Before we get started, let's get the formalities out of the way.
What is Metadata ?
Metadata is data that provides information about a certain item's content. Essentially it is data about data. MP3 files have space in them for information about the song that it contains. This metadata is used by programs like iTunes and Media Center to catalog your music, making it possible to search by artist, song or album name.
What is a Tag ?
A Tag is a field within the meta-data of an MP3 files. The tags describe the contents, including song title, artist, album,year, comment, CD track and genre. Tags are used for searching as well as displaying the title being played. The standard for MP3 Tags is an ID3 Tag.
I have historically ripped my CDs with iTunes. This has been in part due to its ability to produce high quality MP3s and place them in a logical folder/file structure (\artist\album\song). I used to think that it was the best program to grab song data (metadata) and cover art. Now I am not so sure. With that being said, I am sure that every ripping program has its weaknesses when it comes to 'tagging' an MP3 with the appropriate metadata - so for those of you who want a streamlined, great looking music collection in Media Center that is highly organized, you will need to incorporate an MP3 tagging program in your ripping workflow.
I use MP3TAG, found at http://www.mp3tag.de/en/ .
I have around 400-500 CDs in my collection, all ripped to 192K MP3s. The problem lies in the fact that they have been ripped over 5 years and with many different versions of iTunes (many changes in the manipulation of metadata have changed over these versions). Additionally, I have found that most metadata is incomplete, or just flat out wrong for much of the media. Here is what I experienced in my Media Center installation which drove me to find a solution:
1. Songs appear to be missing from albums when viewing MP3s in 'Album view' within Media Center (I can sometimes find the songs when I search by artist).
2. Entire albums are missing when viewing MP3s in 'Album Artist' view.
NOTE: 'Album Artist' is by far my favorite view in Media Center for viewing my music collection, as albums are arranged by artist. In Media Center, by pressing the [info button] and [small] while in the [Album Artist] view,
3. iTunes and Media Center only finds about 40% of the cover art.
4. Many of my albums show up under 'Compilations' or 'Various Artists' instead of under the 'artist' name.
5. Genre information is totally messed up - when trying to view all 'jazz' music, I see only a portion of my jazz albums.
6. The directory structure has been messed with - directories have been created with nothing but cover art files in them, songs have been pulled out of the
Spend the time to organize your directory structure. I recommend you use the following structure:
\[artist name]\[album name]\[song name]
NOTE: Be sure to shut down any instances of iTunes running on a computer while you are doing this. Additionally, make sure that you configure iTunes (or any other music software) to NOT ORGANIZE your folders (directories) for you !! If you do not do this, any work you do in this step will be reversed. This step can take some time, so be patient and make sure that you do a thorough job. You will thank yourself later. Once this is done, move on to the next step.
Download the MP3TAG program from http://www.mp3tag.de/en/.
NOTE: I am not going to walk through every step of setting this program up, but I will give you the highlights of what I did to fix my music collection. Once you tell MP3TAG where your music collection is, it will read all of your MP3s and pull display the filenames, paths and associated metadata.
You may immediately notice that much of your collection has '!BAD' metadata. This can be due to another program inserting characters in the 'comment' field of your metadata and causing MP3TAG to invalidate the data. Additionally, some older versions of MP3 rippng software pre-dated or did not conform to the current Metadata container standards, ID3v1 and ID3v2. This is ok, as you do not want any comments or invalid information in your metadata.
The following are the important MP3 metadata fields (there are many more optional fields available) for Windows Media Center 7. Proper information in these fields will ensure that Media Center 7 will accurately index and display your media.
Important MP3 metadata fields:
Title - 'Title' of the track (should be the same as the filename)
Artist - Unless this is a compilation, it will be the same for all songs within an album
Album - This is the album name - this needs to be EXACTLY the same for all songs in a album
Genre - Style of music (Jazz, Rock etc.)
Artist Album - This is field is called 'band' in some parts of the program - I usually set this the same as the 'Artist' unless it is a compilation CD
Disc - This is the disc number - will be 'Disc 1/2' or 'Disc 2/1' (if part of a multi-disc set)
Click on the column above the path & filename. This will sort the collection via directory structure. Now you are ready to change the metadata on a per-album basis. This can take a while, but it is certainly worth it! And you only have to do it once!
Start at the top and click on one of the songs in the first album. If the album art shows in the 'detail window' and the fields in the list above are correct, then move on to the next album. Keep in mind that the Album Artist field is important, so make sure that it is the same for all songs in an album, and make sure that all albums from the same band have the same Album Artist.
When you get to an album with incorrect information or one without a cover do the following to correct it:
Use the mouse and the SHIFT key to highlight the entire album. Click on [Tag Sources] [Amazon.com]
Make sure that the song list on the left pane matches, title for title, the song list on the right pane. Under the UTILS button there is an option for MP3TAG to auto detect the correct song order if the order is wrong. You can also use the arrow buttons to change the order of the songs. MAKE SURE THAT THIS IS CORRECT before moving to the next step!
NOTE: iPods and many other devices and programs do not use embedded album art and require a folder.jpg file. Windows Media Center will use an embedded image as it's album art before using the folder.jpg file. This is preferred. By creating both types of album art, you are insured that all media devices and programs will find the album art for a given album.
To insert the Album Artist and Disc Number, while the album is still highlighted, type the appropriate information in the fields in the metadata detail window on the left and then hit the [disc icon] in the top menu to save.
NOTE: There is a HUGE shortcut for copying the Artist name over to the Album Artist field. MP3TAG has an Action feature that allows you to easily build a custom script for manipulating fields. To build an action that copies the Artist name to the Album Artist field, click [convert] [actions], [new icon], name your action (I named mine Album Artist), click [new icon], action type [format value], click [ok], field [band], format string [%artist%]. From now on, when you want to update the Album Artist field, highlight the album, right click [convert][actions] and [ok].
If the track number needs to be inserted, use the [Tools][Auto Numbering Wizard] to insert your track numbers. Be sure to check the option, [save total count of tracks] so that the format is 1/5, 2/5 etc..
If your album CANNOT be found in a search, you can copy the Filename to the Title field for all songs in the album. To do this, highlight the album and [right click]. Choose [Convert][Filename - Tag]. Click on the [right arrow] and choose [title].
Once all of your MP3's metadata has been fixed, you may want to change the permissions on the directory that contains your media to 'read only'. This ensures that a program, like iTunes will not destroy all of the work that you have done.
To allow Windows 7 Media Center to see the results of your hard work, go into setup and remove the music folder. You will need to
wait about 15 minutes (based on the number of MP3s in your collection) while media center removes the database entries. Once there are no longer any songs within Media Center, re-add the directory in setup.
NOTE: Many times I have had to exit and re-enter Media Center to remove all of the songs.
I know that this all sounds very complicated, but it is really quite intuitive once you are within the MP3TAG interface.
Good luck and HAPPY TAGGING!