Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On High Fidelity, Good Music, and Digital Music Libraries

The other night, the Cusack classic, High Fidelity, was on HDNet Movies. First of all, just a great, great movie. Love it. Love. It. I can’t even tell you why I love it exactly. I’m not way into music, like the characters in this film. I like music, of course. I’m not made of stone. I’m just not under the delusion that I understand music. I understand film. Whether I like a movie or not, I can usually tell you –empirically- if it’s good or bad at what it does, regardless of my own personal feelings about it. Not so with music. I’m utterly clueless.

Anyway, there’s a scene in the movie (embedded below) that caused me to take up a long abandoned project. (Also, it reminded me how underappreciated the concept of the album is these days.)  The project? The re-ripping of my CD collection, while at the same time re-organizing how it’s all stored. My digital music collection has been something of a mess for a long, long time. 

(There is an f-bomb in this clip, so it's not totally work safe.)

---At this point, this post derails into mindless rambling. I really have no point to all this so read on at your own peril.

When I first started ripping CDs to MP3s, hard drive space was a precious commodity, so I’d only rip a handful of songs; not to mention the fact that I ripped so much of it 128 kbits/s. Times, obviously, have changed.

Last year I got fed up with the notion that roughly a third of the music in our collection wasn’t actually in our media library (not to mention the bit rate quality issues), so I started re-ripping whole CDs (while also going to a much higher bit rate). That process lasted a couple months before I fizzled. During the summer last year I had reached the K’s somewhere and hadn’t touched it since. So, this weekend I decided it was time to finish the job. I spent nearly all day Saturday and Sunday deleting and re-ripping content.

More fun, though, was accepting the fact that my music library structure was completely FUBAR. I used to have everything organized by artist\cd. It was simple. It was elegant. A couple years ago, though, I deluded myself into thinking it would be fine to have all my music just stored in one folder in Windows. No subfolders. Vista has a lot of ways to easily organize a folder’s contents, so I figured having a subfolder for artist and CD was kind of pointless. I could have everything in one place and just sort/search for what I needed. In theory it really wasn’t a bad idea.

Epic. F’ing. Fail.

Windows does not like it when you have like 3,000+ files all stored in one folder. Sorting on any particular column took forever. Eventually, I got sick of it and tried to organize everything by artist. That’s been problematic, though. Compilation CDs become a nightmare. I mean should I throw the song Not Dark Yet on the Wonder Boys soundtrack into the Bob Dylan folder, or should I put everything from that one disc into its own folder? I put it in Dylan. But that’s a lot of laborious sorting work when you get a new compilation CD or if you, say, plan to re-rip your entire collection. Plus you end up with a bunch of artist folders that have one or two tracks in ‘em.

Throw in the emergence of digital downloads (as a viable legal option) and that’s still more problems. I never really got into the Napster craze, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any music on my system that wasn’t legit. (To be fair, most of it is from mix CDs provided by friends, but there’s still stuff I do not own.) Over the years it’s become more important to me that everything I have be legit, so it’s bothered me more and more that I didn’t know exactly how much of my collection is from CD, from a legit download, or other.

This weekend I came to the conclusion that, in terms of organizing the files, themselves, the source mattered as much as anything. iTunes can sort it all six ways from Sunday for when I’m listening to stuff, so the folder structure needs to be about the accessibility of the physical files. So, I spent many, many hours going through and reorganizing everything into a set of source\artist\album folders (compilations go to a various artists\album folder). 

This is the kind of work that makes my day job of reading tech books seem exciting. Fortunately, I’m largely done now. There’s a bunch of Christmas, Celtic and misc. classical stuff of Angie’s that’s not done. I think I’ll go back and add those on a case by case basis. In the meantime, ripping everything from every CD to my digital music library has about tripled the size my music library. A lot of it is stuff I won’t ever listen to, but I’m sure there are some gems in there that just never got a fair shake. I’m looking forward to rediscovering my collection again.