Rid Yourself of Digital Media Annoyancesby Preston Gralla, author of Internet Annoyances
Once upon a time, the living room was the entertainment center of any household. It's where the stereo and radio lived, and where the TV resided. Seated in big, cushy La-Z- Boys or lounging along the floor, people stared or listened while the entertainment washed over them.
Then the PC and the internet hit, and entertainment has never been the same. The computer has become the new entertainment center, and the internet the means of delivering music and video. You can find and share music and video files, burn your own CDs, record songs to your PC from CDs. Never has entertainment been so much in the hands of people.
And never has it been so annoying.
But you needn't stay annoyed--just follow these fixes, sit back in your virtual La-Z- Boy, and enjoy the show.
Unleash a BitTorrent of Music
THE ANNOYANCE: It seems as if every time I try to download a song, I end up with a phony file uploaded by the music industry to put off music sharers. I'm also tired of looking for individual songs--I'd like to download an entire album. Can you solve both problems?
THE FIX: One piece of software will solve both problems for you: BitTorrent. It's peer-to-peer file-sharing software built mainly to download large files, and so typically when you download via BitTorrent, you download an entire album, or even a collection of albums, rather than a single song. When you use it, you actually download bits of the file from a number of people, not a single person, and dividing up the download like this makes the process go faster than a download from a single person.
Figure 1. Download entire albums, or groups of albums, using BitTorrent.
To use BitTorrent, download the BitTorrent software. That page has the "official" BitTorrent software, but there are other BitTorrent-compatible pieces of software you can download as well. In fact, many people think that BitTornado, from http://bittornado.com, is faster and more stable than the original BitTorrent software. Either will do.
Once you have the software, you download music by clicking on a link to a BitTorrent file. Various web sites have links, as well as ways to search for BitTorrent files. A good place to start is bt.etree.org.
Typically, when you download an entire album, you'll download a folder full of MP3 files, which you can use in the same way you can use any other MP3 files.
Open Your Firewalls for BitTorrent
If you use a firewall like ZoneAlarm, or a home router that includes a firewall, you'll have problems using BitTorrent. Either your downloads will go painfully slow, or they won't go at all.
You can solve the problem, though, by opening up specific ports in your firewall, or forwarding them in your router. Open or forward ports 6881 to 6889.
Fix MP3 Tags Automatically
THE ANNOYANCE: I downloaded several hundred MP3 files in the last two days, but their MP3 tags are all screwed up. Most don't have track numbers, or the right artists or categories. I figure I could spend my whole life getting them tagged correctly. Isn't there an automated way of doing it?
THE FIX: The tags you're talking about are called ID3 tags, and they contain information about MP3 songs: title, artist name, album name, genre, and so on. That's how you're able to view information about each track in programs such as MusicMatch Jukebox and Windows Media Player--they use that tag information. When you rip music from a CD, your ripping software automatically creates those tags as well.
Problems come in when you download music from the internet. The music has been ripped from CDs by many different people using many different programs. That means that the tagging for each song will be very different. So even though you may have downloaded all the songs from a particular CD, the tagging may vary, and so there's no way to organize them easily. And the tagging may be incorrect as well.
Any MP3 or digital music player, or music ripper or burner, lets you change the tags manually. For example, in Windows Media Player, right-click on a file, choose Advanced Tag Editor, and you'll be able to edit the tags for the file. But doing that by hand for a large collection can take a long time.
Figure 2. Editing tag information in Windows Media Player can be a laborious process.
If you want to automate the process, get MusicMatch Jukebox. MusicMatch Jukebox has a feature called Super Tagging that automates the process and lets you batch-tag many files at a time. Not only that, but it will also examine files you identify, look into an internet database to check what the real tags should be, and then put the tags on the file for you. Not only does this save time, but it also makes sure that your tags are accurate. To use the feature, highlight the files that you want to tag. Then right-click on them and choose Super Tagging -> Lookup Tag. MusicMatch checks an internet database, then pops up the correct tags for the tracks. Check the tracks for which you want to use the tags, click on Accept Selected Tags, and you're done.
Figure 3. Super Tagging automates the process of tagging music files and checks to make sure that the tags are accurate.
Get a Stand-Alone MP3 Tagger
What if you have a music player besides MusicMatch Jukebox, and you want to solve the problem of bad MP3 tags? After all, it can be a lengthy, time-consuming process to download and install MusicMatch Jukebox and then use the Super Tagging feature if all you want to do is fix tags.
The solution: MP3 Book Helper, freeware available from http://mp3bookhelper.sourceforge.net. As with the MusicMatch Jukebox Super Tagging, it will check a database to find the correct ID3 tags for your files, and let you apply the tags to batches of files, not just to individual ones.
Stop MP3 Files from Throwing a Hissy Fit
THE ANNOYANCE: The MP3s I download pop, skip, and hiss. Am I stuck with digital music that sounds as if it were recorded by Thomas Edison?
THE FIX: If you're willing to do a little bit of work, you can clean up the files so that they don't sound as if they were recorded 90 years ago in someone's kitchen. You'll have to convert them from MP3 to WAV format, clean up the files, and then convert them back to MP3s.
There are a variety of tools for converting files between formats, but I suggest sticking with MusicMatch Jukebox, which is an all-around music player, ripper, burner, and more, as well as a format converter. Get it for free from http://www.musicmatch.com. To convert files from MP3 to WAV, select the files in your library you want to convert, choose File -> Convert Files, select the files you want to convert, specify where you want the converted files stored, select WAV as the format that you want to convert them, to, and then click on Start. They'll all be converted.
Now that you have them in WAV format, you can clean them up. You're not a sound engineer, so your best bet is to get software that will automate the cleanup for you. WaveCorrector, available from http://www.wavecor.co.uk, and WAVClean, available from http://www.excla.com/WAVclean/English, will both eliminate pops, skips, crackles, hisses, and similar annoying noises.
Which program to use depends on whether you want to automate the cleanup or take a hands-on approach, and on how bad the problems are that you want to correct. WAVClean is the more automated of the two: load the WAV file, select Scrub, and choose from the basic settings, and it eliminates hisses and crackles. With WaveCorrector, on the other hand, you see an actual oscilloscope view of the music files, with pops and similar problems highlighted in blue. You can either have the program make the edits to the file itself, or you can preview the edits and do the correcting yourself.
Both programs are shareware and are free to try, but you are expected to pay if you continue using them. WaveCorrector costs $45 to register, and WAVClean costs $30.
Listen to Your Music Collection from Anywhere
THE ANNOYANCE: They frown on storing MP3s on my PC at work, but I can't live without my music collection. Is there a way I can listen to music from my home PC when I'm at work?
THE FIX: You'll need to install software to do it. If you're looking for a simple, bare-bones program, get PIPL, which is an MP3 player that also lets you get access to, and play, your MP3 collection remotely. It's donationware, which means that you can use it for free, but if you feel it's useful, the author asks that you send him what you think it's worth. Go to http://www.programmedintegration.com, click on Products, and then scroll down to the PIPL link, where you can download it.
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