Album Art is Hell

(Warning: Semi-stream-of-conciousness rambling follows, I didn’t really edit for clarity.  Sorry.)

Pain is the best educator.

For example:

We keep all of our music organized with Windows Media Player.  It’s not the best thing out there, but it was the first widely available PC music app that actually knew how to handle kanji, so I’ve stuck with it.

There was a brief flirtation with iTunes shortly after we bought our first mac, but that ended in disaster.  It seems that the PC’s encoding of Japanese characters is different from the way the mac encodes Japanese characters, and even though iTunes will read the PC format just fine, when it goes to write out new ID3 tags, it writes them in mac format and a PC running Windows Media Player has no way to handle it.  Cue: Restoring the last backup and re-ripping a couple dozen CDs that hadn’t been in the last backup.

Anyway, back to Media Player.

I’d wondered what was up with album art for some while now.  I’ve never really understood where it’s stored and how applications choose to display it. It hasn’t been a big concern because, well, my MP3 player is 6 years old, doesn’t actually display album art, and simply refuses to die so I have no excuse to buy a new one… but my wife’s MP3 player displays album art, and my PSP displays album art as well, and eventually I’ll probably get a new MP3 player and so on and so forth.

Also I haven’t really delved in to it because, while Media Player actually does get album art for, mmm, about 40% of the CDs I buy, the other 60% are weird stuff that, well, usually I get track names if I’m lucky.

However, after moving all the media to a single server and letting WMP scan it and build up a new library, it did seem like I had an awful lot of art and that, while I did have a lot of albums with no art, I could probably fill in the blanks without too much trouble and it would look ever so much prettier.

Then came pain, and now I have learned much.

For example: When Media Player goes and gets album art for a disc, it stores it in a file called “folder.jpg”, but doesn’t write it into the ID3 tags for the album files.  If you PASTE album art into an album, it actually writes it into the ID3 tag for the files, and then creates a new folder.jpg.  It uses the folder.jpg as the image for any albums in the directory that don’t have embedded art.

So, for example, since I had a bunch of miscellaneous game music tracks in a folder that didn’t have embedded art, whenever I found art for one of them and pasted it, it made a new folder.jpg and all the other tracks in the folder had their artwork (as displayed in WMP) change to the same art.

I’m also pretty sure that, when you’re syncing to a portable mp3 player, it uses folder.jpg and doesn’t use the embedded art, so having multiple albums in one folder is really bad in that case.  It’s OK on the PSP because the PSP ignores folder.jpg and only displays embedded art, which actually has the effect that all the albums WMP knew about are artless on a PSP, whereas the albums I had to go out and find art for manually display art on the PSP just fine.

It’s all rather confusing.

Oh, also WMP shrinks any art you paste in to an album to 200×200, so going out and looking for nice high quality scans isn’t really necessary.

I just wish that nice high quality scans were even an option for some of the discs I have.  I have far too many 15-20 year old anime soundtrack CDs, and I’m having to scour the depths of the Japanese amazon marketplace and yahoo auctions just to find cover scans.

And yes.  I could hook up the scanner and make my own, but that involves scanning and cropping and a whole lot of actual, how you say, work.

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