Manage your music.
The love of music is all but universal, I’ve never heard anyone say that they didn’t have at least a few songs that were special to them. My taste in music was largely formed in middle school and early high school, where I spent many hours sitting on my uncles living room floor digging through his massive record collection. In those days, it was relatively easy to keep your music collection organized, arrange everything alphabetically on the shelf and you’re all set.
The way that we consume music has changed drastically since then, to the point where many of us no longer even purchase music on physical media. Although I still like picking up a CD every once in a while, a vast majority of my music is already in a digital format when I get it. If you’re buying all of your digital music from the same reputable source, and you always use the same program to manage and play your music, then chances are your library is in good shape. If, on the other hand, you get music from a variety of sources, then your library may be in need of some organization, especially if some of your sources are “non-retail”.
When it comes to organizing my collections, including my digital music library, calling me OCD would be pretty much spot on. All of my tunes have been properly labeled and organized, have the correct album art, some even have lyrics that I can view on my iPhone while playing the song.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to be using iTunes since (for bettor or worse) a lot of people use it for their primary music library management. If you’re not using iTunes, that’s OK, you should be able to apply most of these tips in your application of choice.
First let’s talk very briefly about formats for digital music. The most common format for digital audio is MPEG Layer 3, better known as MP3. Music purchased from the iTunes store is usually in AAC (Advanded Audio Coding), and there’s several other less popular formats that most of you will seldom see. There are lots of technical arguments for and against every format, but I usually stick to these two formats just to keep things simple and because almost every music application and player can handle them.
To start things off, there’s a few iTunes settings that will help keep things in order. The iTunes preferences are found by clicking the Edit menu and then clicking Preferences, or iTunes-Preferences on a Mac. Towards the bottom of the General tab, you’ll find a drop down menu asking what to do When you insert a CD. Choose Ask To Import CD and make sure that there’s a check in the box for Automatically retrieve CD track names from the Internet.
Now go to the Advanced tab and make sure that Keep iTunes Media folder organized and Copy Files to iTunes Media folder both have check marks next to them. This tells iTunes to always copy new music to the iTunes folder system and change the name of the file to match a standard structure. The file is renamed with the CD track number and title. It’s placed in a folder with the name of the album, and that folder goes inside one with the Artist’s name, neat and tidy.
Let’s click on the Import Settings button. There’s two drop down menus here that will decide the format and quality of the files created when you import music. You’ll be perfectly fine leaving these alone and going about your business, but I prefer to change the Import Using setting to MP3 Encoder to put the files in a more universal format. The Settings button will decide the quality of the audio that’s imported. The higher the quality of the file, the better it will sound, especially if you have an expensive set of headphones or a high-end stereo in your car. The downside is that higher quality audio makes larger files that eat up more space on your hard drive and iPod. Click on the Settings button and then choose Custom. The setting that we’re after here is Stereo Bit Rate, you’re given choices from 16kbps through 320kbps with a default of 128kbps. I wouldn’t recommend going below 128kbps unless you really just don’t care how your music sounds. I shoot higher and set the bit rate at 320kbps, which creates larger files, but hard drive space is pretty cheap these days. For most people, 256kbps is the sweet spot.
I’ll assume that you have a stack of CDs at home that you’d really like to have on your computer and eventually on your iPod. Make sure that you’re connected to the Internet, launch iTunes, and pop a CD in your computer’s drive. You’ll soon be greeted with a message asking to import the CD. Say yes and your computer will digest the music for a few minutes and then eject the CD. You’ll find the songs from the CD in your iTunes library complete with correct album & track names, genre information and probably even cover art. The information for artist, album, track name, etc. is all stored within the individual files, so no matter where your music goes, the information will follow. Rinse and repeat until you’ve magically extracted all of the music from that stack of silvery discs.
That’s enough to keep you busy for a while. In the near future, I’ll cover importing those MP3 files that you’ve obtained from other sources.