Today’s reflections on the importance of album art:

1. Album art can be beautiful, whatever the recording medium. It can reflect great design, and extend the expression of the album itself (well, and it helps if the album is great). Justin and Colin have created the site Hardformat to celebrate design on everything from tapes and records to new releases. They have a gorgeous gallery of stuff, pictured above. I like what they have to say on their about page:

It seems like everybody’s talking about the end of physical music media. Who knows whether they’re right or not, but Hard Format is a little place we’ve set up to celebrate our love of brilliant music-related design. That means we’re going to focus on records, CDs, cassettes and their like. However, Hard Format isn’t intended to become a dusty museum devoted exclusively to past glories, though there’ll certainly be some of that, we also want to highlight the brilliant new design work being produced right now.

2. Physical objects could be a powerful force in the digital age. Digital downloads are wonderful. But there’s a coming renaissance in physical objects, premium album releases, and oddities. I’ve been talking with people about crazy ideas like DIY Blu-Ray discs or building custom MP3 player kits loaded with music. In the throw-away age of culture, it’s a chance to care about what an object is, who made it, how it got to you, and what it means in your life. And it’s a chance not just to bring back the goodness of the LP’s cover as artistic canvas, but to go beyond that to new expressive forms. Nostalgia is fine; making new things is better. Make the change you want to see. (Apologies to Ghandi.)

3. I really wish the album art on my digital downloads weren’t so $#(*& screwed up. I rip music from CDs, I download through promotions, I use eMusic, I buy from medium to obscure digital stores and digital labels and direct from the artist, and yes, very, very rarely from iTunes. Somehow, about half wind up without embedded album covers, and my iPod touch insists on syncing with iTunes. Has anyone found a good workflow for properly cleaning up your album tags, filling in the missing covers successfully, and syncing it to devices?

Comments welcome on my syncing woes. (Yes, even Winamp and Media Monkey aren’t able to clean it all up, though I do use the latter for clean-up.)

But in the meantime:

Hard Format: Reaching for the Sublime in Music Design

And for more album art collections, see their inspiration page

Or from vintage CDM and the opposite end of the spectrum, Terrible Album Covers, Fugly Bands

  • http://jimbalaya-music.blogspot.com/ Jimbalaya

    "Has anyone found a good workflow for properly cleaning up your album tags, filling in the missing covers successfully, and syncing it to devices?"

    I manage my music in iTunes, and if/when I need to edit tags I make sure to edit the tags on my computer and then let the sync push those changes to my device.

    I manage my music manually, so what I do might not apply to everyone.

    Also, I do as much tag editing *OUTSIDE* of iTunes as possible … As far as I'm aware, iTunes doesn't strictly modify the id3 tags as much as it modifies its database to appear as if it's modifying the id3 tags … So, most of my id3 tag editing is done on my linux server with easytag.

  • KimH

    QUOTE: "…my iPod touch insists on syncing with iTunes."

    How is this a problem- isn't this the goal? How else do you get the cover art into your files?

    QUOTE: "…Has anyone found a good workflow for properly cleaning up your album tags, filling in the missing covers successfully, and syncing it to devices?"

    iTunes works great for me, and I have ~20,000 songs. iTunes is all you need for "syncing it to devices." Are you asking about where to find good cover art? Now, *that's* a whole post unto itself. Am I missing something in your question?

  • gumbo

    “Has anyone found a good workflow for properly cleaning up your album tags, filling in the missing covers successfully, and syncing it to devices?”

    I use Media Monkey 3 with Discogs plugin – basically you select folder (or individual tracks), click button and presto – cover art downloaded (to folder or directly into tag, or both)+ tags sorted (sometimes you have to pick release by hand, if there's CD / vinyl versions etc). If you're using MM 2.x version then there's excellent Web Sources Tagger (doesn't work in MM 3.x), which also has juno.co.uk for tagging and such.

    You just have to browse MM forums for those plugins – they are not included in MM.

    I hardly ever have to edit any tag "by hand". It's obsessive-compulsive collector's nirvana.

    And yes, iPod synchronization works great (no need for iTunes on Windows whatsoever).

    There are also options like: tag from filename, change filename from tags, capitalization options etc etc. Great stuff.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Thanks, everybody, for the help and feedback!

    @gumbo: I had had some issues with Media Monkey but it may have been a plug-in version mismatch. That actually sounds like the best bet to me. I'll give this a go!

    @KimH: the information is embedded in the metadata in the files. There's no need for iTunes specifically for the job — in fact, as Jimbalaya observes, iTunes often doesn't do a very good job.

    Unfortunately, the iPod touch is now set up in a way with 2.0 firmware that prevents any sync with MediaMonkey, Winamp, Songbird, and anything that doesn't have the Apple logo on it. And while it is "all you need," that shouldn't have to translate into "the only thing you're allowed to use." (This was *not* the case, either, with any earlier generation of iPod. I hope that the hackers are able to find a way to resolve it with the touch.)

  • MK

    I have a convoluted process. I use a Mac normally, but I rip and encode CDs on my Linux box (cdparanoia/LAME) and for tagging/album art I use Tag&Rename on my wife's PC. I search for the album details on Amazon and download these plus the album art. I then import the MP3s into iTunes on the Mac before syncing them across.

    One thing I found with iTunes was that it didn't understand folder.jpg files. I had to start embedding the album artwork into every MP3 file so that iTunes would recognise the artwork.

    Whilst I love Tag&Rename, does anyone know of an equivalent for OSX? I do get bored having to boot the Windows PC just to tag a few files.

