Category Archives: Music

Taming a Mammoth Music Collection

Whether you’re talking about LPs or MP3s, people have really different ideas about what constitutes “the ultimate music collection.” For some, it means a process of endless refinement, boiling down a set of music to the purest essentials: All signal, no noise. For others, it’s an archival process (“Why have one Bix Biederbeck CD when you could have 23?”)

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It’s possible to have the best of both worlds: Maintain a large collection so you have access to everything, but create a playback system so you only end up hearing what you truly love.

I’ve been an eMusic subscriber for nearly a decade. I’ve spent a good deal of my spare time over the past four years digitizing my entire record collection, followed by my entire CD collection, followed by the large CD collections of six record-collecting friends (one of which alone was basically the Musical Library of Alexandria). All told, I’ve managed to amass a collection of ~120,000 tracks spanning ~9,100 albums, mostly in lossless format, and all with high-quality album art.

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The accreted set now weighs around  2.25 terabytes  – large enough to have “special needs.” Over the past four years of building the collection, I’ve  picked up a few tips. Thought I’d share some of the most useful bits here,  in case anyone finds them helpful.

Love it or hate it, iTunes has enough traction to be considered the “default” music player for almost everyone, so I’m going on the assumption that it’s your player too. If you use something else, power to you! Everything below assumes you use iTunes 11 or 12.

This guide is split up into four major sections:

  • Remote Control (Playback techniques)
  • Miscellaneous iTunes Tips (Rare B-sides)
  • Digitization Notes
  • Building a Server

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Hatari

This version of tUnE-yArDs “Hatari” doesn’t get nearly enough love. Better than the version recorded on BiRd-BraInS, IMO. Just the right mix of low-tech avante and sophisticated. Merril Garbus, as always, a force of nature.

Record Collector’s Dilemma

The record collector’s eternal dilemma: Is the goal of collecting to capture every memorable moment in music, to become a librarian of excellent sessions, to sweep through the entire span of recording history leaving nothing worthwhile behind, even if it means an immense collection one can never possibly hear, given the realities of allotted listening time?

Or is the goal to relentlessly cull and distill and hand-pick the very best of the best, so that the collection represents your absolute true favorites, with no fat, no waste, no extra trimmings. Just pure “I love this the most” music and nothing else? The result there is that you are forced to leave so much great much great music on the cutting room floor, but end up with a collection you can realistically wade through given a few hours of listening per day?

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I have swung both ways on this one.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Numbers Stations / The Conet Project

“It’s like the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music for Get Smart fans”.

New at Stuck Between Stations: The eerie phenomenon of spy radio transmissions on “number stations,” using one-time pad crypto.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Numbers Stations / The Conet Project

Kind of connects in a neat way to the whole “stuck between stations” theme.

conet

Also: New Audio Playlist feature built into WordPress 3.9 – it’s now effortless to embed MP3 audio, either as single tracks or playlists. Worked great.

WTB: Muzak Control Knob

Remember these? If you ever worked in a restaurant or hotel in the 70s or 80s you probably had one on the wall in a closet or back room somewhere. Now I’m on the lookout to find one I can wire up to the living room dimmer switch. If you know where to find one, let me know! (eBay is turning up squat).

muzak

Kraftwerk 3D Live

New at Stuck Between Stations, my review of recent amazing experience watching Kraftwerk on their Live 3D tour:

Soon after their very early Can-like Krautrock years, Kraftwerk began to develop and refine a hardcore man-machine aesthetic, imagining themselves as cyborg musicians, as much enslaved by technology as liberated by it. The amazing thing is that the band-machine has been able to sustain itself on that track. Almost any other group would have gone on to other things after the vein ran cold, but Kraftwerk continue to tap the mineshaft of digitalized culture as deep as it wants to go.

More:

kraftwerk

How To Create iTunes Smart Playlists with Implied Criteria

If you’re not using Smart Playlists in iTunes, you should be. Whether you want to create simple query-backed playlists like “1920s Jazz” or “Funk and Soul”, Smart Playlists give you the ability to treat your iTunes music collection like an actual database. The beauty part is that Smart Playlists update themselves in real time as conditions change in your iTunes database.

A common/favorite Smart Playlist is the invaluable “Unplayed” list which lets you make sure you’ve heard everything in your collection at least once. To create an Unplayed list, just use the criteria “Plays is less than 1″:

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In my case, I’m also excluding all Podcasts and Voice Memos – I’m interested in Music here.

But it gets more interesting (and more fun) than that.
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Tiny Album Art

As I go through this massive CD and LP digitization project, I don’t want to add cover art to any album that’s smaller than 800px. For those albums that don’t have their cover art retrieved automatically, I search Google images for it.

Incredibly frustrated that it’s so rare to find artwork at a reasonable resolution. The vast majority is at 400px or smaller, and I consider myself lucky to find anything at even 640px. Which forces me to put those discs into the “scan” pile, where I’ll generate 1000px album covers (and yes, I’ll share them with the intertubes later).

The question is, why?

Surely, everyone out there scanning or photographing LP or CD art isn’t scanning the originals that small. And hopefully they’re not adding them to their collections or putting them on web sites that small. Is there some kind of blocking going on that I should know about? This seems crazy.