LindenSmith

father | musician | writer


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mos def

on the onerous task of converting to iTunes

When our compact and durable little Sandisk 1 GB MP3 player died Sunday, I made it a priority to replace it with a 2 GB iPod nano as soon as possible. (It only cost $40 more than the refund amount from our old player, and the nano has twice the memory. I also feel utterly incapable of running without listening to music right now. Extremely cool packaging for this thing too, by the way. Size of a double-CD case.)

Anyway, since getting an iPod means being forced to migrate to iTunes (usability crime #1: force users to install unneeded additional software), I installed iTunes 6.0 onto my PC and pointed it to my audio files to populate its library. (Since I have always organized my MP3s into directories by genre, then artist and album with Windows Explorer, I chose not to have iTunes consolidate my library into whatever directory structure it saw fit.)

In very short order (like, less than a minute), I was impressed to see that iTunes had generated a complete catalog of my 13 GB of 2,000-odd audio files. Proof positive that iTunes can work seamlessly with your music collection no matter where the files are stored. (It appears to do this with an SQL-driven database of your music library which links to the actual location of each MP3 on your hard drive when it's time to play a given song. This library can also be exported to an XML or TXT file.)

Soon after the library was full, however, I noticed a huge labeling mess in my music collection. Because I usually file my music by genre and don't update the genre ID3 tags in the MP3 file itself, many of my albums were incorrectly categorized in general. The other thing was that lots of artist names had typos or differences in spelling which resulted in their music not being displayed together as a whole (e.g. Bob Marley, Bob Marley and The Wailers, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bob Marley & the Wailers, ad naus.). So I shook my head and resigned myself to the task of cleaning up my MP3s ID3 tags. There must be a quick way to do this with iTunes itself, I thought.

Hah. No bloody way (usability crime #2: make no allowance for a necessary feature (didn't this come up in migration usability testing?)). Unlike the very useful tag management tools we enjoy right here on LJ, iTunes has no useful way to batch process ID3 data changes (e.g. change the artist, album, genre, or other info for a group of files at one time). If you want to use iTunes to categorize an existing collection which doesn't already have pristine ID3 tags, you're faced with a week-long task of individually re-typing labels for your hundreds or thousands of tracks. What a waste of time!

Of course, I didn't do that. Instead, I found an app called 1st MP3 Tag Editor (a type of program I've always meant to try but never found it important enough to use until now), and I went through each directory in my collection and methodically cleaned up the artist, track, album, year, and genre information for every single file. It was also a cinch to clean up messy file names with this program, since it allows you easily to generate ID3 tags from filenames, generate filenames from ID3 tags, and mass-update any combination of tags (e.g. genre, album name, year of release) for a group of tracks.

When I was finished that, bear in mind that I could load my library into WinAmp and get all the same functionality as iTunes. I could also use Windows Explorer to transfer files back and forth to my MP3 player, like I think everyone else without an iPod does. But anyway, I went back to iTunes, and looked for some sort of "refresh" command for iTunes to refresh this huge library. Couldn't find one, so I restarted the program. But that didn't do anything either. And then I found out that once you've imported a given file into your iTunes library, it's there forever and any changes you make outside of iTunes (i.e. with another program, like what I'd just done with those 2,000 MP3 files) don't get registered anywhere within iTunes.

Okay, I thought. Then I guess I have to delete this library and re-import it again. No problem, I thought. There's no menu command for that anywhere, but I'm sure I could just delete the track listings. But no, you can't do that either. If you delete more than a couple screenfuls of tracks from your library, iTunes for some reason thinks you want to delete the source files too. Thank God it asks for confirmation first.

Ten minutes later, I had slowly deleted the entire contents of my iTunes library (without touching the source files) and was ready to re-import the collection back into iTunes. That process went smoothly again, and because of all the work I'd done with the MP3 tag editor, all the genre and other labeling was nice and clean.

And now I can actually realize the benefits of this app, and so far I really dig being able to search and select groups of genres, artists and albums to create new playlists of stuff you haven't heard for awhile. Right now I have a broad Jazz+Funk category on shuffle, and it tells me that the total playing time of the 1 GB of 131 songs selected is 12.4 hours. Dude! This is cool.

But f---, that migration process sucked. And if I didn't know what I was doing, it probably would have taken days. As it was, I was in and out in 4 hours flat, plus a half hour to write up this article.

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(Anonymous) November 15th, 2005
Yea man, iTunes can be quite the bitch to work with... Now if only google made somthing to manage your music, you'd be in heaven.

(Anonymous) November 15th, 2005
That was cousin Marc btw

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