Preparing for legal digital music: Duplicates

Going straight with my digital music collection is anything but trivial.

The first problem is dealing with the sheer number of tracks stored on my computer and iPod. At the start of the project there were more than 15,000 songs on my computer. According to iTunes that’s 38 days of continuous music.

Many tracks are rubbish. Some are poorly recorded. Some are filler songs found at the end of CDs. There are live tracks, bootlegs and duplicates. Oh so many duplicates.

Apple’s iTunes is not the greatest music software application – especially on Windows – but it does have a useful tool for finding duplicates.

itunes duplicate

To find the tool you need to open iTunes, then make sure you can see the menu bar. Show Duplicate Items is under the View menu. Finding duplicates works best when you select songs from the main bar across the top of the screen.

If your menu bar is hidden, go to the icon in the top left corner, pull down its menu and select Show Menu Bar.

You can return to the normal view by going back to the view menu, the item that was Show Duplicate Items is now Show All Items. 

Take care with those duplicates

ITunes’ show duplicates feature is fairly crude. It shows everything that might be a duplicate: songs with similar names or different versions of the same song will show up. If you have a song on a normal album and on a compilation, the software treats them as potential duplicates.

If you have a big library, there will still be a huge number of items to wade through. When I first tried this on my 15,000 song collection, show duplicates found almost 9000 items.

Help comes in the shape of a hidden command: Show Exact Duplicate Items. This gives a shorter list of identical songs. In my case this reduced the list to around 3000 songs.

To get Show Exact Duplicate Items on a Windows PC, use the Shift key before opening the View menu. On a Mac you need to use the Option key.


My digital music goes straight

musicians-with-masks-1921There was a time when my digital music collection was mainly pirated.

Today there’s little illegal material. I’d like to say there’s none, but I know that’s still not true.

At least not yet. Soon it will be.

I aim to be squeaky clean by the end of 2013. It’s a daunting task. When I started the project in January there were more than 15,000 items in my iTunes collection. At a guess 40 percent was illegal or dubious.

I want to be straight

This isn’t about morality. I’m not going to preach or take the moral high ground – make your own choices.

Nor do I fear prosecution – it would be hard to successfully prosecute me because there’s hardly anything on my iPod that shouldn’t be there today. And anyway, I have a plausible defence.

While I do think someone, like me, who makes a living from creating intellectual property shouldn’t steal other people’s, I’m going straight because It’s now the smartest practical option.

Ah-ha me hearties

In the past music lovers had little choice but to pirate. It wasn’t possible to buy music downloads. Sure you could legally rip your own CDs to listen on an iPod, but not always. Some discs were copy protected.

When you could first buy legal music downloads, it was difficult and confusing. The music was often expensive. Online retailers charged more for a low-quality download than a CD. So you paid more for an inferior product.

That’s no longer true.

Digital music is still overpriced – it is an outrage New Zealanders pay more than Americans for the same tracks – but at least the music is now easy to get. At least most of the time.

Stealing music online is no walk in the park. You have to walk through the online equivalent of the red light district with pornographic or fraudulent images jumping out at you. Sometimes the pirate music sites load nasty cookies or even malware as you walk past.

It’s worth paying $1.80 a song just to avoid that.

Today there are few excuses to pirate music. I was going to say no excuses – but that’s not true as we shall see.

Moral, not legal

My music collection has four categories. Yours is probably similar:

  • Music I’ve purchased online.  
  • Music ripped from my own CDs.
  • Free music downloads I’ve picked up from band or artist site or similar.
  • Pirated music. 

Not all that pirated music is outright theft. In most cases the songs are downloaded copies of my vinyl records and cassette tapes. That doesn’t make them legal, although like most people I resent paying twice for the same thing.

There are some items where I genuinely don’t know how they got there.

Overall illegal music was about 5 percent of my collection in January, today it is probably less than 0.1 percent. Finding those songs among the good stuff is difficult.

A lot of pirate music is low-quality. It may be recorded at a low-bit rate, recorded badly or stop and start at the wrong places.

