My Perfect Threesome

18 04 2007

Now I know what you dirty minded people out there must be thinking. And shame on you folks. I’m talking about the perfect mobile audio setup. Well, actually, its about how to maintain a music collection and make it mobile…

This is my problem. I am an extremely poor organizer when it comes to my music collection. Started in 1999, it has now ballooned into a behemoth that hogs about 50GB of diskspace, so much so that a good chunk of it is permanently stored on one of my backup drives. The crux is that I listen to maybe 20% of the collection regularly, and the rest of it is either duplicates, albums and live versions, or utter trash thats is there courtesy of some extremely poor taste and lack of musical judgement on my part.

Its amazing how a person’s tastes change over time. I guess when I started building this collection, there was a thrill in that “I’m downloading whatever the hell I want.” Remember, this was when Napster was still the king, unlimited bandwith was just coming up and the RIAA still had its thumb in its arse and did nothing. Course the problem with the too much freedom like this is that you usually end up wondering, “What the hell was I thinking?” a few years later when you’re sifting through the pile of junk you’ve built up over the past few years. I’m appalled at some of the stuff that I downloaded, and actually listened to years back.

That’s the boat I find myself in today. After some extreme nagging by my two younger brothers, who had a riot making fun of some of the “songs” that’d I downloaded in my “young and dumb” days, I finally decided I needed to get things organized. My only obstacle was figuring out how. A 50GB collection represents something over 10,000 songs. Plus, I’m too damn lazy to actually sit and manually go through the entire collection and delete files I dont want. That’s so old school, so ’90s. I’m a child of the computer age. I want a software to do it for me. I told you I’m lazy.

For the past 8 years [God has it been that long???], I’ve sworn by WinAmp. I loved its unobtrusiveness, its plugin support, and skinning. Plus it wasn’t a hog compared to Windows Media Player [WiMP!!!!]. The only problem I had with WinAmp was managing the collection. It didn’t do too good a job of managing the physical files in the collection. Whats the point of removing a file from your library and still have it sit and take up diskspace?

So, for the past year I’ve been looking for a tool to help me organize my music. I had tried iTunes a few years back, but at the time I thought I was too bloated a tool. I came across a program called MediaMonkey, which was ok, but I still ended up using WinAmp for playback and syncing. One of the things I had done with WinAmp was I’d got a plugin setup that let me sync my playlist to my USB drive and my Sony Ericsson w810i Walkman phone. So I could export my lastest playlist and hear it in my car [my car has a USB jack], or when I walked around with my headphones on.

I think you get an idea of what kind of trinity I’m trying to achieve here. I want the ability to have my collection, i.e my most recent playlists, follow me whether I’m in front of my computer, in the car, or walking around with my headphones. A friend of mine, who’s a serious Mac Junkie, had been pushing me to consider iTunes again. So I decided, “What The Heck! I’ll give it a shot!” I downloaded iTunes 7, fired it up, pointed it to my current music collection, and specifically told it, “I don’t want you to take control of my files. Just playback from where they are!” I didn’t want a situation where I actually had to sit and manually play around with the files if I wanted to go back to WinAmp. Again, the lazy angle.

I spent a few days playing around with it, and I started to realize that iTunes may be what I have been looking for. It did a good job of organizing the music, and the entire thing was a pretty powerful media organizer that let you play from the main library. Not like WinAmp where you had to define playlists. This was more dynamic. iTunes lets me identify duplicate songs, and when I delete files from the iTunes Library it asks if you want to permanently delete files. I was sold, and so I rebuilt the entire library in iTunes and specifically let iTunes take control of my entire collection. Today, I’m an iTunes junkie, and I’m rating and sorting my collection constantly.

But, I still need mobility. Googling around for some Windows iTunes plugins, I found a tool called iTunes Agent. iTunes Agent is small system-tray tool that lets you connect non-iPod devices to iTunes and export playlists to them. Sounded ideal enough, so I downloaded it and tried to set it up. It’s not exactly entirely intuitive at first, but after looking around on the net for some clarification on the user interface, I got it to link up with my USB drive and export playlists to it from iTunes. My audio-in-the-car itch has been scratched.

To sync to my w810i, I needed to connect the phone to my PC in File Transfer mode, and then configure the Agent to detect a unique folder on the memory card of my phone. Sounds a bit complex and it is.

iTunes Agent works by looking for a specific unique folder pattern on any attached memory device. Putting the w810i in File Transfer Mode turns it into a generic USB memory storage device. Defining a unique folder in there lets you sync your music from iTunes into that folder. Its the same with my USB drive. I just have to make sure that I use a different unique folder name for each device I connect.

So, now I can playback the same songs on my computer, in my car, or on my MP3 phone. I have achieved my audio perfect trinity, my perfect audiophile threesome.