Musicbrainz Picard


Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:20 pm
Game Server Admin
1555 Posts
Musicbrainz Picard is freeware with a GNU/GPL license from  Musicbrainz also maintains the database that works in conjunction with the program.  Together, they are pretty awesome.

If you are still acquiring your music by purchasing physical discs and popping those into a player, then this post probably isn't for you.  If you keep your (legally aquired  Wink ) music in digital files on a hard disk, this might interest you.  I'm just going to say MP3 from here on in, instead of "music file".  Musicbrainz is compatible with other formats, though I can't figure out why anyone would use any other format.  If you have all of your MP3s neatly organized in one place, all correctly tagged with ID3 tags, with file and folder names that identify what the files are, then you are a "Musicbrainz Picard", and don't need this software.  Give yourself a pat on the back - 3 cheers for you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, and have MP3 files peppered across different devices, some incorrectly named, some incorrectly tagged, some not identified correctly at all, multiple copies of the same exact file in different locations - if you have one or more of these situations, Musicbrainz may seem like a Godsend.

For literally years (over 5), I have been promising myself to get my MP3s organized into one central library.  Thanks mostly to Musicbrainz, that task is now complete, and I only worked on it an hour or two a day for less than two weeks.  I ended up with over 40GB in over 5700 files in almost 2500 folders. The first step was the hardest - copying/moving all MP3 files to one "Work" area.  I'd already started a manually built library some time back, so I chose to put my work area on that same drive, so that I could keep the library I had so far, and transfers of completed files from work area to library could be made with ease.  After I got used to using Picard and found out how useful it was, I actually went back through the manually built library and let Picard rebuild it.

Like most freeware, Picard isn't without it's quirks.  I'm not complaining, but if I were, my first gripe would be lack of a prominent progress bar.  Progress is shown, but it isn't very obvious - it's almost as if the programmers worked at hiding it.  I'll get back to this later.

If you are going to check out Picard, the first thing you want to do is look through the options.  There's options for file naming that you can completely customize using Musicbrainz's scripting language.  Click the Help button to bring up the documentation website for info on the scripting or any other option. The website is surprisingly complete and well written for freeware.  There is one important bug - the scripting doc leads you to believe that you can have Picard create folders based on tag metadata, like artist and/or album name, and you can, except this feature only works if you have the "Move files to..." option ticked.  I found that tidbit in their forums.  Picard will rename files in place, and intelligently (without asking) add a numeration (i.e. (1), (2), (3), and so on) should filenames already exist in the target folder.  You'll want to play around with the scripting language and tagging options to make sure Picard is configured exactly how you want it before starting actual production of your perfected music library.

Using Picard:  Once you have Picard configured the way you want it (i.e. it's tagging and naming files and/or folders exactly the way you want), you are ready to start production of you perfected music library.  Picard has Add File/Folder buttons, as well as like options in the File menu, but what fun would that be?  I prefer to just drag a folder from Explorer and drop it into Picard. All subfolders are automatically included.  Files are loaded into the left pane and tag or file information is shown for each file.

Scanning: If you selected "Automatically Scan New Files" in the options, as I did, you don't need to do anything else at this point except wait and watch. This is the part I was talking about earlier where some sort of progress bar would be handy.  At first glance, it doesn't seem like Picard is doing anything at all.  Looking closer, there are messages at the very bottom that Picard is looking up fingerprint and metadata in the Musicbrainz database.  In the very lower-right corner, there is a status report of Total Files and Pending Files.  Just let Picard do it's thing until "Pending Files" reaches zero.  If you didn't select  "Automatically Scan New Files" in the options, just select the Unmatched Files folder in the left pane, then click the "Scan" button at the top.  It's the same thing either way, manual or automatic start, you have to wait as Picard scans each file, until "Pending Files" reaches zero.  The amount of time Picard takes to scan each file will vary based on several factors, but if you dropped 100 files in there, you probably have to go make a snack.  As files are scanned, Album names start to appear in the right pane and the files are moved from the left pane to the right pane.  The album names are expandable folders.  During the scanning process, nothing is physically done to the files themselves, Picard is just gathering data at this point.  Once scanning is complete (Pending Files is zero), hopefully, the left pane is empty.  Chances are, sooner or later, you'll end up with some files left in the left pane, which just means that Picard couldn't identify them using the standard scanning technique. The possible reasons are many.  We don't have to handle those manually quite yet. If you're lucky and the left pane is empty, you can skip down to "Saving".

