How To: Clean Up Your MP3 Library

Nathan Edwards

If your digital-music library is more than a few years old, chances are it contains songs from a variety of sources: ripped CDs, peer-to-peer services, online music stores, good-hearted friends, and so on. The only problem with such an eclectic collection is that nothing’s consistent: Volume levels jump up and down from one song to the next, album art shows up sporadically, and the ID3 tags—well, let’s just say the band that sings “American Idiot” isn’t named Greene Dye. Thankfully, these are easy problems to fix, if you have the right tools. We’ll show you how to change tags and find album art as well as tweak volume levels using freeware apps.

What you Need

MediaMonkey
Free, www.mediamonkey.com

MP3gain
Free, mp3gain.sourceforge.net

Time:

4 hours

1. Download MediaMonkey

First, download and install MediaMonkey (www.mediamonkey.com). You might be enticed to pay $20 for the full version, but for our purposes, the free version gets the job done. We used MediaMonkey 2.5, though at press time a 3.0 version was in beta testing.

Start by choosing the folders that contain your music collection.

2. Add Your Tracks

The first time you run MediaMonkey, it will scan your hard drives for audio files. You can let it scan everything or only the folders you choose. You can also specify what file types you want it to add (the program supports just about every format under the sun, from FLAC to WMA). Want MediaMonkey to check for duplicate tracks? Click the Options button and enable the appropriate checkbox.

3. Get Organized

The easiest way to fix album art and ID3 tags (aka metadata) is to sort your library by album, which will allow you to apply changes and updates to multiple tracks at once. You’ll have to attend to singles individually, but Album view still provides the most efficient means of making changes.

In MediaMonkey’s navigation tree, click Album. You’ll see your songs in the track list (the main window) sorted by the album name listed in the metadata. This is where things can get a bit tricky because if you have missing or inaccurate tags, the list itself won’t be accurate. Fortunately, you can spot-check songs as you go, examining track title, artist, and other tags—along with the actual file name, which is usually correct.

4. Fix Incorrect Tags

Fixing errors in a band’s name (or adding a name) is a snap. First, select all the tracks in the album you want to fix. MediaMonkey lets you apply global changes to multiple tracks: Press Shift-Enter to open the Edit Properties box; then type the correct name into the Artist field. If other global changes are needed, make them now as well. Just be sure to leave Track Title and Track Number alone, or you’ll overwrite the information for all the tracks you selected, giving them all the same name.

If you’re not thrilled about making manual adjustments to your songs’ tags or you’re just not sure you have the right information, there’s an automated (albeit riskier) option in step 6.

Use the Edit Properties dialog to apply global changes to an album’s worth of ID3 tags.

5. Find Missing Album Art

Some people may not feel album art is essential, but for completists it is a necessity. If you’re an iTunes user, you’ve no doubt discovered that the program can now fetch art for all the songs in your library. However, this art doesn’t get embedded in the actual song files, so if you play your music elsewhere, the images won’t appear. It’s a similar situation with Windows Media Player, which places artwork files in the folder containing the album. Not all portable players will absorb these files when you sync with your PC.

MediaMonkey does it right, adding album art to each song’s metadata, so the art goes where the song goes. Select one or more tracks for a particular album and then fire up your browser and head to www.albumart.org. Search for the album in question, right-click the appropriate image, and copy it to your clipboard. Head back to MediaMonkey, right-click in the empty Album Art pane, and choose Paste. An options box will appear; all the default choices should be suitable, so click OK and you’re done.

You can accomplish this task more quickly by using the automated method described in the next step.

The Albumart.org site is a great resource for album covers, which you can copy and paste into MediaMonkey.

6. Fix Tags and Album Art Automatically

MediaMonkey can automatically retrieve both metadata and album art, thus saving you a bit of time over using the aforementioned manual methods. However, you still have to select the songs and initiate the process, which goes like this:

After selecting your songs, press Ctrl-L to launch MediaMonkey’s Auto-Tag from Amazon feature. In a moment, you should see a page of album info, including cover art and a song list. If it didn’t fetch the right info (which happens sometimes, especially if your ID3 tags are out of whack), clear the search field and try entering the album name manually. You can also click the search field’s pull-down tool to see if there are any results that match more closely.

Make sure the checkboxes for all the desired tag elements are selected: Album, Artists, Release, Label, and Songs. If you didn’t already update your album art and want that fixed too, check that box. The box at the bottom shows you a preview of the post-fix tracks. If everything appears to be in order, click the Auto-Tag button. Presto: MediaMonkey updates the metadata for the selected tracks with the information gleaned from Amazon.

The only thing that remains is to repeat the process for all your songs and albums. Depending on the size of your library, this could take a few hours, a weekend, or longer—but it’s worth it to end up with a squeaky-clean,
art-enhanced music collection.

7. Introduce MP3Gain to Your Library

Download MP3Gain from http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net. True to its name, the program supports only MP3 files. If the bulk of your library is in a different format, consider waiting for MediaMonkey 3.0, which will improve its existing volume-leveling capabilities (which aren’t great) to more closely match MP3Gain’s.

Once you’ve downloaded and launched the app, click the Add Folder button; then choose the folder containing your music (MP3Gain will automatically scan subfolders as well). MP3Gain makes no physical changes to your MP3 files, so there’s no loss of quality. The app merely adds volume-level information to your songs’ metadata.

8. Analyze and Level Your Tracks

Now it’s decision time. MP3Gain can analyze each individual track in your library or analyze by album. The latter method will keep the volume consistent across each album, but if you often shuffle-play your entire music library, don’t be surprised if the volume still jumps or dips from one track to the next. This choice is largely a matter of personal preference, but we think there’s little downside to opting for the track-analysis method. You can always reverse the process and switch methods later on.

MP3Gain’s track analysis shows you how much gain is required to meet the designated normal volume setting.

By default, MP3Gain strives for a volume level of 89dB, but you can change this value in the Target “Normal” Volume box. After that, click the Track Analysis button and then be prepared to wait while the program analyzes your selected folders. This can take quite a while, depending on the size of your collection.

Once MP3Gain completes the analysis, you can review the results (the help file provides detailed descriptions to help you understand the results) or simply start the leveling procedure by clicking Track Gain. This will take even longer than the analysis, so be prepared to wait a while.

When you’re done, fire up MediaMonkey and test your tracks. They may not have perfectly consistent volume, but they should be closer. If they’re too soft or too loud, you can always go back to MP3Gain and raise or lower the Target “Normal” Volume a few decibels.

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