Tagging is Dragging

So, glutton for punishment that I am, I’ve undertaken tagging my Library (Again). This was all brought on by the damnable Media Center…See screenshot above. I’ve got these chunks of time in the evening now that are filled with baby supervision. Can’t leave the room. Can’t get drunk (usually). Don’t have a shop to work in (see #1 if I did). So, data maintenance.

The problem is that I’m totally smitten with the Media Center interface. Browsing my music visually via remote from across the room is the ultimate deal for me. Fun, quick, totally cool. The crisis is metadata. See the one album in the upper left? Unless your tags are perfect that’s what you get. MSFT, in their infinite wisdom has made the rules for art display so impossibly complex and undocumented that I have had to experiment for hours to find the correct combination of tools and attributes to get things working. So today I’m going to share a few tips on good tagging tools and the rules I’ve discovered to get art to show in Media Center. First up: Tools

Tool # 1: Media Monkey

This shareware app (free for the basic version, which is all you need) is the berries and they’ve figured out something that nobody else has: Fingerprinting to identify tracks is slow and blows. Search is better. They have a command called “Auto-Tag from Amazon” that works better than any other system I’ve used. By using word search to find the info you need they are able to quickly match whole albums at a time. Of course, Amazon has great artwork too (Some of it has been coming in at 500×500 for newer stuff). They get the year right most of the time, their genre list seems to be broad but not so broad you end up in weird niches like Folk Punk and it writes the album description into the comments field. When you auto-tag it offers to write the art into the file or add it to the directory the song resides in (I choose both, more on this later) and wonder of all wonders, they do a GREAT job of writing out performing artist to the artist field and album artist to the album artist field. Massively useful, detailed and a necessity for MCE. You can even specify to check Amazon Japan or UK for those rare imports. When your original metadata is so screwed up that it can’t find it for you, you can search yourself and force associate any set of tracks to an album. For straight up tag editing this is the program to use.

Tool #2: Tag and Rename 3.2

This is probably where I go off the deep end. In addition to tagging I wanted to get the filenames straightened out. So after I whack em with the Monkey I’ve been using the above program to re-write file names based on the updated tags. Super quick variable based fields allow you to batch process everything at once and straighten out the file system. It does all the other usual tag stuff but is a little more techie and not nearly as good as Media Monkey at getting updated info.

Media Center Art Display

Media Center is one tricky SOB. I hate that in their effort to simplify the UE that they hide everything so unless your shit is perfect, you’re lost. No help on the site. Forums turn up little in the way of this stuff. So here are some things I’ve learned:

Make sure items from the same album are in the same folder. Set up your files with the artist/album/song hierarchy and you’ll be in good shape.

Make sure that all the songs in the folder have the same tag value for “Album Artist” and that the “Artist” tag represents the individual contributor (these can be the same as album artist but I prefer that the performer and the album compiler be correct and distinct when apprpriate). Note: WMP and Media Monkey are the only apps I’ve seen that use the title “Album Artist” for this tag value. Other apps seem to read this tag as Band or Orchestra

MCE doesn’t read art embedded in the tag, it looks for a standalone jpg in the album directory to display. (That’s why the Media Monkey option to download the art to the directory is useful). If you’re placing your art manually name it folder.jpg (literally). I also used Media Monkey to write the art into the tag for display on some portable devices and in other apps like MusicMatch. This jpg should be less than 200K or it may not display in MCE.

Turn on hidden files and system files in the folder options. By default, MCE goes looking for absent metadata and writes it into the tags and or folders. For art in particular, it writes several files that are set with hidden and system attributes. The presence of those files will conflict with any artwork you want to show and they need to be deleted to let your file (folder.jpg) be used as the file to display.

Depending on what you use to edit your tags, make sure that you are actually updating the tag and not a database entry. For example, if you get a CD of mp3’s from a friend and copy them over to your drive they will be copied with the read only attribute that they have as a CD file. If you edit the tags for those files in WMP it will only change the WMP database entry and not the actual song file (love it). Same is true for some other Jukebox apps. Go to the root of your music folders and uncheck the read only attrib in the properties dialog. XP quirk: You may not be able to remove the read only attrib from the folders that your songs reside in. XP uses the read only flag as a marker for customized folders and will not allow the property to be changed. You can change it for songs and files in the folders, just not for the folders themselves.

Those are the main hurdles to go through. I’d like to think it’s the librarian in me that needs this kind of data to be correct but it’s probably just the geek. Good luck.

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