Organizing Your Music On a Server 
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Written by Bryan Dailey   
Sunday, 01 May 2005


AV Education on RHT

Organizing Your Music On a Server

Written by Bryan Dailey

If you don’t yet have an iPod and are feeling a bit like an outsider, have no fear. Creating an archive of your CD collection and putting it on your computer and/or iPod can be very simple and could potentially save your collection of music in the event of a disaster. Another advantage in taking on the project of archiving your music is that by physically ripping all of your discs, you will find that you are reintroduce yourself to music you know and love but had forgotten you own. It is likely that you will even head out to the record store or iTunes to buy even more music to round out your collection.

An Old Argument – Mac or PC
Apple’s newfound dominance and ultra-easy-to-use interface gives them a head start as the best vehicle for archiving and managing your music. Factor in the plug and play ease of use of the iPod and the simple integration of buying music through iTunes and you can see why over five million people bought iPods in the fourth quarter of 2004 alone. With an iMac and a few accessories, you can have an entire computer that can host your music collection for well under $1,000. I highly recommend that you archive your music on to some sort of external drive. I prefer Lacie Firewire drives. For around $200, you can have 250 gigabytes of storage (or a few thousand songs) on one single drive.

There is nothing Microsoft wants more than to get into the entertainment business on your PC. They are working hard to create software applications that successfully manage and archive your music for traditional PCs, as well as components like HP’s Media Center PC. To their credit, they are doing some amazing stuff in the world of HDTV with Windows Media 10, but they are a little clunky in the world of music storage when compared to Apple. The advantage of PCs are their cost. Everything for the PC is cheaper than the Mac, but it also is usually more complicated to use and far less sexy. If you have an old PC or have the urge to upgrade to a new one, your old machine outfitted with a USB2 external hard drive could be a perfect place for you to archive your music for very little money. It’s a little harder to use, but for some, it could be the answer.

More AV-oriented components from server companies like Escient, ReQuest and QSonix offer music storage that is designed to archive your collection. The scope of this how-to feature is to discuss general ideas on archiving your collection. There are many ways to do it, using all sorts of different hardware. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the most popular and easiest to use system: iTunes. ITunes can of course be used with PCs and with iPods in the Windows environment.

Importing Music Into iTunes
As with any computer program, there are many options available in the “preferences panel” of iTunes. There are small variations in the different releases of iTunes, but for the sake of this article, I will refer to the most current version at the time of this writing, which is 4.7.1. Most people who rip their CDs into iTunes are probably not aware that they can set the sampling rate at which the files are imported. This is important to know, especially if you don’t have a lot of room on your hard drive or have a small iPod. You will need to toy with the different settings to find the audio quality level you are happy with but can still handle storage-wise. There are various formats that you can use for importing songs. The one that I found to have the best sound quality uses the AAC encoder, with the sample rate set at 192 kbps. To keep the relative sound quality of your archived collection, you’ll want to burn everything at the same sample rate. Nothing can kill the flow of a relaxing ambient background mix faster than going from a higher-resolution MP3 file to a tinny, compressed 32 kbps ripped song. Audiophiles who have plenty of hard drive space may look to 320 kbps for their archives, but if you plan to keep your CD collection after you archive it, it begs the question: why not listen to the actual CD instead of the archive? The decision is yours to make based on your available hard drive space and how you think you will use your archive collection.

If you are importing any kind of volume of CDs, there are some settings that can help make the process go much faster. Under the “general preferences” tab in iTunes, there is a setting that says “on CD insert.” On this tab, select “import songs and eject.” This will keep your momentum going, as the CD will automatically pop out when you are done burning it. It is very easy to forget that you are ripping CDs in the background – 15 minutes can easily fly by and you forget that the disc has long been done. If you are archiving a collection with more than two or three hundred discs, every minute you can save ends up saving you hours when all is said and done.

By setting iTunes up to automatically connect to the Internet, the CCDB database information that contains song titles, album titles and other album info will automatically be attached to the files. The task of naming each song and album manually takes even longer than ripping them, so using the CCDB database is the single most important time-saving feature on iTunes. Occasionally, if you get a very obscure CD, you will not benefit from the database, so sometimes you will need to name the songs yourself, but this seems to happen less than one percent of the time, in my experience.

Many people who use iTunes are oblivious to the file hierarchy and have no idea where their songs are actually being stored. With hard drives becoming bigger and bigger, the quality of them seems to be going downhill. It is becoming much more common for me to hear about my friends or co-workers’ hard drives failing, so backing up files is more and more essential.