Why now?

First was the realisation that most of the pirated material I had wasn’t worth listening to. It was simply sitting unheard on my iPod and PC.

Getting rid of live recordings of songs I don’t really like is no loss. Hoarding stuff you don’t want or need is mentally unhealthy. It’s like a modern version of the King Midas story. The cull got me halfway to my target.

Second, buying legitimate music online is now simple. For the past two or three years if I wanted anything new it is easier to buy it than to jump through the hoops needed to steal it.

Paying for the songs I really want to keep – where I don’t own the CD – is a lot less than paying for everything. I estimate I’ll have spent around $1000 with iTunes by the time I’ve finished.

I’ll write more in future posts about the practicalities of going legit – it’s not as straightforward as you might think.


iTunes on Windows is a disgrace

You’d think Apple would have the good sense to make the Windows version of iTunes a wonderful software experience. So wonderful that Windows users are tempted to see what other software marvels the computer maker is capable of. So wonderful that we consider dumping Windows and shifting to the Macintosh OS.

Either Apple isn’t bothered about using its software as a marketing tool, or its programmers are incapable of writing decent code for Windows.

Because, to be brutally honest, iTunes on Windows has always been a crappy experience.

ITunes is rubbish. And it hasn’t improved one jot over the years, It crashes, it fails, it loses stuff, it doesn’t sync properly. It leaves behind a trail of software junk all over the Windows hard drive.

Sadly, iTunes remains a must have because it is the only official way to sync an iPod, iPhone or iPad to a PC.

Sure there are alternatives ways to deal with music. But they are all just as flawed. I’m not sure there is an alternative for moving files and apps between a computer and an iPad.

Not only is the software awful, but Apple treats its Windows customers with contempt. Support questions go unanswered, Long-standing problems, which to this non-developer look relatively trivial – go unfixed even when they are widely acknowledged.

My latest problem is that I can’t install iTunes 11 on my Windows 8 desktop. One Twitter user told me not to bother – the older software is better anyway. Well maybe. But my iPad is an important work tool and I want to keep it up-to-date.

Not only will iTunes 11 not install, but I can’t remove iTunes 10. When I attempted to remove the older program the uninstall failed. However that process also affected how the application works. I can no longer use my keyboard to control volume or to stopping files playing. Not a big thing, just more evidence that iTunes is broken.

Apple: please fix this.

File compression

File compression works because document files store data quickly and inefficiently – like carelessly throwing clothes in a suitcase before a trip. Taking more time and care makes it possible to pack more in the case.

File compression tools are like vacuum luggage packs that squeeze half as much again into your bag.

You could be forgiven for thinking file compression is past its sell-by date in this era of huge hard drives and broadband. Compression is still useful because broadband speeds are still not spectacular and modern multimedia files are enormous.

You probably use compression all the time without thinking about it because it is hidden from sight.

Take, audio. A file on a standard music CD is many tens of megabytes in size – typically 50 MB. The same song stored as an MP3 file might be only 4MB. MP3 is a compressed data format – in effect it squeezes out the blanks between sounds.

If music wasn’t compressed, you wouldn’t be able to get many songs on an iPod and it would take forever to download from iTunes. Compression removes some music information along the way – that’s why MP3s rarely sound as good as the original audio files.

In a similar way jpeg compresses pictures and movies are compressed with a range of different formats.

Compression is not built-in to office applications like word processors and spreadsheets. Third-party compression tools to fill the gap.

Zip is the best known file compression format. Another popular format is .rar, there’s a good chance you’ll come across other formats.

Windows now has built-in support for Zip files. You can create a new compressed folder or create a new one directly in Windows explorer. Dealing with other formats requires a compression application – most, including some of the best are free. My favourite is jZip ( JZip is a fast tool that handles most formats you’ll encounter in day-to-day computing.

You don’t need to overdo compression. In many cases it is more trouble than it is worth because it slows things down. Be selective about what you compress.