  • Nick

    Have anyone tried the MusicBrainz PicardTagger (http://musicbrainz.org/doc/PicardTagger)? I have heard it's pretty good. It uses an acoustic fingerprinting system to look up ID3 tags so doesn't matter if your folder names are messy. I don't think it does album art though unfortunately.

    I have used Media Monkey pretty successfully too.

  • http://www.myspace.com/drvinay vinayk

    I used music brainz to fix up my ripped cd collection.

    It does require you to do some checking afterwards to make sure it gets things right.. but it is generally quite good. It wasn't able to find album covers for everything though.

    Vinay

  • gumbo

    "Unfortunately, the iPod touch is now set up in a way with 2.0 firmware that prevents any sync with MediaMonkey, Winamp, Songbird, and anything that doesn’t have the Apple logo on it."

    I have older generation iPod, so I wasn't aware of that. Bummer. I hope they manage to find workaround for that.

    As for MusicBrainz, Amazon, AllMusic etc. – they are ok (these plugins / search engines come with vanilla MM), but unfortunately 95% of my music collection is not databased there. Discogs sweeps the floor with them (plus most of the releases have cover art).

    The main problem with MM is that it's Windows only (although IMHO boot camping into Win to manage large collections, with great ease, isn't deal breaker). This syncing thing is maybe bigger problem (at least for now). Anyway, if using Windows isn't a problem for you, and you have older iPod (or some other mp3 player) I would recommend to try MM – it's fabulous for managing large collections. There are tons of scripts and plugins for it (although you'll have to browse and read MM forum a bit – it's not quite straightforward).

    There's also Discogs plugin for foobar2000, but it's not nearly as good as MM one.

  • shamburglar

    coverscout rocks for this purpose

    http://www.equinux.com/us/products/coverscout/ind

    I have a huge music collection that I starting ripping to mp3 way before they even included the album art in the files, it helped me ad the art to thousands of mp3s relatively quickly with very little intervention even on some pretty obscure material.

  • Jason
  • Jason

    ^ See "Muv Under Cover" in the above link.

  • KimH

    JIMBALAYA: "As far as I’m aware, iTunes doesn’t strictly modify the id3 tags as much as it modifies its database to appear as if it’s modifying the id3 tags"

    This is false. iTunes manipulates ID3 tags in a standard way. It even lets you select a version of ID3 tags, from ID3 v1.0 to v2.4.

    PETER KIM: "There’s no need for iTunes specifically for the job — in fact, as Jimbalaya observes, iTunes often doesn’t do a very good job."

    I understand that the information is embedded in metadata and iTunes is not needed- but I don't see where iTunes "doesn’t do a very good job" – unless you're talking about features to *automatically* add artwork/info. But I find *all* automated artwork software unsuitable, and I've tried a few. You end up getting wrong art or bad art. Of course, I'm into vintage R&B, and I'm picky, which complicates things considerably.

    MK: "One thing I found with iTunes was that it didn’t understand folder.jpg files. I had to start embedding the album artwork into every MP3 file so that iTunes would recognise the artwork."

    This used to bug me, but I now prefer it. HDs and iPods are getting bigger- I'm using higher bitrates, and the proportion of space used by cover art is acceptable.

    -Adding cover art to individual MP3's: 100KB-200KB per file

    -Cover art always viewable; without hassle or exception: Priceless

    Anyway, I guess the real issue here is that people are looking for automated solutions, whereas I'm picky enough that fully automated solutions aren't relevant.

    BTW, if you use iTunes on Mac, the best resource for manipulating music metadata is "Doug's Applescripts for iTunes" – http://dougscripts.com/itunes/

    446 scripts for manipulating metadata and files, including lots of powerful & arcane stuff.

  • http://www.myspace.com/arm3l82 aRm3l.

    i use media rage on mac. it find tags on freedb and many onthers things. it find album arts on amazon but i prefer to go on discogs because album arts are in greater quality.

  • martin

    iTunes 7.7.1 on my PowerBook 17" + some of hubi's & doug's iTunes scripts = works great!

  • em ess

    I have had a lot of success over the past 6 weeks dumping my ragtag tracks into the (tuneupmedia.com) plug-in for iTunes… The full versions are $12/$20 US, and there is a free trial version.

    I have a lot of pretty obscure small-release electronic and art music tracks and have been really suprised at how well TuneUp has done…. I'd say it comes up with the right tags & cover art maybe 90% of the time on the weird stuff, and rock-solid for everything else. Slick interface & functionality.

    Downsides: No version for Mac yet; still an early release and slightly buggy, I've gotten several iTunes lock-ups since installing TuneUp.

  • em ess

    sorry, funked up my html

  • KimH

    A forum dedicated to "Collecting and sharing meticulously scanned and edited album cover art":

    http://www.albumartexchange.com/forums/

    I'm KimH there, too.

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  • Eoin Rossney

    I use a program called AlbumArtDownloader, which I use with Foobar.

    AAD is an .exe file unto itself, but using the Foobar extension Run Services it can be run from within Foobar – you right-click on an mp3 in the playlist, click Album Art Downloader and (after some setting up) Foobar will pass the Artist + Album Title as arguments to Album Art Downloader.

    The nice thing is it searches quite a few (I think around 15) sources for art, then returns what it finds in thumbnail form. Click + Hold and you see the full size/quality of the art, then click the little save button on that thumbnail and the art will be saved to the MP3's folder as folder.jpg.

    It does take a while to get through your files (and is a little tricky to set up) but if you're picky like me it's nice.

    Metadata? P'eh, who needs metadata!

    I'll leave that for another OCD fueled project…