Looking for tips about MP3s
July 12, 2004 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Because I'm an old lady, I somehow completely missed out on the whole MP3 phenomenon. (please continue inside if interested in helping me learn more)

The FPP about MP3 blogs makes me want to get with the times. Two main questions:

Once I download the songs, what software is best if I just want to play them from my laptop?
I hate having to play each song individually. Is there a way to play the entire grouping of songs without pressing play each time?
Thank you for your patience with my ignorance.
posted by pomegranate to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
Apple iTunes

It's free, easy, and if you ever decide to get an iPod, it's a simple plug and play job.

When you have your mp3s in the iTunes library, either by dragging and dropping them in there, or just double-clicking on the mp3 file, you can create a playlist to group songs together so you don't have to press play every time.
posted by derbs at 9:02 AM on July 12, 2004

IMO, winamp is better (assuming you have a windows laptop).
Drag the folder containing your mp3's to winamp, it'll play them all in order or shuffled, your choice, and you can have subfolders, as well. It's quite easy. And free. And has 52% more llamas than iTunes.
posted by signal at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2004

Yeah, iTunes, even if you're on Windows. It does the best job of tricking you into working with "songs" instead of "files".

One key thing to learn when dealing with MP3's is how to "tag" them properly. If you have a persistent internet connection, iTunes (and most MP3) players will automagically label your song files correctly when you slap in the CD and rip it, but stuff you pull down from the internet isn't always tagged. Look in the "Editing song or CD information" area in the iTunes help.
posted by mkultra at 9:12 AM on July 12, 2004

Wimamp is certainly leaner and faster than iTunes, but if you want to convert your CDs into MP3 format (a process called ripping), or go the other way and burn an audio cd of a selection of your mp3s, you have to pay for the Pro version of Winamp, which sucks.

iTunes lets you convert your CDs into mp3 format, and burn your own cds free of charge. And lets you use the iTunes music store.
posted by derbs at 9:14 AM on July 12, 2004

pomegranate, if you want a no-nonsense MP3 player, I highly suggest Winamp's Lite Player. The Full version includes CD ripping/burning support, internet TV, a media library and some other extras. If you do want to try out the Full version, the installer lets you pick what you want and don't want your player to do.

Winamp has been the standard MP3 player for a while now, and with good reason. It works great on practically any Windows system and supports quiet a few formats out the box. Ripping/Burning CDs is free too, albeit with a few limits.

disclaimer: i run winampunlimited.
posted by lotsofno at 9:18 AM on July 12, 2004

Learn from my iTunes mistakes -- if you have "let iTunes organize my files and folders" checked in preferences, then once a song is in iTunes, you MUST get in the habit of making any tag changes, or changes in the actual folder location of a file, through the iTunes interface, not by moving the file itself or by using a tag editor. For instance, don't edit an album name by editing the folder it's in -- change the album name through iTunes. The reason for this is that the song entry within iTunes will become orphaned, meaning it won't know where the actual song file is located, and therefore won't play it. You'll have to delete the original entry, find the actual file, and import it into iTunes again. This can be a pain, depending how many files you changed.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:22 AM on July 12, 2004

Winamp for playing and dbPowerAmp for ripping is a good Windows combo.

I'll never understand why people use iTunes on Windows.
posted by cmonkey at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2004

I use iTunes and think it's great. I'm on a mac, though.
posted by dobbs at 9:35 AM on July 12, 2004

Winamp Lite is a good start, and Winamp Pro if you want to do more. iTunes has a tendency of running processes in the background secretly (without showing a tray icon), so if you're not using it constantly, it's a bad choice.

iTunes is only good if you have an iPod.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:40 AM on July 12, 2004

I use Winamp for playing. I find iTunes too slow and less flexible.
I recommend CDex for high quality, user friendly ripping.
I like Media Tagger and/or Tag Scanner for editing batches of tags.
posted by mookieproof at 9:46 AM on July 12, 2004

iTunes is only good if you have an iPod.

Entirely untrue... I have no need for any MP3 player other than iTunes, iPod or no... the smart playlists, and user interface alone make it the only choice for me...

