Music like Frogspawn

Posted on April 9, 2008. Filed under: Geek Out | Tags: , , |

This week I’ve been working on a little project that I’ve had in mind for a while, which is to solve a problem unleashed upon dreadpiraterachel’s music collection by Apple’s beloved iTunes and exacerbated by me (whoops). Some of you who use the software may remember when you first installed it, iTunes offered to scan your computer for any music that you already had on it, so it could add it to a list of known songs on your machine.

If you say yes, iTunes merrily romps over your directory structure and builds up a database of all the likely music tracks which it stores for itself in a database. Depending on your OS, where your music was stored, and (I think) what versions of iTunes it was, it will also have made a copy of each track not in iTunes’ preferred location, possibly doubling the amount of space your music takes up. Not only that, but it turns out that dreadpiraterachel had another problem in that some of her music (which she ripped from CDs using iTunes) were in a format that iTunes kept offering to convert to mp3 for her. Clearly, iTunes meant ‘offer’ the same way that bulk marketers do, and it continued making fresh mp3 copies until she figured out what it was doing and asked it firmly to stop.

It has gotten to the point, an OS reinstall and then a shift to another machine entirely not withstanding, that she has 9 copies of the same song in different locations on the same machine (not to mention those on the old machine which has died) for upwards of 500 songs. Gah!

How do you solve a problem like that?

Our first stab at it was obvious: use iTunes’ Show Duplicate Songs function, and manually delete one of the duplicate files. We started that about a year ago, and between us probably spent 6 or 7 hours going through songs. This didn’t really get us anywhere.

For a start, when you’re deleting something you really really want to make sure that you actually have another full copy of it. In some cases we were finding that there were multiple entries in the iTunes library for the same track, ensuring paranoia and slowing the process down. In addition, a majority of the songs had been encoded when dreadpiraterachel had no access to the internet, and so the tracks weren’t (and still aren’t) particularly well labeled. I’d suggested the MusicBrainz Tagger as a way to potentially fix this second problem en masse. The result? A mixed bag of information – some tracks fully and correctly labelled, other versions of the same tracks (perhaps AAC instead of MP3), not so well labelled. This means that Show Duplicate Songs wasn’t even helping fully.

I had intended at some point to get down and write some script to see if I could sort this problem out, in the same way that I’m going to get around to
setting up automated offsite backups for my home PCs any day now. But it turns out I didn’t have to. A renewed search for help on the web uncovered a fantastic (if oddly named) gem for OS X: Dupin. It’s essentially a collection of AppleScripts tied up with a nice GUI, but it gives you incredible control about how you define duplicates, and also makes identifying them and defining what you want to keep and throw out way easier. In the last two days, I’ve knocked down about 450 of the duplicate tracks (unique songs, not music files) that were lying around (now sitting on my MacBook Pro as opposed to dreadpiraterachel’s Dell) and all is well with the world again.

In true Mac style, Dupin is shareware, but it’s saved me so much time, it was worthwhile dredging up my PayPal details again to pay for the full version. For more information on the surprising number of ways iTunes can cause duplication headaches, head over to this page, also on Doug’s site (he wrote Dupin).

If you have the same problem, I’d recommend downloading the shareware version (OS X only I’m afraid), and trying it out. Or check out this screencast for more info.
Right, I should shake myself out of this unseemly product reviewing reverie and head off. Now, where do I start with the backups?

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2 Responses to “Music like Frogspawn”

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Thanks for the mench. Dupin is a play on words (“duping”) and Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin.

You’re welcome Doug, more thanks to you for the nifty bit of scripting.

Having spent all that time trying to fix the library manually, I’d pretty much written off a large chunk of evenings for the rest of the year trying to fix the problem. Knowing you had automated a lot of it (and thanks to screencastonline’s handy overview), I approached the whole thing again and had it done in two evenings.

It’s the small things in life which make a difference eh? :->


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