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Turning CDs into digital files

posted May 31, 2010, 12:38 PM by Jay Lieske
Having written yesterday about ripping DVDs, I figure I should record my process for ripping CDs. I listen to all my music on MP3's — I think the last time I listened to an unripped CD was Ladytron's Witching Hour in 2005 as I drove home from Tower Records after buying it.

Ripping and Encoding

A lot of my CDs have some amount of scratching from up to 25 year of play, so I want the rip to do as much error correction as possible.  iTunes has some error correction, but Max is a good wrapper for cdparanoia which does a better job.

I've using LAME for many years to encode MP3's.  I used to use the --r3mix preset, which sounded fine to my ears and generated good file sizes (around 192kbps).  Max defaults to the more modern "transparent" preset of --V 2 aka --alt-preset-standard.

File naming

I keep music in a hierarchy "group name/album name/d-tt song name.mp3", e.g. "Grizzly Bear/Yellow House/02 Knife.mp3" and "Cocteau Twins/BBC Sessions/1-06 Dear Heart.mp3" .  Compilations with multiple performers go into " Various Artists/album name/# song name.mp3" (the leading space puts it at the top of my list of groups).

Metadata tagging

Max downloads CD metadata from MusicBrainz, but I find I have to manually enter info for most of my deep back-catalog of discs.  I also tweak the default metadata to make cataloging easier.

Artists are either group name or a persons name.  I want artists to sort by surname, so I enter a sort artist attribute in "lastname, firstname" format.

Genre

I have my own set of genres.  Most of the Rock genres group music with a common feel that root in a single time period.  Roughly sorted by time:
  • Pop — music on the mainstream or dance side
  • Rock — anything else, from Beatles to Aimee Mann
  • Art Rock — Bowie, Roxy Music, Neu
  • Electronic — Kraftwerk, Portishead, Air, etc.
  • Punk — Sex Pistols, Stooges, Dolls, etc.
  • New Wave — Sparks, Talking Heads, Devo, etc.
  • Post Punk — Wire, Simple Minds, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Smiths, etc., and the 2000's revival with Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, etc.
  • New Romantic — children of Kraftwerk and Roxy Music: OMD and Depeche Mode to Ladytron
  • Goth — Joy Division, early Cure, Siouxsie, and Cocteaus, etc.
  • Alternative — REM and Pixies through Weezer
  • Ethereal — Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, some Cocteau Twins, etc.
  • Shoegazer — My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Slowdive, etc. through Sigur Rós, Engineers, and other revivalists
  • Grunge — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc.
  • Post Alternative — Radiohead, Doves, Grizzly Bear, etc.
The non-rock genres
  • Books & Spoken
  • Children's Music — the narrative tracks on Nilsson's The Point
  • Classical
  • Holiday — music I only want to hear in December
  • Soundtrack

Cover art

I loved it when iTunes started attaching cover art to tracks. Unfortunately, they now only have art for albums currently in the iTunes store, and sometimes albums go out of print there — so that the album art can disappear when rebuilding the iTunes database. Now I make sure the MP3 files embed the cover art, so I never lose it.

When iTunes has the right cover art, I copy the downloaded art from the preview window and paste it straight back onto the tracks.  Otherwise I go to Rate Your Music or Google Images search to get good-resolution cover art.  When internet searches fail, I scan my own covers.

Ratings

A key part of my music organization is through ratings. I have smart playlists that sync to the various iPods, and I use ratings to limit the selection to fit on the devices.
  • 5 stars: My favorite songs, I can listen to them at anytime.
  • 4.5 stars: Good for the 16GB iPhone that I carry all the time.
  • 4 stars: Good for the 32GB iPod in the car.
  • 3.5 stars: Good to listen to at work.
  • 3 stars: OK songs that I like to hear now and then.
  • 2.5 stars: Songs I don't really care for by groups I otherwise like.
  • 2 stars: Songs I don't like by groups I don't care about.
  • 1 star: Songs I never need to hear.
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