Let Go

I’ve mentioned this before, and much as I hate to go on, it’s a subject I want to try and tackle one more time. I’m going to focus on one particular application, but the principals are applicable across many, they are not limited to a particular type of file but there are some thresholds which factor into this discussion.

Specifically, I want to discuss iTunes and the MP3 phenomenon.

I don’t want to discuss whether MP3s are ‘killing CDs’ or why Ogg Vorbis is a much better format, nor do I wish to bemoan the features of iTunes. However I think it’s easier to talk about a specific example, than to talk about “library applications” (applications which will act as the interface to your files) and “numerous files” (as we are only talking about applications that handle 1000s of files at a time, not those that are concerned with one file at a time). So, with that in mind…

Whether you like it or not, MP3 is the de facto choice for music files. It has won the battle and is unlikely to be replaced and, as such, the number of MP3 files is only going to increase. Making the decision of which file format to use was something I didn’t really bother with, I just followed the crowd. Many others have done exactly the same.

Over the years as I’ve slowly added MP3s to my music collection, I’ve swayed between different MP3 applications, FooBar, Winamp, and others. Winamp held the floor for quite a while, and when they added a library function to help organise the thousands of MP3 files that soon accumulated I started to rethink how I handled my MP3 collection.

In the Winamp days, I spent a lot of time managing the MP3 files themselves. Making sure the internal information, or tags, correctly listed the artist, track, album and so on. I would then make sure the files were in appropriately named folders organised by first artist, then album name. Even the filenames themselves were carefully managed and all in all I had a fairly streamlined workflow that kicked in whenever I was ripping a CD to MP3. It used two different applications, one to handle automating the tagging process, another to tidy up any erroneous tags and intelligently rename the files (Tag & Rename if you must know).

Then one day a company called Apple released a version of their iTunes application for Windows. I’d heard a bit about iTunes and, curious as to what all the fuss was about, I downloaded it and gave it a shot. First impressions were not good. It was slow, clunky, ate RAM and, worst of all, it screwed up my carefully managed folders. How very dare it!

After some searching I found some answers to solve that problem, mainly some settings to change but it wasn’t enough. iTunes just wasn’t for me. As far as I was concerned it didn’t fit in my workflow so the application was unsuitable to the way I ‘worked’.

I hadn’t factored in the Apple marketing department though, and soon as I was back in iTunes-land. Why? Mainly because my shiny new 10GB iPod preferred it.

However I was still embedded in my MP3 workflow. Rip, rename, tag, file, repeat. Rip, rename, tag, file, repeat. All my files and folders neatly arranged and tagged. This continued for some time until, and I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t recall exactly when, I had ripped a large number of CDs into iTunes and didn’t have time to properly clean them up. I figured I’d do it later.

A few days later I sat down at the PC, fired up iTunes and searched for the one of the CDs I’d ripped.

That’ll be about when it hit me. That’ll be the precise moment I realised that my renaming and filing days were over, as iTunes found my music and started playing it, based purely on the tags containing the artist, album and track information. It was, laughably, a light bulb moment. The sudden realisation that I could just leave the filenaming and storage location to iTunes and largely not really care what it did as long as I could search for a track by any of the variety of information held within the MP3 file itself.

Since then I have done exactly that. Other than specifying the parent folder into which iTunes rips or copies MP3s, the underlying folder structure, for all I care, may be a complete mess. I really don’t care as I interface with the files through iTunes.

I know there are some of you out there that are baulking at this idea and I will state that it is not solely because I use iTunes. I think the same revelation would’ve occurred if I’d been using Windows Media Player, or if the Winamp Library facility had had a search function.

I now treat my photos in a similar manner, worrying only about the metadata associated with them (location, date, occasion) and not really caring how they are stored.. Picasa takes care of that for me (and if I could find a way to get iPhoto to scan networked folders I’d have a shot with it but it seems to insist on copying the photos to the drive first).

And finally, with reference back to my post on RSS feeds, as Google Reader (my tool of choice) now allows you to search through your feeds, what does it matter if I have more than 1000+ unread items in any folder. The folder isn’t important, searching for content is.

I agree this kind of approach to data isn’t for everyone but, in our current climate of “too much”, anything that minimises the amount of work that I need to do for menial tasks like organising my ever expanding music collection is very much a GOOD THING. There is, of course, an argument for cutting back and decluttering your digital life, but that’s a different discussion.

As Obi-Wan once said, “Let go”.

Written By

Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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Funny, I was mentioning this last night at dinner with a friend.

I have always been very particular about file and folder name for music files.

I don’t rename photos but put them in a date-based folder structure, with the last containing folder named with date and occasion.

I used to file emails in a complex series of nested folders, then got tired of that and now I just search. It works. Ditto for feeds.

It’s scary for me to let go, but now I want to do the same for music and photos. Glad to hear you are happy with your approach!

Nope, sorry. You typed iPod and MP3 and then my eyes blurred. I just can’t do it. The information won’t go in.

Yep, iTunes does a pretty good job, in general.

My gripes with iTunes:

The folder structure, like you say, is not normally a problem, but if you want to do anything with a file outside of iTunes (e.g. to upload it to a castpost), you then have to do battle with the folder structure and you find that, inexplicably, some albums have been put in the “Compilations” folder. Even though they’re not compilations!

It does run quite slowly.

Big and I use separate logons on our laptop and it won’t allow us both to have iTunes open. It makes us close the other one first. In fact, in an earlier version, if one of us had had it open at all, that person had to log out before the other one could open it.

Rip, rename, tag, file, repeat? Thousands of times? If I had had to do that, I’d never have bothered to start. It never occurred to me to do anything but leave it to iTunes.

I was about to say something about making one’s life complicated, but your final line beat me to it!

I remember laughing at vinyl purists reticence to embrace CDs. Now I’m the one not at all interested in digital music. There’ll be another format along soon anyway.

I’ve used Winamp for ages and I didn’t worry about file layouts because its media library made it easy to pick albums. Recently though I started using Apache’s mod_music to generate browse views and playlists for consumption across my wireless network (for which I didn’t want to open a file share), so I had to reorganise them into /artist/album/track.

The tagging of the files has very little to do with Apple. It accesses the CDDB (Gracenote) as it’s known now.

Much as I like Apple the shiny bundle of cleverness is not theirs.

Unless they’ve bought it and I’ll stand corrected.

That said the database pre-dates the iPod and iTunes.

Yes, I know iTunes uses CDDB, so did WinAmp.

My point is that it’s part of the “insert CD and forget about it” workflow. So is a good thing. My manual tagging days were purely to automate the filenaming (using Tag & Rename) which did require some tidying up of the tags by hand, AFTER getting them from CDDB.

anx – yeah iTunes isn’t perfect, but what software solution is? It works for me, so I guess this post comes with a large YMMV!

The next step is to sell all your CDs on Amazon and spend the money on a holiday or something. MP3 are just a more convenient way of having your music.

If I was buying music (which I don’t 😉 ) I would always buy a CD as this has some interent value, where as a itunes downloaded MP£ doesn’t

trevor – the value in music is in the.. er.. music. Not the file or format on which it is obtained (he said, trying to sound artistic). No?

Baxter – I played with that a while ago (like 2 years ago?) and couldn’t really get used to it for some reason. But probably my fault, will have another look though, cheers for the reminder!

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