We are often responding to enquiries regarding how our StreamMagic devices handle/manage music content. The devices themselves are relatively ‘dumb’, most of the thinking and management actually takes place in the media server used to provide the content and how this is realized is dependent on three factors:
- How the media server is configured?
- The quality, accuracy and consistency of the metadata embedded in the files?
- Your understanding of how the metadata is used.
As the media server capabilities are generally well documented by their respective authors/creators, we are going to concentrate on items 2 and 3 - the metadata and how it is used.
If you have problems browsing your content: Missing cover art, duplicate artists, tracks showing in the wrong order and so on, this is almost certainly because the metadata embedded in the music files is incomplete, inconsistent or simply wrong.
The best way to address this issue is to ensure the embedded metadata is accurate, complete but perhaps most importantly consistent.
If you are a perfectionist, there is nothing more annoying than a missing track, incorrectly spelt artist or duplicate album so below are some recommendations on how you can avoid these issues, ensure your library is displayed correctly and optimize your browsing experience:
- Use a file format that actually supports ID3 tag metadata and cover art: Not all file formats fully support metadata and most people who have issues are either using the wrong file type or have a mix of formats, some correctly supporting the tags and artwork and some not. If you are anal about your music collection and want everything correctly ordered and displayed, you should focus on using FLAC or AIFF files. These offer full support for embedded metadata and cover art and support high-resolution audio. FLAC uses a lossless compression algorithm and requires about half the space of a normal CD per Album. AIFF is similar to WAV and uses no compression so requires a similar amount of space to the original CD. If space is still a bit tight you can of course use MP3 and other compressed, lossy formats too.
- Adopt and stick to a logical file naming protocol and organize your music in sensible folders and subfolders. For example: Music/Library/CD/Artists/A/Abba/1977- Arrival/02-Dancing Queen.flac. Although once your UPnP server and your files are all perfectly ripped and the metadata is complete, this isn’t really necessary, it does make it easy to find content manually and also ensures that if metadata is missing and info is substituted from the file, you should get closer to the expected ordering that you are trying to achieve.
- Ensure all tracks include a minimum of the following ID3 tags:
- Artist - this is generally the performer on the particular track
- Album_Artist - the person credited for the whole Album
- Album - self explanatory
- Track_Title - self explanatory
- Track Number - you must have a value in this field if you want UPnP servers to sort music correctly in track order!
- Disc_Number - often overlooked and causes quite a lot of problems. Most discs are just single items so a disc number shouldn’t be necessary however, if you have some tracks which include the disc number tag and have a value allocated, and others that don’t, the tracks without the tag will have a disc number of zero allocated and this means they will be prioritized in album views. It is then possible for example to have track 8 (no disc tag therefore with a value of zero) before track 1 (disc tag present with a value of 1)
- Genre - self explanatory
- Year - release year is essential if you want to be able to sort your collection chronologically.
- Ensure every field has a value (preferably the correct one!).
- Use a proven CD ripper to digitize your music collection and ensure it is correctly configured to embed the required metadata fields. There are plenty out there to choose from but iTunes works, XLD is even better, Exact Audio Copy is the go-to Windows solution and dBPoweramp is also very good. Avoid Windows Media Player if you can.
- Once you have picked a ripper, stick to it. If you chop and change, other rippers may use a different music database by default and may also add a different group of ID3 tags and this would mean your collection does not have consistent metadata.
- Choose the desired cover art manually - Don’t trust the ripper to automatically pick the best cover art and don’t assume it will pick the same cover art for multi-disc sets so check it before you rip each disc.
- Don’t just pick the highest resolution image - just because it is big doesn’t mean it looks good or is formatted correctly. Limit the resolution of the cover art to a maximum of 1500 x 1500 pixels in JPG format (1000 x 1000 still looks surprisingly good in native resolution on a 4K TV) - the larger the resolution, the larger the file and the longer it takes to be synchronized and displayed on the devices (if you have a large music collection it can take several minutes to synchronize/upload the images and this means you have to wait until it is finished before you can browse will all images present.
- When ripping content, always make sure the PC/Mac/ripper is connected to the internet and can see a music database server. (Musicbrainz or Gracenote for example). Adding metadata later is a bit of a pain and unless you have a lot of extra time and nothing to do, best avoided.
- Check the metadata before you start the rip. Correct it immediately if it isn’t how you want it.
- When editing metadata, use an app that permits batch changes. For example, don’t correct the artist field individually by typing in the data over and over again - there is too much opportunity for typing errors here or the accidental inclusion of spaces if you copy and paste. Add all the tracks that you need to edit, select the appropriate field and type in the data once only. All the files will be amended simultaneously with the same value. If you make a mistake, all the files will have the same mistake so there should now only be one version of say Peter GabrieL instead of Peter Gabriel, peter Gabriel, Peter GabrieL peter gabriel, Peter_gabriel, Gabriel, Peter and so on…
- If combining tracks from two different albums, ensure that the metadata fields are identical except for the track name and track number. For example, you have an early version of Album A which later had an extra track added to it. You rip the original album A and find the extra track somewhere else - perhaps ripped from a compilation CD. Just moving the track into the same folder on your NAS won’t mean it is seen as a song belonging to Album A. At the very least the Artist, Album Artist, Album, Genre, Year and Disc number fields must all be amended so they are identical to the other tracks.
- When ripping a CD, finish the whole thing, don’t stop halfway and continue later (this applies particularly to multi disc sets) - if the ripper has to look the CD up again, it may find and present a different selection of metadata results and this will potentially cause problems later as the data fields may not match or have values assigned that are inconsistent with the previous rip.
- Purchased content should have accurate and consistent metadata but…if you have downloaded content from ‘other’ sources, do not assume the metadata is consistent, correct or even complete...
Why is metadata so important?
When you install a media server on your network, either in a NAS or on your computer, it searches your network locations for music files. As it finds these files it will create a database that includes all the information contained in the file metadata. When you browse your music collection on your streamer or in the StreamMagic app, you are actually looking at the data from this server database - Not your actual music files.
If data is missing, the server may substitute data using other information from the file (filename for example - see item number 2 above) but this is not guaranteed.
Everything you see is totally dependent on the metadata and how the music server you are using is configured to process it.
Why do you see different ordering when you view your music content directly in a file browser? The way your computer browser organizes and displays data when viewing the content of the actual music folders may be completely different to the media server and app. A direct comparison can only be made when the computer view is instead configured to organize the view using the very same file metadata - even then the sorting hierarchy may still differ so the overall results can still be different.
This means you cannot really compare them. Both systems could be doing exactly what they are supposed to but still show differing results. One way to minimize this difference or even avoid it completely is to adopt a very specific file naming and ordering protocol (see point 2 above) although this shouldn’t really be necessary it does make everything much more consistent and makes it easier generally to manage your music collection as it grows.
If you follow the above guidelines, the metadata in your library should be accurate and consistent, and your music should be organized coherently.