Thursday, 2 April 2009

An MP3 Odyssey: from MusicMatch to WinAmp to WMP to MediaMonkey to iTunes

I 'acquired' my first mp3 file in early 2000 with the original Napster. Since then my collection has blossomed from a handful of files to an amazing 25,000. Part of this growth involved ripping my entire CD collection in 2003 when I got my first iPod (2nd gen).

Ever since I converted to an 'intangible' music storage system, I have struggled to manage it effectively. This has meant that the last time I listened to a lot of my favourite music was back in 2003 when I first went all mp3.

Being slightly anally retentive, I've never been happy with simply ripping a CD or procuring some music without having it perfectly tagged. I won't get into this yet, but suffice to say, my mp3 collection is (IMHO) very well ordered.

As can be seen by the title of this post, I have tried a number of different pieces of software, tag editors, processes and procedures to tame my huge music collection over the years. I think I'm finally almost there with a user-friendly solution that might just last. On looking back, the goal should never have been about constructing a beautifully ordered folder taxonomy and tagging like I had an OCD. It should have been about the user experience - and not just mine at that. A system that works even for the lay-person is what's needed and that's where I'm at. Almost.

So, first a bit of history; I was initially introduced to ripping music to mp3 using MusicMatch Jukebox. I used this religiously until it was taken over by Yahoo! when it seemed to loose a few of the functions I counted on the most; namely automatic tagging. I played with WinAmp for a short while, and also Windows Media Player. WMP was pretty good as a player, but I was disappointed in its tagging facility, so I went looking elsewhere as my directory of untagged music grew larger and larger over a couple of years.

After reading the excellent Lifehacker, I eventually found that I could do all the tagging I used to do (and more) with MediaMonkey. I was very impressed with it and after a short while was tagging quicker than ever and had caught up with my major backlog. I have made a few discoveries recently that make it even better (all to be revealed in good time).

Unfortunately, I wasn't happy with MediaMonkey as a player. I'm not sure why - it has tonnes of features and looks good - I just never really clicked with it from that point of view. I then decided to conform and try the Big Kahuna of them all, iTunes. I'd read so much about why iTunes was great, but had never persevered further than just syncing my iPod then iPhone with it. I had never used it as a player. that has all now changed and I must say, I am converted and loving it.

I like its simple, non-intrusive interface. I like the fact that I can make smart playlists using logic (I had always avoided playlists beforehand). I love the fact that the Genius function, working together with a well tagged music library, can get my 'better half' subconsciously bopping after choosing just one funky song (this is the accessibility and usability part of my odyssey). Altogether, I think it's great, but I had to grow up and get rid of two precious things: my folder taxonomy and my file naming convention. Once I'd got over this and learnt to love iTunes looking after my library, all I needed to focus on was the tags. In retrospect, this is somewhat of a relief since it's one less thing to worry about.

I now have an even better tagged and ordered system. We listen to music more and find what we want to listen to more easily. There are still some little things I need to crack before I am completely content, but that will come in time. What I plan to do here is to blog about each thing I did and changed, why I did it and how I did it. This way I can share what has given me a bit of a music renaissance.