Chronicles of Ryebone

The Great Music Collection, part four: The Aftermath

It's now been months since I first imported my collection into iTunes and really embraced the ecosystem. After months of use, the import has proven successful: the data is clean, the albums are organized and it is an actually joy to work with. Never did I believe you would hear that from me in regards to iTunes. That's not to say the software isn't without it's problems, as the software can be slow, sluggish and a pest with it's need to update all the time. But the initial setup and planning has paid off: I have the Core playlist which syncs with my iPod, and podcast episodes are individually chosen. Subscriptions to podcasts are all setup and download automatically all the time (although iTunes seems to forget the odd one).

One of the goals I had was to have the entire music library available through Subsonic, which runs off my server/HTPC that is always powered on (the desktop housing iTunes is not always on). The previous folder structure I had was good for Subsonic, but iTunes' structure is even better. Folders for artists, then folders for each album inside. I simply copied the entire iTunes music folder onto the server and pointed Subsonic at it: everything worked as expected, and as a bonus I get a simple mirror backup of my music. Now, that was good for a while, but I rarely use Subsonic anymore, as work and life don't really permit me to do so. I don't have a big need for it, so the service has been turned off (as has the server most days).

The other program that requires access to music is XBMC, which I do use regularly. The good news is that XBMC is pretty flexible but benefits greatly from the Artist - Album folder structure that iTunes utilizes. Once the collection was copied over it was very easy to start listening to music, but I noticed something: album art. iTunes stores the album art in it's database, and XBMC (as well as Subsonic) look for local images. The classic "folder.jpg" is widely accepted and used by those these two programs. Previously, I had this setup and all my albums had nice cover art displayed, so it meant that I had to re-insert those files into the appropriate iTunes folder. The major danger here being that iTunes could do anything to that folder and erase any files its not responsible for. But I figure that won't happen often enough to worry about, as each album is imported and tagged with care: further modifications should not be necessary.

I actually found a script somebody wrote that did exactly what I needed automatically. The script would go through the iTunes database and extract the album art and place it in the right folder with the proper naming. This worked for the most part, but I wanted to ensure every album was done properly, so I double-checked and downloaded new art as appropriate. Anytime a new album has been imported, I just download the art (Google Image search of course) and place in the folder. Importing an album or two at a time is a painless operation now.

What happens now though in XBMC is the absence of thumbnails while you are browsing artists. This is harder to resolve than the album art although it's tackled in much the same way, by placing a folder.jpg of the artist in the folder. Album art is fairly standardized: they're squares. Photos of artists are not, and when you search for one you will get a variety of results in different resolutions and dimensions. The secret may be to actually modify images and make them as square as possible. XBMC does like portrait style though, although Subsonic does not. I probably got through 20% of my collection before giving up on this little project; I've just simply neglected it in the past few months but keep meaning to return to it.

The other issue centers on new albums to the collection. While my iTunes workflow is solid, and process of getting that new album onto the server for XBMC is lacking. At first, I thought I would simply just copy the new folder over, but I keep forgetting. What results is fragmentation and just simply a lack of music. Every few months I could copy the entire folder over but that's inefficient. I know where the problem is, and it's me. The only solution is to make copying that folder over a part of the iTunes process. The other solution (and really the better one) would be to keep the iTunes library on the server itself. I'm not sure if I went into any detail before regarding my computer setup, but it has proven to be less than ideal for this.

It is weird to think - for me - that this solution is still working. It's working nearly exactly as planned, and I'll say it again: proper planning pays off in the long run. The next step will be to import the rest of the collection: many of the albums from "Albums B" that I rarely, if ever, listen to. With proper tagging, and use of playlists, they can sit in the main library and simply be accessible. I've already setup smart playlists to make music from different years and genre's readily available, as well as newly imported music. I may dabble in ratings again, and see what else is available for me to further organize this "great" music collection.

Tags: Music Collection