Keeping track of your MP3s

Once your collection of digital music starts to grow, and your hard disk space starts to diminish, you may find yourself accumulating dozens of CDs full of music. With 10-15 albums per CD, your collection can quickly become hard to keep manage. A good CD labelling system may help you find the songs you're looking for by browsing the covers; otherwise, a CD cataloguing system might be the best way to keep track of your collection.

CD Catalog for Windows

There are quite a few CD catalogue programs available, some of which are specifically designed for digital music collections. If you want to use your catalogue for backups and CDs that contain data other than MP3s, check out CD Catalog for Windows (http://www.diginvent.com/cdcatalog). It is a fast and easy-to-use program that scans your CDs almost as quickly as you can put them in your drive. You can organise your CDs into categories and search the entire collection in seconds (Figure 1). CD Catalog for Windows stores all your CD data in text files, so you can browse and search your collection even without the program installed if needed. The interface is very user friendly, incorporating a Windows Explorer style tree menu on the left and a file list window on the right side. Unlike Windows Explorer, however, you can browse through hundreds of CDs without having to insert any of them in your computer -- well, not until you want to play the MP3s, once you've found them!

Advanced MP3 Catalog Pro

If you are really only interested in managing your MP3 files, and not other kinds of data, then something like Advanced MP3 Catalog Pro (AMCP) may be more appropriate (http://www.wizetech.com/amc). The benefit of this application is that it does more than just catalogue folder and file names. Unlike most cataloguing software, it also stores information from your MP3 files' ID3 tags. The result is that you can browse and search your collection by genre, artist, album, duration, bitrate, release dates and more (Figure 2). You can also sort your MP3s into custom categories regardless of the CD on which they are located.

Another useful feature you probably won't find anywhere else is AMCP's ability to detect duplicate files in your collection -- even if they have completely different file names. Once again, this is done by comparing information stored in the ID3 tags of your MP3s (Figure 3). Like CD Catalog for Windows, the entire interface is based on Windows Explorer, so that you can immediately understand the basic operation of the program and dive right in.

If you thought that was enough, AMCP adds another brilliant feature, allowing you to create reports and CD covers for your CDs -- straight from the database (Figure 4). Not only do the generated CD covers list the files and folders, but they also contain more relevant information such as quality, genre, duration, and artist, album and track titles. This alone may be reason enough to buy this program!

Ruby

Both CD Catalog for Windows and Advanced MP3 Catalog Pro are commercial applications. Collectors on a budget may want to give the freeware program Ruby a try (http://warpengine.com). It is a very simple program, without all the bells and whistles of the other two, but it gets the job done.

Basically, Ruby will perform two functions. First, you can add CDs to the database (Figure 5), and the file scanning process is relatively quick and painless. Second, you can search for files based on filename (Figure 6). Both tasks are performed using a spreadsheet style grid, which isn't as pretty to look at but arguably is just as usable as an Explorer style window. So, while Ruby may not be able to read your ID3 tags or provide you with a Windows Explorer interface, you will be able to find that long-lost tune you downloaded sometime last year among your stack of MP3 CDs.

For a list of alternative disk cataloguing utilities, check out the collection at Tucows: http://tucows.com/system/drivecat95.html.

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