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Breaking the Link Between a Track and Greatest Hits

November 7, 2013 Leave a comment

When I rip a track from a Greatest Hits album, the ripping program (sensibly) adds the metadata of the track for that album. The album in the file is the Greatest Hits album, the year in the file is the year the album was released, etc. The problem is that (most of the time) the track wasn’t originally recorded and released on the Greatest Hits album. After I rip a track I care less about the shiny disk the track was ripped from, and more about the album (and associated metadata) the track was originally released on. If I trip a track from a Greatest Hits album that was released in 2013, but the song is originally from 1970, I’d rather have the song show up as being from 1970, not 2013! Plus having a digital library with all of the original album art, instead of just the Greatest Hits covers, just feels better.

One problem I’ve discovered is that Windows Media Player does a really good job of remembering which tracks came from which shiny disk and assumes that the relationship between the tracks is constant. So if I rip a CD from Media Player and then later try to modify the album for a single track, Media Player will change the album information for all of the tracks which were ripped from the same shiny disk. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when restoring tracks from a mix disk. I understand why Media Player does this; the team optimized for the scenario where somebody ripped an album, didn’t bother to look up album metadata and have a library full of songs with a title of Track 1, Track 2, etc from Unknown Album’s. Once the owner does add album information it’s reasonable to add it for all of the files that came from the shiny disk.

What makes breaking the tracks from the ripped album in Windows Media Player so difficult is that the ripping creates the WM/CollectionID, WM/CollectionGroupID and the WM/UniqueFileIdentifier tags. I wrote a program to wipe out the CollectionID’s, but to write something that would properly remove the UniqueFileIdentifier was going to take more effort than I thought would be worth it. Plus the information is also cached in the  %localappdata%\Microsoft\Media Player directory. So Windows Media Player might even restore it, after I would have properly removed it from the file.

A little while ago my Sony Walkman hit a technical issue and in attempt to fix it I factory restored it. Given that my primary way of listening to music was reset I took the opportunity to restart a lot of my music collection from scratch. The Rube Goldberg solution I came up with is as follows:

I deleted all songs from my computer that I had a CD for. Then I ripped the CD’s using AudioGrabber. AudioGrabber was nice, because it didn’t look up too much metadata, and you can easily remove the metadata you won’t want (like album) before ripping. Plus, it didn’t save pointless metadata like track number. I would then look up each song on Wikipedia and enter the Album and Year information in the properties window of the file in Explorer. Then after deleting all references to Zune and Media Player from %localappdata% I opened up Zune and let Zune find the album information. I found Zune to not be as draconian with the metadata as Windows Media Player is, plus it had more information about older albums than Media Player. The one draw back to Zune is that it doesn’t embed the album art into the track file, it stores it as a hidden file in either the directory of the file or in %programdata%\zune\AlbumArt. To embed the album art I would have the songs folder open, showing hidden files, Zune open and Windows Media Player open, and I would drag and drop the album cover files from Explorer to Windows Media Player to embed the art into the files.

Was that a lot of work, yes! But I’ve had fun finding out about where the songs came from. And now I have album art and metadata information from the original albums that the songs were released on (except the Monkees; a bunch of their songs were released as singles only and then years later on Greatest Hits albums). I know I am going to be enjoying my music experience more because of it.