Category Archives: Music

Mp3tag 2.40 Released

Anyone that’s using my Zune Marketplace Mp3tag source will probably want to upgrade to the latest version of Mp3tag, which as of today is 2.40!  I’ve been using the beta version for awhile and the tagging dialog is much better than in the original 2.39 release, easier to tag those albums where you only have a few of the tracks.

Get it from the official download site.

In a related note I’ve been using Mp3tag for about 2 years and I finally pulled the trigger and donated some dosh to this excellent free program.  Thanks to Florian Heidenreich for continuing to create such a great product!

Zune Marketplace as a Mp3tag Source

Given that the current (and past) Zune software lacks any decent metadata editing I’ve been using Mp3tag to adjust the various tags as well as grab album art.  One cool feature of Mp3tag is that you can look up album information from a variety of online sources, most notably Amazon.  From there you can grab track listings and album art to help flush out your metadata.

Only problem is that sometimes the Zune Marketplace files an album differently than Amazon which means it won’t show up correctly in your ZuneTag (see mine in the upper-right).  After poking around with Mp3tag’s extensible "web sources framework" and using Fiddler to watch the HTTP traffic to and from I cobbled together a Zune source that will pull down the exact album information as listed on the Marketplace as well as the album art.

There is a bonus as well, I believe just made their 800×800 album art available via the back-end service I’m using so now you can grab full 800×800 album art even on tracks you didn’t purchase directly from the Marketplace.

Just download and extract the single Marketplace.src into your %appdata%Mp3tagdatasources folder and you’ll be rocking! I’d also suggest you download the very latest beta of Mp3tag because the tag sources (what Marketplace plugs into) dialog is much easier to figure out for first timers, plus I always include the artist in the track listing and version 2.39n supports splitting this into the correct tags.


If anyone actually uses this and needs help getting it up and running just drop a comment.


Thanks to Scott for catching something I should have mentioned but completely forgot.  The Zune software can’t read ID3v2.4 tags, instead it can only handle ID3v2.3 so after you first install Mp3tag follow these steps:

  1. Go to Tools | Options
  2. Navigate to the ‘Tags’, then Mpeg options in the left-hand tree
  3. Set Write to ID3v2.3 UTF-16
  4. For those that like pretty pictures:

Mp3tag Options

UPDATE #2 (5/20/2012):

Updated the download link to point the latest source. A few search engines were still sending people here so I’m fixing up the link to the one that actually works .

Music I’m Not Buying

While looking for some mellow music for a late night coding session that wouldn’t disturb my wife I remembered an album I used to listen to quite a bit, ‘Far Away Trains Passing By‘ by Ulrich Schnauss, and wondered if he had something new out for me to enjoy. Seems he’s been busy since I first picked up that album in 2001 with at least four other releases so after listening to some samples I figured I’d pick up an album or two.

I started first with Zune Marketplace which has become a viable option ever since they started offering DRM-free MP3s. While they have all his albums none of them are in MP3 format which crosses it off my list. Not to be daunted I hit up Amazon’s MP3 downloads but no dice there either, I can order the CD but I want satisfaction now. Last on my list is eMusic, usually a great location for smaller or indie labels but I only found a scattering of his songs on compilations. I thought about checking iTunes to see if it was available as a “Plus” track, meaning DRM-free, but you can’t browse their catalog online and I really can’t be bothered to install iTunes just to see if it may or may not be there. I even toyed with using BitTorrent for some nefarious illegal song grabbing but honestly that’s entirely too much fussing just for a few songs.

After all of this searching and disappointment I realized I’ll probably never buy another Ulrich Schnauss album, not out of some petulant pouting or idealistic, chest-beating stance against the horrors of DRM but because I had an impulse and now it’s gone. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m slightly impulsive while at the same time I lose interest quickly so in a few days time it’s doubtful I’ll even remember Mr. Schnauss and instead I’ll be buying some DRM-free tracks that caught my ear on eMusic or something tasty I see come through Zune Marketplace.

I’m not just not buying (neat) Ulrich Schnauss either, The new Dropkick Murphys album ‘The Meanest of Times‘ hasn’t gotten any rotation from me and they’re one of my top 10 favorite bands. There is just too much good music out there and my tastes are too varied for me to obsess over a single album. These days if I can’t get it DRM-free it’s doubtful I’ll ever buy it or listen to it.

A little note to Ulrich Schnauss’s label Domino USA, you really need to look at licensing your music as DRM-free, whether it’s on eMusic, Amazon, Zune Marketplace or even iTunes. You could have had some of my hard-earned dosh, instead I’m just cueing up some ‘Thievery Corporation’ and calling it good.

How Do You Listen to Music?