However, it may be feature-heavy if all you're looking for is a way to "just play" the songs.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:17 AM on July 12, 2004

another winamp fan. i've been using it as my default player for ALL audo media (and most video as well) for years - it is much faster and lighter-weight than the godawful windows media player. iTunes seems to have a good rep, i know a few who use it, but without an iPod there really is no reason to download and install yet another massive program.

after installing winamp you can just right-click on any folder full of music and choose "enqueue in winamp" to play everything inside. how much easier to manage can you get?

tags are file data embedded in the file - title, artist, year, track #, genre, etc. although really unless you are super-interested in everything there is to know about a specific song, you don't need tags or labels just to play it. from what i've seen, half the songs you get (downloaded from a fileshare or borrowed from friends) have incorrect tags anyway (once saw a rob zombie song, labeled "genre: blues". WTF? stupid kids...) legitimately acquired songs (downloaded from pay-per-download service) will already be tagged, hopefully with the correct info. most programs that rip songs from cd to mp3 have the ability to generate tags, or download them from an online database.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:32 AM on July 12, 2004

iTunes also works with plenty of other MP3 players, FWIW.

Also, to follow up on something Flanders said--if you decide to use iTunes, you really need to manage tracks through iTunes on either Macs or PCs regardless of whether you "let iTunes organize my files."

If you have a file in the iTunes database and then move it in the file manager/Finder, the iTunes database loses track of it, and the file must be manually re-added to the database (this is true on Macs--perhaps not on PCs but I'd be surprised). The "let iTunes organize my files" feature means that it will automatically create an artist/album/trackname directory structure for you, and move things around if need be (so if you change those tags on a track, the file will be changed on your disc): this has the advantage of making it so that the files on your disk are organized logically, but if you've already got an organization scheme you like, it'll completely blow it away.

Any decent MP3 player will be able to play albums, playlists, etc.
posted by adamrice at 10:35 AM on July 12, 2004

IMO, QCD is far superior to WinAmp, Sonique, iTunes, or any other player I've tried.
posted by rushmc at 11:00 AM on July 12, 2004

Best answer: I really like WinAmp. Back in the day, before there was any AskMe, I emailed jonmc a bunch of times to get advice about mp3 players, he recommended WinAmp, and he didn't steer me wrong. I haven't used any of the others, but WinAmp is just so easy to use. I don't have any plug-ins or skins or any of that fancy schmancy stuff - I just listen to mp3s with it, and it works just fine for my very basic needs. You can drag and drop mp3 files directly into it, or open up your mp3 folder and pick a whole mess of songs that you want to listen to. You can also easily make playlists - you open up a bunch of songs into WinAmp, and then save that particular grouping as a playlist. Then whenever you want to hear those particular songs again, you open your saved playlist. I have the feeling you want to keep it really simple, as do I. If you have any more questions about WinAmp, feel free to email me, pomegranate.
posted by iconomy at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2004

actually, the new winamp beta now has 58% more llamas
posted by Fupped Duck at 11:23 AM on July 12, 2004

I use Musicmatch 7.5 Plus because it has automatic track tagging and it downloads album cover art.

Can Winamp or Itunes do this?
posted by dydecker at 12:26 PM on July 12, 2004

Cover art finder thingy for Winamp

I make no recommendations, as I never have once wanted to see the cover art for something.

The only thing I miss about Winamp5 as oppose to Winamp3 is the ability to select between playlists generated in the pane thingy. Not counting Winamp3, Winamp5 and Winamp2 have crashed less times than I can count on one hand, and I've been using Winamp 24/7 for probably 4 or so years here.
posted by geoff. at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2004

but without an iPod there really is no reason to download and install yet another massive program.

A reason besides the fact that it's a slick, gorgeous, reliable, easy-to-use beauty of an app? iTunes is great. I don't even use a stereo anymore.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:11 PM on July 12, 2004

Geoff, that's being worked on as a plug-in by DrO, the same guy who developed Winamp 5's current integrated implementation of Jump to File. His plug-in is called Extended Playlist, and you can download a very very very Alpha preview here. Winamp Unlimited has been following the plug-in, along with his other work. He's a pretty nice guy, too.