If you are using iTunes on Macintosh OS X, the files are saved in a folder on the hard drive on the users “home folder” called “music.” The folder called “iTunes” is where the songs are saved. If you want to move your songs over to a different hard drive for the sake of backing them up, or simply storing them and accessing them from a different hard drive, you’ll simply need to copy this folder over. If you do this and decided to delete the versions that are on your computer’s hard drive, you’ll need to go back into your iTunes and tell it to look for the songs on the new hard drive. If iTunes no longer sees the correct path to a song, it will grey the song out on your playlist and you won’t be able to select it. You will then need to find the song and redirect iTunes to it. I have found the easiest way to do this is to simply drag the folders from the new hard drive and set them on top of the old library on iTunes. It will then access the files from the new hard drive.

The iTunes software will burn the songs into the iTunes music folder and will list the artist first and then, inside that folder, will list the album titles as another folder. Inside each corresponding album folder, the individual song files will be listed in order as they appear on the CD. If you have five Madonna CDs and you burn all of them, a folder called “Madonna” will be placed in your iTunes folder and each of the albums will be inside that folder. Some albums, however, are designated as compilation albums and these are archived in a slightly different way. A folder called compilations will automatically be created. The album titles will then be placed in this compilations folder, essentially taking it one level deeper than the rest of the artists’ albums that are in the iTunes folder. This is done because often the compilation albums have so many artists that it would be pointless to try to choose one.

If you own a fairly decent computer, the ripping process does not take too long and the application does not affect your ability to work on other tasks while the disc is ripping. I have a dual processor Apple Macintosh G4 and I have noticed that the thing that helps speed more than the processor is the speed of the drive. The new Apple super-drive on a single processor will burn a CD faster than my 48x speed CD-ROM. If you plan on doing lots of CD ripping and burning, you won’t regret spending a little extra dough on the drive that you put in your computer. Generally the price to upgrade the disc drive when purchasing a computer is not dramatic and if your time means anything to you, the hours this will save you will be more than worth the cost. Depending on the speed of your computer, the sampling rate and the size of the files, it can take a minute or less to up to 10 minutes or more per disc. Turning off options like “play disc while ripping” and “error correction” will help speed the process along as well.

Creating Playlists
There are countless ways that you can archive and store your music in iTunes and, in turn, on your iPod. I found that the best way to archive my collection of CDs was by artist in alphabetical order. Whitesnake would be filed under W. However, I would rename the folder for an artist like John Mayer so that it reads Mayer, John. This makes finding his albums much easier than trying to sort through any other artists who also have the first name John. Artists like Iggy Pop and Marilyn Manson might seem to pose a little problem, but I went with the theory that if the name is a real one, then I would use the last name first, and if the name is a stage name that people know more as a band, then I used the first name first. The problem with my method is, in order to get my collection organized like a record store’s bins, I have to fight the way that CDDB wants to create folders inside my main music folder. In addition to the time it takes to change the names of the Jimi Hendrix folder to Hendrix, Jimi, you also encounter another problem. Let’s say that you just found a copy of Cry of Love at a CD store and you rip it to your hard drive. You previously changed the folder name to Hendrix, Jimi, but CDDB rips it as Jim Hendrix again. Now your collection is potentially disorganized. I wouldn’t fault you if you just accepted the default the CDDB database came up with for you as your main method of archiving, but if you are inspired to go deeper, you now know how.

As much as I enjoy classical music, I decided to create a folder in my master list of artists that is simply called Classical. I then took all of my classical albums and put them into this folder. I did this because, when looking for pop and rock artists, I didn’t want to have to scroll up past through the names of various orchestras and other musicians that I may not specifically be familiar with enough to recognize by name. Generally, if the London Philharmonic does a Mozart album, the CCDB database will list Mozart as the artist, but on some occasions, it lists the London Philharmonic instead. Sometimes two different options will pop up, one with the orchestra’s name first, the other with the composer’s name first, so you will be able to choose the one that fits your format better.

The extent of sub-categorization that you get into is up to you and how much time you have on your hands. In a recent demo of the QSonix server system, which is a hardware-software-touchscreen package for home theater systems, I was impressed by the level of sub-categorization from their music database provider. You could search and archive by hundreds, if not thousands, of subcategories from Art Rock to Female Vocals and so on. With some elbow grease, you can make this happen to a certain extent on your own with a system as I am describing it.

