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Digital Audio Essentials by Bruce Fries, Marty Fries

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Chapter 4. Organizing and Playing Music

Once you have your music collection on your computer, you gain an enormous amount of flexibility and control. You have instant access to any song, and you can organize your music in ways that were not previously possible. Your CD player, tape deck, turntable, and all of the equipment that a DJ uses for mixing music are replaced by software on your computer. If someone has a request, or you want to change the music to match the mood, you can do it in seconds with a few mouse clicks. You can even configure some programs to choose songs based on your personal music tastes and to automatically crossfade between songs.

This chapter covers the basics of organizing and playing music with iTunes, Media Jukebox, and Musicmatch Jukebox. You will learn how to import downloadable songs, navigate your music collection, and create custom playlists, as well as how to master features such as automatic crossfading and volume leveling so that you can go head to head with any DJ. You will also learn about the options for customizing your jukebox program with skins, visualization effects, and remote controls.

You can download most jukebox programs for free. Some, including Media Jukebox and Musicmatch, sell “plus” versions that offer additional features, such as faster CD burning, the ability to print CD jewel case inserts, and advanced features for organizing your music. Table 4-1 shows the web sites where you can download the jukebox programs covered in this book.

Table 4-1. Acquiring a jukebox program

Program

Web site

Systems

Free version

Plus version

iTunes

http://www.itunes.com

Windows, Mac

Yes

No

Media Jukebox

http://www.jriver.com

Windows

Yes

$24.98

Musicmatch

http://www.musicmatch.com

Windows

Yes

$19.99

Getting Music onto Your Computer

There are several options for acquiring and storing music on your computer. The easiest way is to download songs from a web site, online music store, or peer-to-peer network. Another option is to convert your existing records, tapes, and CDs into a compressed format such as MP3. Figure 4-1 illustrates these methods, and we cover each one in depth later in the book.

Obtaining music

Figure 4-1. Obtaining music

Digital audio formats

However you acquire music, it helps to understand the differences between the various formats for digital audio. Following are descriptions of the most common formats and file types (we’ll cover digital audio formats in much more depth in Chapter 9):

MP3

A compressed audio format that’s part of the MPEG family of standards. MP3 is currently the most widely used format for downloadable music.

AAC

A very high quality compressed audio format that’s part of the MPEG family of standards.

M4A

File extension for copy-protected AAC files downloaded from the iTunes Music Store.

M4P

File extension for unprotected AAC files created with iTunes.

Real Audio

A proprietary compressed audio format used by many Internet radio stations.

WMA

A proprietary compressed audio format developed by Microsoft.

AIFF

An audio file format common to the Mac (typically uncompressed).

WAV

An audio file format common to Windows PCs (typically uncompressed).

Downloading music

You can download songs and entire albums from a variety of web sites, or you can acquire them via peer-to-peer file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Morpheus. However, peer-to-peer sites carry legal consequences and pitfalls, so the safest choice is to stick with reputable sites such as eMusic and the iTunes Music Store (see Chapter 5). The songs you download will be authorized copies of a consistent quality. If you decide to go the peer-to-peer route, you should first learn a little about the legalities of copyright law (see Chapters 5 and 17)—thousands of users of peer-to-peer networks have unwittingly ended up on the receiving end of lawsuits from the RIAA. We’ll cover peer-to-peer file sharing in depth in the next chapter.

Warning

Many songs obtained through file-sharing programs are unauthorized copies. Downloading a copyrighted song without permission is copyright infringement, an offense that is punishable by fines ranging from $750 to $250,000 per song.

Converting your existing music collection

If you have an extensive collection of records or CDs, you should convert them to a compressed format such as MP3. To create MP3 files from records or tapes, you’ll need to record them through your sound card (see Chapter 11). If you have a Windows-based PC, you should get a good standalone recording program such as Sound Forge, as the Sound Recorder program included with Windows is very limited. Mac OS X includes a decent but not full-featured recording and editing program called Sound Studio, but if you plan to record and clean up audio, you’ll be better off with a more advanced program like Peak.

To create MP3 files from CDs, you can bypass the sound card and rip the audio directly to your hard disk (see Chapter 11). Ripping results in a perfect copy, and because it is a digital process, it is much faster than recording. For example, while a system with a fast CD-ROM drive can rip a four-minute song in less than 30 seconds, recording the same song through a sound card will take the full four minutes.

Warning

It’s perfectly legal to make MP3 files from records or CDs you own, but it’s a violation of copyright law to share them with other people or upload them to a web site. See Chapter 17 for more information on copyright laws.

Importing songs

Before you can take advantage of its capabilities, you must import some songs into your jukebox program. If you purchase songs from a music store that is integrated with your jukebox program, as in the case of iTunes, they are imported automatically. If you use your jukebox program to create MP3 files from prerecorded music, they are imported automatically as well.

For songs from other sources (i.e., file-sharing programs or online stores not supported by your jukebox program), you need to manually import them or set your jukebox program to periodically scan certain folders and import any new songs it finds (not all programs can do this, however).

The simplest method of importing songs is to drag and drop them from Explorer or the Finder into the music library of your jukebox program. For importing a large number of files, follow the instructions below.

Warning

When you import a song into your jukebox program, it stores the name and location of the file (i.e., \Music\MP3\SongName.mp3), but not the file itself. If a song is deleted or moved through Explorer or the Finder, the entry will remain in the music library, but the song will not play.

iTunes

To import music into iTunes, select File Add to Library. Browse to and select the folder that contains the songs, then click OK. All songs in that folder and any subfolders will be imported. To selectively import songs, follow the same method but select specific songs instead of entire folders.

Note

The “Import” choice on the iTunes File menu also allows you to import playlists. Both the playlist and the associated songs will be imported.

Media Jukebox

To import music into Media Jukebox, select File Library Import Media. Check the file types you want to import, or click the “Def” button to choose the default file types. Click the “Browse” button and navigate to the folder that contains the files. Click “OK,” then click “Start Search” to begin the import. All songs in the selected folder and any subfolders will be imported.

Musicmatch

To import songs into Musicmatch, select File Add New Tracks to Music Library. Browse and select the folder that contains the songs. Select one or more files, or click “Select All” to select all files. Check “Also add tracks from subfolders” to import files from any subfolders. Click “Add” to import the files.

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