You can get an album cover preview in one of the panes in the Media Library. Clicking on the thumbnail gives you a bigger image and the tracklist of the album. There are other plug-ins to get album covers online, and even display them in the notifier on every track change. I've been told there's a plug-in for automatic tagging, but i've never run into it. Musicbrainz is a decent alternative for now.

I use the ml_iPod plug-in to manage my ipod, so I get the bost of both worlds: Easy/Powerful iPod management AND a Speedy/Powerful media player.
posted by lotsofno at 1:19 PM on July 12, 2004

AFAIK, there's no native way to snag album art in iTunes. There are some scripts that can help, although the issue is a bit of a sore spot with iTunes: it handles art by embedding it as track metadata, meaning each track of an album needs to duplicate the same art to display it.

There are at least a couple of iTunes helper apps for this: Clutter, which I don't use, and Synergy, which I do (and which does other nice things). It has roughly a 50% hit rate looking up album art.

I would like to see an app that looks for any graphics files in the same directory as the current track and displays one of them.
posted by adamrice at 1:31 PM on July 12, 2004

Another vote for Winamp. It's treated me well for years now... It's a straight-up elegant program; it does its job very well with very little feature/file-size bloat.

That's the same couple of reasons I use Opera instead of any of the other brwsers out there...
posted by kaibutsu at 2:08 PM on July 12, 2004

Another itunes vote.

It's simple. Easy to set up. Self organizing.

It'll make playlists (so you can just press play once) based on groupings you like.

It'll make intelligent playlists - play every jazz song except the ones I've listened to in the last week and the gillespie songs.

It's free. It will convert CDs to mp3s.

And later it will make new CDs of your tracks if you like.
posted by filmgeek at 3:32 PM on July 12, 2004

Obviously you should try winamp and itunes and see which you like better.

If you're someone who's used to, and comfortable with, organizing files into directory structures, I suspect you'd like winamp more, since it won't screw around with however you've organized your music the way that iTunes has threatened to a few times since I d/l'ed it a few minutes ago (I don't like programs that seem uppity to me).

(and you'll need to organize. the id3 tags you get from downloaded music and even from cddb will be next to worthless -- you'll have different bands called ACDC and AC/DC and AC / DC; and some songs by Lucinda Williams and others by Williams, Lucinda; and so on, and many tracks you download will have no id3 tags and a filename like track7.mp3)

I'd guess that which you like better will depend on whether you'd rather edit the id3 tags or move files and subdirs around your directory structure.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:34 PM on July 12, 2004

I would hertily endorse iTunes ( use it on Win XP). I use dto use WinAmp, but was continually frustrated by its habit of losing playlists and generally stuffing up. Since I switched to iTunes, I have had no problems whatsoever, although it does use quite a lot of system resources so, if your computer is marginal in performance, WinAmp would probably be better.

If, like me, you like to have things organised your way rather than how an application thinks you should, make sure that you turn off "Keep iTunes Music folder organised" under Edit->Preferences->advanced, or it will rename, move and generally screw around with your files. If you don't care what is going on in the background, it doesn't matter.

ID Tags are important and, because of this as well as wanting to name files in a particular way, any songs I download or rip go into a temporary folder until I have them how I want them. This helps to get around the problem that ROU_Xenophobe mentioned, also.
posted by dg at 5:01 PM on July 12, 2004

I think ROU_Xenophobe is pretty spot on with the differences between WinAmp and iTunes, and it is a personal preference on which system works better for you. As I have perhaps only a handful of downloaded tunes (not including iTMS) and rip the rest off of my CDs, iTunes works perfectly because I don't have to muck around with the mp3s on my computer but can instead let iTunes handle the organization and tagging.
posted by gyc at 5:36 PM on July 12, 2004

stupidsexyFlanders: (and anyone else who'll listen)
I discovered this on the weekend... (not exactly sure if it does work, or I imagined it)

To synchronise the tag details held in iTunes with the details in your MP3 collection, select all files, click on Get Info, and then click [OK].
posted by seanyboy at 1:54 AM on July 13, 2004

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