Tutorial #2: Organizing your music library

My music library began sometime in the late 90’s with hours spent waiting for MP3’s to download from the Internet or be ripped with my 4X CD-ROM and AMD K6-2 processor. Today, I mostly get my music from the Amazon MP3 store and the bargain shelf at Half-Price Books. When I was preparing to transfer my music to my new Mac, I wanted a way to clean up my music library and add correct meta data (song info and album art) to all my songs.

Tagging and organizing files:

Thanks to audio fingerprinting technology, it is now possible to quickly identify a song based on a short sample of its audio. There are a number of free and commercial tools for doing this. The one I used is MusicBrainz Picard – a free program for Mac and Windows. Picard comes with a graphical online tutorial, so I’ll just provide some additional tricks:

Be sure to go through Picard’s options as well as the list of plugins available online. I got the cover art downloader to get album art from some additional source. If you are willing to do additional work, you can get plugins that automatically search Amazon.com or Google Images for album art for Picard and iTunes.

Unfortunately, Picard does not support AAC4 files, so any files purchased from the iTunes music store will not be updated -but that’s OK, since iTunes music is already tagged. I enabled the rename file option and set the Various Artists custom field to nothing. This moves songs from compilation CD’s into the folders of their respective artists. I checked the Move Files option and picked a folder on my desktop so I could see just how much music was tagged. This also allowed me to delete all the empty folders.

Ultimately, Picard was able to look up about 90% of my music and tag 96%. (You can use existing tags to find album art even if the audio fingerprint is not recognized.) About the only tracks it did not recognize were AAC-encoded files and bootlegs recorded from radio and live events.

Fixing corrupt MP3’s:

After tagging all my music, I had to fix all my corrupt files. iTunes is very picky about only playing files that conform to the Mp3 standard, and will silently skip any that don’t. This is a tricky problem to identify, as iTunes will silently skip over bad Mp3 files in Windows and silently refuses to import them at all in OS X. I only noticed that it was doing so because of the different song count in iTunes. Ultimately, over 20% of my music was corrupt – but if your MP3’s are from the Internet, or a number of years old, your count may be much higher.

The best tool I found to fix corrupt files was MP3 Validator. It’s a Windows application, but I was able to run it in Crossover for Mac, and I assume it will work in other Wine distributions as well. Just follow the instructions to run it on all of your files before importing it into iTunes.

iTunes AppleScripts and helper apps:

Once your music is in iTunes, I found a few helper applications and scripts to keep it organized. Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes has hundreds of scripts you can run to perform various operations in iTunes. My favorites are Super Remove Dead Tracks, and embed album art in files. I also use GimeSomeTune to automatically look up lyrics for songs and control iTunes with my Apple Remote. In Windows, I also used TuneUp, a commercial music labeling and cover art application that is “coming this fall” to the Mac.

Using the new ClearType fonts on your Mac

One of the nice touches of OS X is the use of the Helvetica typeface for rich-text editing in TextEdit and other programs. Microsoft’s version of Helvetica is Arial, which is basically a lower-quality rip-off of the original. (To understand my attraction to Helvetica, I recommend watching Helvetica, the documentary.)

However, in Vista/Office 2007, Microsoft released the ClearType Font Collection, a great new set of fonts, including several designed especially for viewing text on computer screens. The two I find particularly useful in this regard are Cambria, which is optimized for viewing small text, and Consolas, which is a monospaced font useful in programming and the like.

So how do you get these fonts in your Mac? Well, they come with Office 2008 for the Mac. After you install office, just go into your favorite editor’s preferences and select Cambria and/or Consolas as your default font.

If you don’t have Office 2008, things are a little trickier. This tutorial will guide you through installing the fonts in Windows and Linux – and OS X, if you install the required Linux utilities via something like MacPorts. Office 2004 users can get some of the fonts with the Open XML Converter. If you have a Vista computer, you can copy them from C:WINDOWSFonts to /Library/Fonts. If you have a pre-Vista OS, you can get them with the free Powerpoint 2007 viewer. If you are still out of luck, you can always purchase them directly from the foundry.

Google Mobile for the iPhone – now with voice search

The latest update for the Google Mobile iPhone app has a very cool feature:  voice search.  You just open Google Mobile, lift the phone to your head and say what you want to find.  That’s it.  When I said “What is the latest book by Neal Stephenson?” I got:

Your iPhone knows where you are, so you can ask about places and events nearby, and Google Mobile will hook you up.

P.S.: To take screenshots on the iPhone, press the sleep/wake + home button.  The screen will flash to let you know it worked.