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How to Get Your Head Around CD Track Listing Metadata

When you make a CD of your own music for commercial release, the last thing you want is for people to pop their copy into their player of choice – whether it be iTunes, car stereo or a boom box – to get greeted by “unknown album – track 1”.

Not exactly great branding 😉

Well I sent my first few home-made discs off to CDbaby for sale, and only then thought about this, so seeing as I am about place an order for a bunch of commercially made CDs, I thought I’d better get up speed on how to get the track listing information happening properly.

Well I don’t have time now to write up a funny rant about how irritating it was trying to Google that information, but suffice to say I didn’t really know the correct search terms (now I do, and you will too by the end of this post). After a couple of days and the help of a couple of mates, I was starting to get a pretty good picture although it was still all far from clear. (Why is everything so complicated these days? Am I really getting that old that I can’t keep up?)

Then today I got a reply to an email I had sent on a whim to Brian of CDBaby and ladies and gentlemen! We have a winner! Brian get’s the 2008 “legend award for explanatory clarity”!

I asked Brian if he would mind if I pasted his answers in here for the benefit of confused musicians everywhere and he said that was fine. But before I do, can I just say (and I am not getting paid for this) that CDBaby as an organisation of enthusiastic and pleasant individuals has consistently blown my mind over the last few months. They simply offer the best customer service of ANY organisation EVER.

Ever-ever ever.

The following words are Brian’s not mine, and admittedly I haven’t actually tested all this out yet, but I will post updates if anything turns out to be wrong (or you can leave a comment). Ok, so here goes, prepare to be enlightened:

“As for the information (metadata) on the CD…

There are 3 ways (I know of) that a CD can be inserted into a computer, and “automatically” know the artist, album, and song information.

== METHOD # 1: Directly recorded onto the CD

The name for the technology by which information about a recording is embedded into an audio CD is: CD-Text. The information itself (album title, artist name, etc.) is often referred to collectively as “metadata”.

CD-Text is part of the Red Book standard for audio CDs. Basically: if your burning program can do Red Book burning and offers the ability to specify the artist / album name and track titles for a CD, it can probably do the CD-Text when you burn the CD.  Most reputable mastering houses will allow you to specify CD-Text to go on your CD, as well.

These links can tell you a hell of a lot more than I ever could:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Books (all optical disk formats)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Book_%28audio_CD_standard%29 (Red Book CD format)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CD_Text (CD-Text)

Be sure to see the links at the bottom of each article, too.  For example: http://web.ncf.ca/aa571/cdtext.htm : Nero can burn CD-Text onto CD-Rs. According to the above Wikipedia article, iTunes 7 can as well.

Here’s one I found when Googling “metadata audio.cd” which *looks* free: http://www.poikosoft.com/

== METHOD #2. Looked-up from an internet service like CDDB or FreeDB

There are several variants on this, and the only difference really is how they identify CDs when popped in.

The most common (and by “most common”, I mean “99.98% of time”) method used by the major audio players (e.g. iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player) is extracting an ID number from the non-audio part of a CD and looking it up in an online database.

It basically involves getting some kind of unique “code” off the CD (usually referred to as a “catalog number” or “id number”), and then matching it up with an online database that stores all the information about the CD with that unique code.

Different online databases use different codes, but most of them are variants on the CD’s “table of contents”: http://www.cdrfaq.org/faq02.html#S2-27 … which is just a short blurb on the inner ring of a CD that tells an audio CD player where the tracks start and stop.

The biggest online databases are:

CDDB/Gracenote: http://www.gracenote.com/
The most popular and widely used online database. Most media players get info from the CDDB. It used to be free for all, but since Gracenote bought it, costs money for software companies to use.

FreeDB: http://www.freedb.org/
Still free. Less comprehensive than the CDDB, but still very comparable.

AMG AllMusicGuide: http://allmusic.com/
AMG supplies data about releases to lots of other companies. They also maintain the allmusic.com website, which is sort of like Google for mass-released recorded music.

Muze: http://www.muze.com/
Kind of like AMG, except they also provide the music too. (One of CD Baby’s
Digital Distribution partners.)

== METHOD #3. Audio player software keeps a local database on your computer.

This is what iTunes and Windows Media Player and others also do.

If you pop in a CD and explicitly type in the artist, album, and track names, it stores all this in a file somewhere, probably accompanied by an id number like the CDDB does. Then, when you pop that CD into your computer again, you don’t have to type all that junk in again.

So… what should YOU do, for YOUR CD?

#1 – For future CDs you press, definitely look into #1, and try to encode the information directly into the CD.

#2 – Submit your CD’s info to CDDB/Gracenote.
The easiest way to do this is through iTunes.
1. Insert the CD into your machine.
2. Open iTunes. Be sure it recognizes your CD with your artistname / albumname. If it doesn’t, you can right click on both the CD itself (on the left-hand side of iTunes) and the individual CD tracks (usually in the playlist window on the right) and choose “Get Info” or “Properties”. There you can enter your artist name, track titles, and all the other info, and iTunes will save it (this is Method #3 discussed above).
3. Click on the “advanced” menu.
4. Then just “submit CD track info”.
Save the submission and it will automatically be uploaded to CDDB/Gracenote. (This is Method #2 discussed above.)”
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3 Comments on How to Get Your Head Around CD Track Listing Metadata

  1. Jess
    November 16, 2008 at 3:01 am

    Our duo is in the final stages of getting our cd to manufacturing, and I am so grateful to have found this info!! THANK YOU big-time for posting it!!

  2. Marian Call
    December 17, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Thank you SO much for posting this! I really needed this info today. The more I read here the more I think your blog is very readable and helpful. And yay for CD Baby.

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