Mac iTunes users: How do you deal with miscellaneous MP3s?
December 20, 2014 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I recently switched to an iMac after a lifetime of being a PC user. It's been great, except for this one mystery: What's the best way to play single MP3 tracks that you don't much care about, without them mucking up your pristine iTunes database?

I've got a large (~500GB), immaculately tagged collection of music. The bulk of it comprises full albums, which look and play great in iTunes. But! I also have a slush-pit folder of more than 1,000 random singles, mostly downloaded from music blogs and whatnot. They're catchy tracks that I still enjoy listening to, but you can imagine the horrible state of their ID3 tags.

I don't want these singles garbage-ing up my iTunes library. And even if I took the time to fix the tags for these single files, I don't particularly want to have to scroll past an additional 1,000 artist names. To make matters worse, I'm constantly downloading new tracks, some of which i keep, but most of which i delete after a week or two. iTunes just doesn't seem to be built to accommodate this constant flow of disposable, poorly labeled music.

How do you OSX iTunes music junkies handle this? Do I need a second music player, something closer to a Winamp type of deal that doesn't try to add every new file to a master database? Or is there a way to organize these technically crappy, often temporary tracks in iTunes that isn't crazy-making?

Or am I overthinking this, and this is one of those situations where I just need to relax into it and let iTunes handle it somehow? I feel like that's the OSX philosophy, but my PC micromanaging ways are hard to kill.
posted by flod to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Drag it on to the QuickTime app, or into a Safari window.
posted by blueberry at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2014

Best answer: I go for the second music player to get round this, and set it as the default for music files, only adding files to iTunes manually when I need to. I use the free Vox for this purpose.
posted by Richard Holden at 2:55 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Welcome to OS X! By moving to a UNIX operating system, you gain access to a wide variety of command-line tools, such as id3v2, which you could use to bulk-label your MP3 singles with some default set of labels.

You might set an Artist name of "Archived Singles" or something similar for all singles. Once you have edited the labels, they can be imported into iTunes in a somewhat organized manner.

To make it easier to install this tool, open the Terminal application to install a package manager like Homebrew.

Once Homebrew is installed, in the Terminal, type (leaving out the dollar sign):

$ brew install id3v2

Then in your folder of MP3 singles, you might type:

$ find . --name *.mp3 -type f -print0 | xargs -0 id3v2 --artist "Archived Singles"

This sets the Artist tag value to "Archived Singles" for all the MP3 files found in the folder you are currently in.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could use the "Album Artist" ID3 tag to give them all some bogus artist name, which it will then sort them under.
posted by thelonius at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2014

Do I need a second music player, something closer to a Winamp type of deal that doesn't try to add every new file to a master database?

After trying a bunch of winamp-type music players, I ended up just using VLC for this.
posted by bradf at 3:23 PM on December 20, 2014

I use OSX preview for this. Just tap space with the file selected. I've done it for years, it's perfect. And if you get annoyed with clicking away stopping the track or changing it, you can hit the "open in preview" button. A finder window with a space-created pop up preview will play in the background with another app over it though.

This is how I handled this exact problem, as someone else with hundreds of gigs of music. I actually miss the simplicity of it when I use a Windows machine.
posted by emptythought at 4:15 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I still prefer to use iTunes, because I don't like having to queue up a second player for listening to new music. I also am really picky about how iTunes looks, and I handle it this way:

(1) I tag all full albums as full albums. You could use the grouping tag for this--I would, except that I use it to tag for language. Single songs that I like and want to keep also get a tag, which can be in the same field.

(2) I do most of my music listening/browsing through smart playlists. I have one for full albums, one for single songs, and one for all of my music that has been cleaned. This is built with those tags.

(3) I have a smart playlist for all music that DOESN'T have one of these tags. If I'm tired of something and intend to delete it, it gets a 1-star rating and unchecked. Every once in a while I do a mass delete of songs with a 1-star rating. If I decide I like something, I go ahead and clean up the tags and tag it for keeping!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:22 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Richard Holden, for the win! Vox looks to be the closest thing to a modern Mac version of Winamp, which of course I love. :) The crucial tip, though? Making Vox the default program for music files, which means I can play new tracks with zero effort. I only have to worry about renaming/tagging if they turn out to be iTunes-worthy. And of course iTunes remains fully functional as a destination music player, for smart playlists and iPhone syncing and all that...

If anyone has additional suggestions for lightweight music players, though, I'm all ears.
posted by flod at 5:56 PM on December 20, 2014

FYI: The latest versions of Vox are a RAM-hogging, Spyware-laden mess. You can download legacy versions from the dev's website here. I personally use and prefer version 0.2.8, but it's no longer on the developer's website. MeMail me if you want it.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:34 PM on December 20, 2014

I also use VLC for this.
posted by miles at 6:36 PM on December 20, 2014

I like Cog for this purpose.
posted by high5ths at 7:54 AM on December 22, 2014

I like Clementine Player for this -- it has a Winamp-style "separate library and playlist" interface.

It's not perfect though. Notably, the Mac version likes to use about 10% CPU even when sitting around idle, for some reason. Aside from that issue, it's great.
posted by neckro23 at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2014

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