One of the “dangers” of downloading music off the Internet (even legal music, so I’m not talking about receiving notice of a lawsuit for file sharing, although that’s certainly a concern for people who download music illegally), is in regards to ID3 tags.
What the heck is an ID3 tag, you ask? Let me explain.
When you download a music file, it might be named something like this:
Now, humans can likely figure out, simply from reading the file name, that the music is track number five of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, titled Like A Rolling Stone.
But does your computer know how to read the same information? It does not. It can’t, mainly because not all files are named consistently. For instance, if that song was on my computer, it would simply be named like this:
I wouldn’t include the artist (Bob Dylan) or the album (Greatest Hits), because I would have all the songs from the album in a folder with the name of the album, which would be inside of another folder (named “Bob Dylan”), which would include all my other Bob Dylan albums.
The computer wouldn’t know this (or wouldn’t necessarily know what it meant).
Because of this situation, the “tag” was created. Called ID3, the tag is what alerts iTunes (or Windows Media Player or WinAmp or whatever player you choose), to the name of the song, along with Artist, Year, Genre, and whatever else you wish to include.
In spite of this, some people still choose to label their songs differently. For instance, if you have music from Tom Petty, the artist might be called “Tom Petty,” but it might also be “Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,” or “Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.” In most music players, those songs would be considered to be by three different artists. And on some compilation albums (such as soundtracks), you may find that each song is by a different artist, which makes it difficult to browse and listen to the entire album all at once.
There is a great tool called Audio Tag Tool (available for Linux, although judging by the libraries required for compilation, it may be possible to use this on Windows as well). It has tons of features, all of which are aimed at converting the mess of tags into something logical, consistent and able to be read by both humans and computers.
Audio Tag Tool has five main groups of features: Tag Editor, Tag Multiple Files, Clear Tags, Move/Rename Multiple Files, and Create Playlists.
Tag Editor – This is great when you only need to edit one or two files. Simply navigate to the folder containing the mp3 (or ogg vorbis) files you wish to edit, select one, and you’ll see the information already filled in. All you need to do now is change the information to whatever you want, and click to save your changes. The most commonly-used tags (Title, Artist, Album, Year, Genre, Comment, and Track Number), are shown by default, but if you want to really tag the song, click on the Advanced Tag, and you’ll see a list of close to fifty tags you can use. In this section, you can also convert ID3 v1 and ID3 v2 to and from the other format, in case your player only reads one or the other.
Tag Multiple Files – This is the section that might save you the most amount of time, especially if you have a bunch of files that are consistently named, but not tagged. One of the best features is the ability to tag files based on the file name, so if you have a group of files named similarly to the Bob Dylan example from above, you would simply tell Audio Tag Tool which tags are represented, and in what order, and it will automatically fill in those tags for all the songs formatted in this way. You can also choose to manually fill in all the information that wouldn’t change from track to track, such as the artist, album, year, genre and comment. And, if the files are listed in order, you can even have Audio Tag Tool insert track numbers, starting from whatever number you choose (and increasing by whatever amount you pick).
Clear Tags – Sometimes you may find a music player that gets confused when both ID3 v1 and ID3 v2 tags are present, so this tool provides the option to completely clear both sets of tags, or just one or the other.
Move/Rename Multiple Files – This section is just labeled “Rename Multiple Files” in the program, but it allows for a lot of options in renaming your files. For instance, you can choose to rename the files based on the track name (the first option is name the file after the track number and the title), but the features offer a bit more as well. For instance, in the naming process, you can choose to place the file in a folder named after the artist, then inside another folder named after the album, and THEN have the file named after the track number and title of the song. This is my preferred way of tagging, since I think it makes for shorter file names, but of course you can do it however you like.
Create Playlists – I don’t tend to use playlists a lot, since the music players I use are also music collection managers, so playing an album of songs is as simple as navigating to that particular album and hitting play. But for people who use playlist-based players (such as WinAmp), this is a great tool. Again, select the songs you wish to see in the playlist, click “Go!” and Audio Tag Tool will create a playlist for you.
Overall, I’m thrilled with Audio Tag Tool. I used to use Quod Libet as my default music player. It came with a tag editor called Ex Falso which was great, but after switching to a different player, it seemed a waste to keep Quod Libet installed just so I could use Ex Falso. Since I found Audio Tag Tool, i don’t feel I’m missing out. Audio Tag Tool has a ton of features, is laid out very logically, and does things the way I’d expect it to. If you’re looking for a tag editor to clean up your music mess, you can’t go wrong with Audio Tag Tool! Audio Tag Tool can be downloaded here.