With the recent announcement of the new Zunes coming this fall and the accompanying software, firmware, web site, server and music policy changes a lot of people have taken up the popular Zune vs. iPod debate.

There are lots of comparing of features, disappointments that the Zune doesn’t do everything the iPod does and general hand wringing over the lack of various features. Some people are quite down on the new Zune, others much more excited, yet in all of this not many people touch on the core reason that iPods and Zunes exist… to listen to music.

A lot of people are upset over the lack of a WiFi Marketplace to compete with WiFi iTunes yet this doesn’t seem like a real need that occurs in the daily use of people’s lives. It is definitely cool to buy music from your device but after that initial, “Look what I can do!” how many people will actually use the feature? Do people find themselves that often away from a computer, needing to buy music yet happening to be near an open wireless hotspot?

Some people compare the iPod and Zune as if they’re comparing high-end sports cars that will be driven in 8-to-5 traffic. Does it really matter if you car can go 180 mph or that it’s 0 to 60 can smoke a new set of tires? Not really since those are rare edge cases, not anything that supports the core experience, that of sitting in mind numbing traffic.

All of this begs the question, how do you listen to music and what features best support that experience?

Personally I sync every day to get the latest podcasts and song ratings/metadata so Zune’s auto wifi sync is a time saver. I buy music from emusic and Amazon or actual physical CDs, a Marketplace/iTunes WiFi Store isn’t going to help me much there. I listen to a few daily podcasts so native podcasting ability is nice and both iTunes and the new Zune software have support plus FeedDemon actually does a great job so that’s a wash. I don’t use or want a PDA so the Touch is a bit of a non-feature. I have a medium (large?) music collection around 80gb so a 160gb iPod would be perfect, but that doesn’t have wireless anything so I lose out there.

Point being that when you apply a bit of reality to how you’ll actually use these devices there isn’t nearly that big a difference between them. Hell, a lot of the reasons I like the Zune is I just dig the matte-black look and bigger screen. I wish a lot more of these reviewers and bloggers would compare real world use vs. specs.

Amazon MP3 Sets the Pace for Digital Downloads

Amazon just entered the digital music download fray and they’ve just set the gold standard. The price is right, the quality is great, and since it’s straight MP3 you can use it on pretty much every digital music playing device ever made. Downloading Ministry’s “Rio Grande Dub(ya)” was a snap and the required download manager is simple and unobtrusive. It may not be the closed-loop system of iTunes+iPod or Zune+Marketplace but it’s close enough that I think a lot of people will dip their toes in the water, especially with the Amazon name behind it.

To be fair has been offering DRM-free MP3 downloads for years but their biggest weakness has always been satisfying the Top 40 crowd. While you can find great albums like Beirut’s “The Flying Club Cup” you won’t find Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape“. EMusic is closer to that great indie record store that sometimes has Top 40 albums but you know the real focus is the off-the-beaten-path gems tucked among the aisles.

My biggest question is where is Microsoft in all of this DRM-free loving? Even Apple has conceded that users may want less restrictions on their music by offering to over-charge customers for DRM-free tracks yet the Zune Marketplace still staunchly holds onto the DRM model of business. Microsoft is the new kid on the block in terms of online music yet they already seem like an anachronism without any attempt so far to really embrace “the social”. The rumor is that October is going to see a new crop of Zune players and they had better update more than just the hardware. Unless there is a major update to the Zune ecosystem then they’re going to fail.

Amazon has a winner on it’s hands and it’ll be interesting to see both where they are headed as well as the industry’s reaction to this bold and welcome move.

EMusic, Zune & Audiobooks

One of my favorite uses for my Zune is listening to audiobooks and one of my greatest disappointments with the Zune was the lack of support for the Audible format. Audible’s proprietary format has always been a thorn in my side because unless you’re using a major MP3 player the chances of it supporting Audible are slim. I used to be able to work around this by converting the .aa format into straight .mp3, as it should be, but Audible seems to have patched that hole.

Well, I can start listening to audiobooks once again because is now offering them in addition to their usual music catalog, and just like their music, it’s in straight MP3, no DRM to fuss with. Their audiobook catalog isn’t nearly as extensive as Audible’s but I’ll gladly trade a large selection that I can’t listen to for a smaller one that I can.

I just picked up “Indecision” by Benjamin Kunkel and it’s “A hugely funny satire that effortlessly captures the confusion of privileged and educated twentysomthings…”. I couldn’t agree with the reviewer more.

Now I just have to see if the Zune ever gets it’s act together when it comes to setting bookmarks because currently the Zune gets a big fat “F” when it comes to listening to audiobooks. With no ability to set bookmarks or even have your paused location persist between syncs it makes remembering where you last left off a pain in the arse.

