November 5, 2007

Manage your music tags with EasyTag and Picard

Author: Aleksey 'LXj' Alekseyev

When you listen to digital music, your software or hardware player usually shows information about the current song, which it gets from MP3 tags or Ogg Vorbis comments. Most ripping software supports acquiring this metadata from the CDDB or FreeDB services based on a CD's disc ID. But you can also can fill in and edit metadata with tools such as EasyTag and Picard.

EasyTag allows you to manipulate metadata in MP3, MP2, MP4/AAC, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, MusePack, Monkey's Audio, and WavPack files. It has a GTK+ GUI and is available for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. And, as you might assume from its name, EasyTag is easy to use.

EasyTag's main window is split into two parts: a file browser on the left, and the tags editor on the right. When you choose a directory in the file browser, EasyTag scans it for music files, and they are shown in the file list. You can click on a file and edit its tags. You can also select several files and fill in a particular tag field for every file at once. Changes are saved after you press the Save button on the toolbar, and you are always prompted to save changes on leaving a directory.

With the scan feature you can fill in tags from file names -- or vice versa -- and rename files and entire directories using patterns that incorporate variables for artist name, album title, song title, track number, and year. You can always preview the end result before applying changes.

EasyTag can also query the CDDB service.

If you have MP3 files with non-Unicode tags, you can convert them in a few clicks. Open preferences dialog under the Settings menu, click on ID3 Tag Settings, and check the "Always save tags to UNICODE character set" option. You might need to guess the encoding used for the tags in your files (the "Use non-standard character set for reading ID3 tags" option). Then open a directory with MP3 files, and EasyTag will convert all the tags automatically. You need only confirm the changes.

Getting information about song titles

Before filling in the information, you need to get the correct song titles. You can find information by searching the Web or in specialized Web databases, such as MusicBrainz.

MusicBrainz is an online database that contains information about artists, releases, and songs. This service is community-based: anyone can submit information about new releases, and a scoring system is used to determine the relevancy of the information submitted. CD disc IDs are saved too, so you can use MusicBrainz as a CDDB service; just set your CDDB server in your ripping or tagging software to be, which is the CDDB gateway to MusicBrainz and one of EasyTag's default servers.

Though similar to CDDB, MusicBrainz does more. It handles information about relationships between tracks, releases, groups, and artists (such as song A was released on albums B and C or artist X is a member of group Y). It provides links to Wikipedia entries and other musical resources such as Discogs and MusicMoz.

But what is most important about MusicBrainz is that it handles an acoustic fingerprints database. An acoustic fingerprint is an identifier which is unique for a track, no matter how it's encoded. So, you can get all the tags for a musical track by calculating its ID and submitting it to the MusicBrainz server using a MusicBrainz client.

The official MusicBrainz tagger for Linux and Windows is Picard. You can install the latest stable version, 0.7.1, with the aid of the project's quick start guide. Picard is written in Python and uses the wxWidgets toolkit. It is available for Windows and Linux, and has full support for MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and Musepack files, and it can also manipulate MP4, WavPack, Speex, The True Audio, and Windows Media Audio files, though it cannot calculate audio fingerprints for them.

A derivative project, PicardQt, is now at alpha stage. It is available for Mac OS X in addition to the platforms Picard supports.

Picard's interface seems strange at first glance (PicardQt is much better in this area), but not difficult to understand. In a simple case you have to:

Drag musical files to the "New files (drag files to tag here)" folder.Click on the Cluster button in the toolbar.Select the album you want to save and click on Save button in the toolbar.

This way you automatically fill in the tags for any musical files, even if you don't have an original CD, which allows you to use the CDDB service.

EasyTag and Picard are useful tools for keeping your music collection in order, so you can find your favorite tracks quickly and acquire all the information about them you need.


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