Liner notes

Moving can be an occasion for reconsidering how you live your life. One aspect that Gwen and I are confronting is how we listen to music.

I’ve got all my CDs ripped to digital files, and since I spend most of the day working at (or, well, sitting at) my computer, listening to my music through iTunes is the most obvious option. I’ve been pushing for having a gadget to relay music off my hard drive to the stereo in the living room, something like the Airport Express or Slimp3 player.

Not Gwen. She doesn’t dislike iTunes, but she’s visual. She wants to browse through the covers of her music to make a selection, rather than scroll through a list of artists or the like. But she and I both feel that it would be nice to put away all of our CDs. So what to do?

The MP3 and AAC file formats allow you to include cover art as metadata right in the file. iTunes can display this art while it the track is playing. And there exist a number of applications for the Mac that will display the art when iTunes is hidden, and even help look for it on the Internet–Clutter, which I could never bond with, Sofa, which is an intriguing app now caught in limbo by its author’s death, and Synergy, which I’ve been happily using for some time. But these don’t help you browse your collection by cover—they just show you the cover once you’ve selected something.

One of the big problems with cover browsing is that you need to have the cover art. As I said, there are some programs that can help (by mining Google Images or Amazon), but often enough, they can’t find anything, or they find the wrong thing, or they find the right thing, but only a thumbnail image. And there’s some stuff for which there simply is no cover art (remixes, bootlegs, etc). I’ve been rather laboriously going through my collection and manually searching the usual sources to dig up good-quality images to make cover browsing possible. I reckon once I’m done, I’ll still be left with 2% to 5% of my collection sans art, and for that stuff, I’ll have to improvise.

I recently learned about Cover Buddy, which gives you a slide-sorter view of your cover art. It’s got some nice features, and it’s reasonably priced. But I’m really excited about my latest discovery, CoverFlow. When I read the description of this, I was doubtful of its utility, but having played with it, I’m hooked. It’s still very beta and rather primitive, but also very impressive. You really need a scrolling mouse to make the most of it.

I showed it to Gwen, and she was impressed as well. I think we’ve solved our music-browsing dilemma. Now we just need a Mac that can run CoverFlow in the living room…

4 thoughts on “Liner notes”

  1. I’m very disappointed with the CD meta-data situation. Freedb and Amazon cover art searches just don’t cut it.

    I’m tempted to just scan every frickin’ CD cover so I can have them all with some reasonably consistent quality.

    I’ve been thinking about the sad state of music meta-data lately. I’ve had a rant brewing, along the lines of: if music labels really cared about the user experience they would start putting meta-data in some standard form on discs. But they only care if they can have complete control over that experience. So that’s why we get spyware DRM instead of XML playlists.

  2. I’ve been having pretty good luck with amazon and google images so far. My baseline is a 300×300 image that doesn’t show heavy compression artifacts. I’d say that between those two sites, I find a good candidate quickly nine times out of ten. And I’m about 7/8ths done.

    There’s no question that the labels missed the boat when the audio-CD format was designed, and since then, it’s just gone downhill. I fully expect a congresscritter who is a client of the RIAA or MPAA to sponsor legislation requiring all Americans to gouge out their eyes and ears as a way to prevent piracy.

  3. I downloaded the “technical demo” for CoverFlow and watching it build its database was amazing — it was flipping through cover art for albums I’d never seen, based on obscurities in my MP3 collection that I downloaded from who knows where.

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