Digital Dark Ages

We are still in the digital dark ages, at least as far as media goes. Let’s explore just how ugly it is currently:

1. DRM (Digital Rights Management)

DRM is supposed to be about managing the rights of digital assets yet it really has nothing to do with “rights” and everything to do with market lock. Since no two DRM systems are interchangeable this means you’re not just paying for the music, you’re also paying for the device. Imagine buying a CD that only works in a Kenwood stereo and having to buy it again if you wanted to play it at home in your Toshiba CD player? If I buy a track at iTunes then I can’t play it on my Zune. Even if I buy a track from the Zune Marketplace then I still can’t play it on my Sonos. If I really wanted to play it all three places I’d have to buy it three times.

You, as a consumer, have NO digital rights.

Until you can buy music from any source, be it iTunes, Zune Marketplace, Yahoo! Music, or any of a handful of others and play it back on any device, we will still be in the digital dark ages.

2. Digital Asset Prices

I can buy a new album on iTunes for $9.99. I don’t get anything special for the $9.99 nor do I even get to pick the music quality BUT I do have the added bonus of only being able to play it back on my iPod (sarcasm folks).

On the other hand I can buy the same album on CD at BestBuy for $9.99 or cheaper if I use one of their ubiquitous %10 coupons and now I have the CD, the case and some cool/dorky booklet. I can rip that CD at any quality I want and play it on almost anything made in the last 5 years.

The only thing I can gather from this is that the record companies still view digital as a threat and they really don’t want you buying digital anything. They’ve allowed you to buy their content online only as a stopgap measure but they want you in the mall buying music. Either they have some kind of Faustian deal with CD manufactories or they truly don’t understand this new fangled digital age.

Funny thing is that I’d be willing to pay either $9.99 for non-DRM’d music or $4.99 for music with DRM. What I’m NOT willing to do is pay more money for online music when I get less than what I can get at the local music store. Until digital asset prices reflect the quality of goods that the consumer receives we’ll still be in the dark ages.

3. Albums

Notice how albums are still generally 8 to 12 tracks long? Notice how they still fit neatly on a CD? How some new ones still have the concept of an A and B side, a hold-over from the tape cassette days? Every once in awhile you’ll see an artist try something different but for the most part digital is still on the fringe, even with the massive market that the iPod, and all it represents, holds.

Where are the $2.99 mini-albums, each with 2 or 3 tracks? I’m not talking a single with some cutting room floor tracks thrown on but a whole new way of expressing a concept. Imagine three mini-albums, labeled, “The Good”, “The Bad”, “The Ugly” with the tracks on each reflecting a specific theme? What about jam bands releasing their live show audio on some Marketplace service, with a discount to ticket holders? How about a cancer drive where instead of a wrist band you get an unheard or remixed track that you can then share?

Of course the only way these ideas could actually work would be an industry-wide accepted DRM solution that actually valued the consumer’s rights as much as the artist’s and was supported by a pricing structure that didn’t gouge consumers. Which leads us back to the simple fact that we’re still in the dark ages.

Is There Any Hope?

The biggest road-block to a lot of progress is the current DRM/Device lock model, not DRM itself. There will always be people that want to get something for nothing and DRM is supposed to help prevent that but it should never be at such a huge expense to the consumer.

The only hope is that consumers do what they’ve always done in a capitalistic society, vote with their dollars. These are some of the ways I “vote”:

  • Avoid buying music from any online service that limits what you can reasonably do with your media.
  • Before pulling the trigger on that iTunes or Zune Marketplace purchase look for the actual physical CD. I bet you can find it online used for cheaper than $9.99 or even new at your local BestBuy. Buy it, rip it and resell it if you like.
  • Support sites like While you can’t pick the quality you CAN do whatever you want with the music. It’s straight MP3 format with no DRM so it’ll play on your iPod, Zune, Creative Zen, music-enabled phone, Media Center, Sonos, MP3-enabled car stereo and you can burn it to a CD as many times and as many ways as you like.
  • I would say check out the Russian site,, but now that VISA and MasterCard have been pressured to drop support it’s pretty much dead in the water. Check out GoMusic instead.

I’m sure there are other creative ways but those work for me. I’ll gladly accept, and pay for, DRM the day it works across all my devices seamlessly without loss of quality and I’m charged a fair price. Until then… it’s the dark ages.

WMP11 & Buy Now

One minor annoyance with Windows Media Player is that it assumes I don’t own any of my music. I usually use WinAmp but thought I’d see how well WMP11 Beta 2 was coming along and I noticed that in the List pane of Now Playing, when you hover your mouse over the blue arrow in the top-right it offers up a “Buy” button. You know, for when you want to rebuy the same song over and over and over and over.

I already own the song, I do not wish to see a stupid “Buy” button cluttering up the UI.