Clustering:  The next step is to click on the "Cluster" button (only if there is more than one entry in the left pane).  Picard attempts to group "like" entries based on data it's already collected.  This may or may not produce any results.  In my experience, it's about 50/50.  Clusters do seem to identify more often in the Lookup processes.  If you click Cluster and nothing happens, don't be surprised.

Lookup:  There are actually two types of "Lookup".  Looking at the interface, you wouldn't know the difference.  Select a single file or cluster from the left pane.  If selecting a cluster doesn't produce any results, clusters are expandable folders as well, and you can select individual files from the cluster.  Once you have an item selected, click on the "Lookup" button at the top.  Watch the bottom status area when you do.  It's easy to click that button and think nothing happened.  Hopefully, the file is recognized and will be moved to the right pane. This is the "automatic" lookup, the Lookup buttons at the bottom are "manual lookups.   If the Automatic Lookup fails, a message will be flashed in the status area:  "No matching....".  If you see that, you can still do the manual lookup.   If you're lucky and the left pane is empty, you can skip down to "Saving".

Manual Lookup:  Before you do a manual lookup, you should really try to identify the file by listening to it.  I found dozens if not hundreds of mistagged/misnamed files, as well as some corrupt files (no use to keep corrupt files).  If you right-click on a file in the right pane and select Details, then select the info tab, Picard shows you the exact path and filename for the entry.  Another cause for investigation is when Picard shows "???" in the length column.  More often than not, the file is corrupted.  Something else I ran into quite often were clips being passed off as complete songs.  If all/most of the entries in the Musicbrainz database are 4 or 5 minutes, and your file is 45 seconds, or 2 minutes, it's worth giving the file a manual listen if you don't want clips in your library (I don't).  I don't think you have to listen to the whole file, the first few seconds and, more importantly, the last few should help you decide if the file is something you want to keep or not.

With the file or cluster still selected in the left pane, click the "Lookup" button at lower-left.  This opens a web page with search results - a search of Musicbrainz database based on data collected by Picard.  If you recognize a search entry as a match for your file, click the "tagger" button on the webpage and the album is added to the right pane in Picard. FInd the album folder in Picard, expand it, and now you can drag & drop the entry from the left pane onto it's matching entry in the right pane.  If the search doesn't return any results you are looking for, you can change the search option at the bottom of the web page.  More often than not, I found data in the wrong field(s) being the culprit (like artist or album in the track field).  One other note:  In this database, albums are referred to as "Releases".

If you've verified the file as something you want to keep, and can't find a match using any of the above methods, Picard can't really help you.  I suggest just manually tagging, naming, and moving the file to where you want it using Windows Explorer.

Saving:  After all of this, nothing has physically happened with your files - yet.  Once you have everything moved to the right pane, select one album from pane.  You can go through and save the tracks from each album one at a time, or just hit Ctrl-A to select all albums, then click the "Save" button at the top.  This is when the actual work occurs and files are rewritten.  Again, progress is only shown in the lower-right corner as "Pending Files", and in the album name itself - * indicates that files remain to be written, the number proceeding the * shows the number of files to be written, and they are counted down as they are written. That's pretty hard, if not impossible, to see if you've dropped a folder with 100s of files in dozens of subfolders into Picard.  I just watch the lower-right corner, Pending FIles: 0 = Done.

Why???:  Sure, Winamp (which is my player of choice), and most modern media players will allow you to add folders from everywhere into the library, scanning items in the background.  No need for you to know where the files are, let the player handle it.  I know just as well as anyone that acquiring a new file and getting it loaded into the player is more important in the moment over making sure the file is "filed" (i.e. tagged, named, and physically located in an ordered library) correctly.  Since the players can all find the files, why bother?

For one, I'm just usually more ordered than that.  For two, ask yourself how many times you know darn well you have a file "somewhere", you want to play it, and it's not showing in your library (or at least you can't find it; possibly mistagged?).  That's something that has actually happened to me several times, dozens I'm sure.  It's not that often, but it does happen - and when I want to hear a particular track, I really want to hear that track right then - not spend several minutes digging through file load dialogues looking for it.  Most of the time while I'm digging, I find a totally different track that sounds appealing at the moment and seems like time better spent than looking for that one file I know I have somewhere.

What I ended up with is One folder for all of my audio media, with 2 subfolders:  Comedy & Music.  On the next subfolder level , is a folder with the name if each group/artist.  On the next level, folders with the names of albums, which contain the MP3 files, all with ID3 tags and filenames that indicate artist, album, track number, and track name.  Rounding up and organizing that many files from that many locations after that many years of abuse is a tall order for any software, especially considering how much actual time I spent on it.  Without Musicbrainz Picard, I'm sure this would have been one of those jobs which never got done, which made this post worth writing.

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