MP3 Tags

MP3 Tags

“You spin me right round baby, right round, like a record baby” … Cue several of my younger readers to ask “what’s a record?”

When I first started ripping CDs to MP3 I was very careful when tagging the information. I used Tag & Rename to make sure they all (ALL) had complete fields. I didn’t bother, back then, with album art as my MP3 player didn’t support it. A few years on Apple release iTunes for Windows and, after a few false starts, I decide to forego my compulsion and let iTunes do what it does best. Take care of my MP3s.

Except it didn’t. Whilst I’m happy that iTunes manages where the files live (within a directory chosen by me) it isn’t really up to the re-tagging of MP3s.

And yes, for those of a nervous disposition, I am talking about illegally downloaded MP3s, and yes, if I like an album I will buy it at a later date. In fact this post is entirely due to the fact that I’m going through my library deleting albums I don’t want and checking what I have purchased.

Where was I? Oh yes.

The problem is one of album art. My older MP3s (mainly those ripped from CD) vary when it comes to the quality of the MP3 tagging. Some have embedded album art, some don’t. Some have track numbering, some don’t. I’m guessing that my switch over iTunes, many years ago now, is to blame but that doesn’t help me at the moment.

Whilst it’s not a big hassle to add album art, one thing that does seem to have gotten out of kilter is the fact that not only does an MP3 tag have an Artist field, it also has an Album Artist field. It seems that, for one or two tracks across most albums, this field is filled in whereas, for the rest of the tracks, it’s blank. So, when playing an album in iTunes (I’m still very album-centric) the track appear out of order as iTunes thinks they are DIFFERENT ALBUMS.

This is a royal pain in the ass and so I’ve been trying to fix it. I have a large library of music so I thought it would be a good idea to find some way of automating this, as much as possible. I’ve tried MediaMonkey on the suggestion of Lifehacker but that only does one album at a time and, I think, has actually introduced the same issue.

So it looks like I’ll be going through all of my music by hand, tagging it properly (although maybe therein lies the real problem, there is no standard to adhere to, just an open set of fields that can be (and are) abused). That’s over 20,000 MP3 individual files.

I’m seriously thinking of hiring a student to do this in the summer.


  1. Lyle said:

    This isn’t just an issue on naughty MP3s – I’ve had similar problems on stuff coming through from Gracenote, where the artist is in the album name, the album’s in the artist (or even in genre on a couple) and in some occasions it’s just plain wrong.

    When coupled (again, through Gracenote) with the inconsistencies brought around by relying on user-generated content ( REM and R.E.M. ; Tatu, TaTu and T.A.T.U ; [BandName] vs The [BandName] being just three examples) it makes the entire music-file management system into a pain in the arse.

    I tend to use RealPlayer to hold all my files as it seems to be the only thing that can stably hold my collection (even iTunes lagged to buggery, then crashed) and edit the basic ID3 tags etc. within that. I know, it’s a horrific piece of software, but I’ve kind of got used to it. There might be better ones out there now – it’s hard to believe RP as the pinnacle of achievement – but I can’t be assed to search for them. Particularly when I then think of the fun with re-importing to somewhere else…

    January 20, 2009
  2. K said:

    See the student you’re talking about, think they could do mine once done with yours? 😉

    January 20, 2009
  3. Thom said:

    It might be worth checking some of the batch rename software as I know some of them can do tags & might be able to copy Artist into Album Artist.

    It should be fairly painless to write something which would do this where Album Artist is blank.

    Thinking about it if your library is in iTunes you could probably just use com object to do it in there. (on windows)

    January 20, 2009
  4. Thom said:

    OK, I’ve taken a quick look – I’ve already got some code than reads and exports iTunes playlists for my Sonos & it looks pretty straightforward to parse tracks & fill in Album Artist. The question is with what?

    January 20, 2009
  5. Gordon said:

    Thom, as Lyle points out I don’t think there is a really good automated way to do this. Tag & Rename is probably my best bet, it’ll populate selected MP3 tags with the info from another MP3 file (so you select first track of an album, and it’ll use the info for the other tracks too, bar trackname obv.)

    January 22, 2009
  6. Thom said:

    I agree it couldn’t be full proof, but as you say often one or two tracks have Album Artist set so you could in those cases (automatically) copy that into all tracks.

    January 30, 2009

Comments are closed.