Getting Music On Your iPod or Handheld Music Storage Device
Once you have burned your collection and have it in iTunes, you can then import your tracks to your iPod to take on the road with you. If your iPod’s capacity is greater than your entire archived music collection, I’d recommend just moving over the entire collection. If your iPod does not have enough room, then you’ll need to create smaller playlists or drag and drop over and selectively import the tracks or folders that you want to listen to later. I have more than 20 gig of songs, but happen to have only a 20-gig iPod. Going with the “Shuffle” philosophy, I will randomly import about 15 gig worth of artists’ folders, then will quickly scroll through my artist list on iTunes and pull five of my favorite artists folders and pop those on there. I liken it to grabbing an entire shelf of CDs off your CD rack, loading them up in the car, then going back to pick and chose a few extra CDs that I want to make sure I listen to first. Once I've listened to these few select titles, I still have hundreds of hours of other music available for listening.

One advantage you get with a non-iPod handheld device is that normally, for less money, you get a larger hard drive. The non-iPod devices don’t sell as well because they are less sexy but the value is there if you run a PC. Still, for PC users and certainly for Mac guys, I recommend an iPod. I don’t really recommend the iPod Shuffle for $99, however. It is simply too small for all but tiny downloads. If your music collection is worth tens of thousands of dollars, $250 isn’t too much to invest in bringing it with you in your briefcase for a business trip.

Burning CDs and DVDs
Unlike the massive amounts of storage available, you can put between 640 and 800 megabytes of audio on a CD, depending on the size of the disc. iTunes makes this process very simple and you can create custom playlists, then burn them onto customized discs. With the advent of car adapters for listening to your iPod on the road, from the slick interfaces like the ones BMW created last year to simple tape deck adapters, the need to make CDs seems obsolete, but if you don’t yet have your iPod dialed in for in car use, CDs are a good option. If the files you are burning have been compressed, you will be able to put many more songs than you’d get on a standard CD, but of course the sound quality won’t be as high.

Recently, the prices of blank DVD-R discs have come down. You can make one heck of a playlist on a somewhat disposable format. At about $2 per disc these days, if it gets scratched or lost, who cares? A few years ago, blank DVD-R discs cost over $10 each. Ouch.
Purchasing Music From iTunes and Elsewhere
When the music industry was scrambling to find a way to stop the bleeding that was being caused by peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, Apple calmly stepped up and presented the world with the iTunes music store. For $0.99 a song or $9.99 an album, music lovers could stop weeding through poorly ripped and often mislabeled illegally shared downloads and could buck up and legally purchase tracks online. This concept quickly gained momentum and record labels jumped on board. Other record labels soon followed suit and consumers can now purchase songs from Musicnet.com, Napster and several other online pay per download sites. Each of the payment structures is slightly different, but you’ll need to research the ones that work for your particular MP3 player. For the Apple iPod, iTunes stored tracks are created to be placed on your iPod or can be burned on to a CD. There is a limit to the number of times that purchased tracks can be burned. One major downside to the Apple iTunes store is the depth of the catalog selections available. Some artists that you might search for, such as Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, aren’t on iTunes at all and others will have some but not all of the back catalogue albums are available. One quirk that you might want to pay attention to when shopping for songs by a popular artist with many albums is the fact that the “more” button is very small on the search results window. A search for Van Halen results in 75 hits, but four albums are shown on the first page, making it appear that the store’s inventory is very low. However, if you hit the very small “more results” arrow, you get to see that there are many more Van Halen songs and albums actually available.

iTunes isn’t the only player in the download space, but like everything Apple does, it is the easiest. Napster, a company synonymous with stealing music in the late 1990s, is back with something more like a rental model. Music enthusiasts I know want to own their music, not just rent it. Also, reports I have heard say synching the music from Napster to your iPod can be tough. An interesting alternative download company is Emusic.com, which “podcasts” live concerts and special events right to your iPod. It is more oriented towards more niche music than the highly popular back catalogue rock and pop stuff found on iTunes. For hardcore music enthusiasts, it is a pretty cool service.

Conclusion
3,000 words later, it feels like I have just scratched the surface of what is possible. From my personal experience, archiving my music not only has made my two hours per day in the car commuting from Long Beach to Beverly Hills much more tolerable with my iPod, but more importantly, my archiving project has allowed me the chance to regard my music in a whole new way. I have bought more music in the CD store and through iTunes to help round out my collection in all sorts of genres. Until the music business figures out what they are doing with DualDisc or other future formats like HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, it might be well worth your while to look into taking on the project of archiving your music. It is basically impossible for you not to get excited about your collection all over again.







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