Computer Music 4: acquisition

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We came to understand that iTunes and other music management programs are glorified jukeboxes allowing us to view our music libraries, and play what we select. We have also started realizing the power and advantage of such a system; discovery. My library's rather modest, perhaps 1000 CDs and albums combined; each with maybe 10 tracks, for a total of 10,000 cuts of music. Unless you have a photographic memory, you do not know what's in your library and, even if you did, I'll lay money on the fact you ignore much of what's available to you to play. Right? Let's be honest here. Regardless of the type of library you have, vinyl or digital or both, you listen to only a fraction of it–the rest goes unlistened and unenjoyed. Just yesterday I sat in Music Room One with Roon, a wonderful music manager (like iTunes), and chose a genre and subgenre, and touched Discover. The first piece that played was unknown to me, but fantastic. Bella Fleck and Edgar Meyer filled the room with new music. Of course you see where this is going - the music's not new, but it's new to me, something I would never have listened to because I had mentally cataloged that CD in the tertiary file–and I rarely go deeper than secondary. Like the public library, or the jukebox at the diner, music has to first be acquired, then stored in proper form before we can use it. In the case of a public book library, we acquire printed matter–jukeboxes want vinyl–computers want bits. Unless we download our music, most of what each of us owns is trapped on physical media: CDs, DVDs, vinyl, and hard drives. Let's simplify the task and suggest I have 100 CDs, 10 albums, a NAS or hard drive full of music. In order for iTunes to manage this collection, all must be converted to appropriate form. Since the mid to late 1990's, pretty much all music was recorded digitally, then distributed as either CD or vinyl. In the case of CDs, the process wasn't too difficult. The digital masters, usually recorded at slightly higher sample rates and bit depths than CDs, were donwsampled and–in the case of a CD–formatted and copied to the little silver devils and distributed. In the case of vinyl the same process of downsampling, then further truncation to fit vinyl's limited dynamic range, and passed through a DAC before mastering. And now we have to reverse each process to get the music in the form we need to have iTunes manage it. In the case of a CD, the process we need, called ripping, is relatively straightforward. iTunes itself offers easy connection to the computer's internal CD/DVD player for just this task. And this is typically what I do to get my CDs into iTunes. For vinyl to return to either its digital or analog beginnings, depending on the age and nature of the original recording, we'll need a fancier box (like our NPC) to turn the analog into digital. But let's focus now on CD acquisition. The first step in this process is to determine what method of storage you want, and what type of container you wish to place your tunes. What comes off the CD is the raw two-channel digital audio without a container (or package), which your computer has no clue what to do with. For computers to work, everything must be in a package–bundled up real nice, like a Christmas present–and there are many types of packages as well as storage methods to choose from. The confusion surrounding these various packages like WAV, AIFF, MP3, MPEG, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, is daunting. So that's where we will start tomorrow. Today's takeaway: once music is lifted from physical media like CDs, or vinyl, we must place that data in a proper package, or container. And we want to decide WHAT that is, before we try and extract music for storage.
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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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