My mp3's are expiring!
November 20, 2005 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Can .mp3's go bad?

I think I'm asking a ridiculous question, but it's happened enough that I'm wondering - I'll rip a CD (although it happens with downloaded music too), it'll be fine, I'll go back to it a few months (or years) later, and nothing. The data all appears to be there (as in the filesizes look ok), but all the meta-info is gone, and the tracks are unplayable. Sometimes it's the whole album, sometimes it's only a couple of songs, or just one. Which makes no sense. It has happened in the past when I've used some of those bulk-tagging utilities, but I chalked that up to the software (although if anyone can help me with that, it would be great too). What could be wrong? Is there any way to fix these things? Am I crazy?

For reference, I rip in lame, 160-320kbps, 44100hz, stereo, WinXP, no DRM or enhanced audio or anything like that. The CD's themselves are also perfectly playable.
posted by loquax to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
You are certifiable, is what you are, mate.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:04 PM on November 20, 2005

I've had MP3's go bad in the sense that the hard drive they were on had minor errors that manifested themselves as pops and scratches, but if the rest of your hard drive seems to be working fine I doubt that you'd have enough data corruption to be taking out entire MP3's.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:08 PM on November 20, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, see, that's what I think too, but I swear I can prove it!

I've used a bunch of different players over the years (WMP, WinAMP, MusicCube, that Monkey one), can any of the tools built into those affect the .mp3 file? For instance those star ratings?

Some of the files are also very old, some as far back as maybe 1998, others in the early 2000's. Others that have had problems were ripped this year. Never noticed a problem until the last 6 months.
posted by loquax at 9:09 PM on November 20, 2005

Well, I know from experience that Foobar2000 can chew up the ID3v2 tags if you try to alter them from it or use the rating plugin but that is probably because Foobar2k < 0.90 doesn't handle ID3v2 tags all that well. So, yeah, if one of those programs has a problem dealing with your tags, it could have screwed up your metadata.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 9:22 PM on November 20, 2005

Response by poster: it could have screwed up your metadata.

But did it render the file unplayable or corrupt?
posted by loquax at 9:24 PM on November 20, 2005

mp3's can't go bad, it' the media that they are on that is going bad. Burned Cd's can get screwed up from being exposed to light.
posted by the giant pill at 9:36 PM on November 20, 2005

Response by poster: These were never on burned media, only original CD's that play fine (even when the tracks are re-ripped, which is what I'm doing now) or downloaded tracks.
posted by loquax at 9:38 PM on November 20, 2005

Have you done a virus scan? I know there's more than a few viruses that like to nest in media files.
posted by deadfather at 9:43 PM on November 20, 2005

What temperature do you keep your computer at? Also, is your hard drive tightly sealed?
posted by moift at 10:32 PM on November 20, 2005

Response by poster: I'm running a virus scan now, but I don't think I have any.

Temperature? I have no idea. I do keep in running all the time though. In fact, it has probably been up 99% of the time for a few years, with no ill effects (presumably). I rarely shut it down in any case, only when I'm away overnight.

As for having my hard drive sealed, I don't even know what that means. Factory issue gateway, however they do it.

I do have everything backed up on an external drive, and it has not had the same problems, as far as I can tell, however I haven't backed up for a while so I don't have copies of the music that's been corrupted over the last few months/year.
posted by loquax at 10:39 PM on November 20, 2005

No. That just doesn't happen.
posted by cmonkey at 10:47 PM on November 20, 2005

Sounds more like a dying hard drive than a mystery virus.
posted by nearlife at 10:53 PM on November 20, 2005

Best answer: Well it's hardly a mystery. Either:

A) some software program is modifying the files, perhaps in an attempt to add or manage some bit of metadata, and in the process (perhaps because it's buggy or doesn't understand the particular file format) it renders them unreadable.


B) your storage medium is failing.

It really can't be anything else. Well, there are variations on A) - for example if you transferred a bunch of files with FTP and used ascii mode. But that's still "some software is modifying the files". It's not some kind of unexplainable "bit rot".

I suggest that you take md5sums of all current and future mp3s that work perfectly. If you then notice one of these not working, check its md5sum. That will definitively tell you if it's been modified.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:35 PM on November 20, 2005

Foobar didn't. Windows did. I have had a system crash render a large portion of my files corrupt, but that was also concurrent with my file allocation table getting hit.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 12:03 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: Oh, and if it anything like what happened to me, that is something you would probably remember happening because it involves a really long chkdsk scan with a long output of all the crosslinked files. That, and there would be a bunch of files on the drive indicating that they were made from orphan data that chkdsk couldn't match up to files, something like "file001.chk", I think.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 12:09 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: The secret has come out - MP3s have had DRM all along, mwahahaha!!

Seriously, I would guess that there's some issue with your ID3v2 headers. It could be

1) The headers are compressed, and your current doesn't understand them. Do these files play in winamp 5 by any chance?

2) The headers are unsynchronized. A media player, for security reasons, isn't supposed to play a file with unsynchronized headers. I think some tagging utilities fix broken headers (although I don't know any by name). Also, I think winamp plays files with unsynchronized headers, so you could try it.

3) One of the things someone mentioned above (strong candidate: some program that you used in the past was incorrectly writing headers - this could happen if the player was, for example, writing the draft ID3v2 headers instead of the final version, or writing iso8859-1 headers instead of unicode, etc..)
posted by helios at 2:58 AM on November 21, 2005

aliens. I had this exact thing happen and it turned out to be alien influence. they delete the music they don't like. basically you should just give up.
posted by tiamat at 3:07 AM on November 21, 2005

Have you switched software? Some mp3 players work better with ID3v1 tags than ID3v2 and vice versa. iTunes is notorious for ignoring one type (v1, I believe) or only selectively reading the tags. There are a handful of v1 to v2 conversion programs out there, and I believe you can have both styles of tags in the file as well. Your data might still be there but your player is looking at the wrong tag.
posted by mikeh at 7:22 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: Well, I've definitely had crashes followed by that windows chkdsk stuff (thanks a lot Civs4), but I don't think that's it, as the files affected seem to be too specific to be related.

I'll try fixing the headers and the other things you suggest helios, that seems like the best bet to me (I'll take md5sums too).

Oh and the virus scan ran, nothing.

tiamat, are you saying that the shadow people don't like my Kenny Rogers collection?

mikeh - I always create both ID1 and 2 tags for anything I tag, and I don't use iTunes. I've always used the same tagging utility (don't have the name of it here at work) and it seems to work fine. You're right, the data is still definitely there, the files are still 5 mbs or whatever, they just won't play and the metadata is completely gone. I tend to believe that the headers or something is getting corrupted beyond the tags - I'll try Winamp 5 tonight.
posted by loquax at 7:31 AM on November 21, 2005

Well, another set of files that have corruption that is easy to spot are image files, which also "went bad" on me at the same time. If you've got a bunch on your hard drive, delete the thumbs.db file and make a quick scan through the new thumbnails that are created -- if they've been corrupted in the same way, you'll see something like the normal top half of the image with the rest just a grey blob (assuming that the picture format isn't using progressive scanning, which isn't that common and certainly not with digital camera photos).
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 11:24 AM on November 21, 2005

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