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Sunday, 28 February 2010

New release: build 20100220

Some more bug fixes and UI improvements here...

On the 'in progress' and 'installed' screens, the list of albums is now correctly ordered alphabetically when the page is first visited.

To improve the first-time experience, I added in a splash screen and improved the system tray popups.

I also added in another query to Google to capture a few more possible cover art matches.

The new release is available at and existing licences apply

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Resizing album art for mobile MP3 players

When it comes to album art, bigger is almost always better. Having a high quality, high resolution album cover to view on your computer or media centre is the least you want if you've spent time installing the art in the first place (but you could make it dead easy).

However, we don't always look at album art on big screens on high resolution displays. Sometimes we view album art on our portable MP3 players or mobile phones, which have much smaller screens. At best, having high resolution album art is a waste of space on mobile devices. At worst, the album art may not even display if the MP3 player cannot downscale (make smaller) the graphics.

So how to fix? Well, you could go through your hundreds of albums, extracting art, resizing it, re-embedding it......

Or you could enforce the album art size as a rule with bliss.

Use the settings screen to set your minimum and maximum sizes for art:
Configure bliss to keep all art within size constraints

bliss will ensure all art in your collection conform to this rule. If art is too big, it will be resized. If it's too small, new art is looked up on the Web. All with a couple of clicks. And, of course, the same rules are applied automatically when you add new music, so you only need to configure once.

There you have it: complete album art, with more storage space for more music.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

New release: build 20100213

Another set of predominantly bug fixes in this week's build...

I've improved the in progress screen so that when an album goes from in progress to asking you to confirm the album art it now updates live - there's no need to refresh the web page.

I made sure any long standing HTTP connections for looking up art are automatically aborted after a period - this allows all albums to be inspected and fixed more reliably.

I also made sure existing, incorrectly sized artwork already available in your collection is used and resized, rather than new art looked up.

The release is available, as ever, at and existing licences apply.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Album art for rare and badly tagged music

Since using bliss on my music collection I've enjoyed downloading art for recordings I didn't expect to.

My music collection contains many oddities that aren't standard album releases by mainstream artists. These include:
  • Cover mounted CDs
  • Music by independent musicians (REAL indies!)
  • Podcasts
  • Bootlegs (*ahem*)
A good example is a CD given to me at an Afghan wedding I attended. The CD was by a performer at the event, a classical tabla player. The CD came in a case with cover art, but being too lazy to scan the cover I never thought I'd see the art displayed on my Squeezebox. I was wrong! bliss found the art art on a blog using its Google search capability and installed it for me.

Another common example in my music collection are cover mounted CDs. In the UK a music magazine called 'Q' often offer compilations of tracks along a given theme, mounted on the front cover of the magazine. Previous examples were Essential Chill Out and The Best Tracks From The Best Albums Of 2000. Thankfully, art for these records is stored on the online database at, which bliss searches, so this art was found automatically too!

It's been great to get a complete set of album art for all the odds-and-ends in my music collection. If you have trouble finding art for rare recordings, give bliss a try!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

New release: build 20100207

In this week's build we've 'turbocharged' the sizing options. These options now operate as real rules, governing how your existing art is stored as well as what new art is downloaded.

For example, if you have a separate collection for your MP3 player, which has a maximum size for art, you can tell bliss to monitor this collection and set the maximum size appropriately. bliss will resize any existing art. Any other art it needs to locate will also be within these size constraints.

Download it at


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

MusicDNA and iTunesLP - won't someone think about consistency?

Recently, new ways of packaging digital music have been developed that promise to improve the all-round experience of digital music. Traditionally, digital music would be delivered in a digital music file, for instance an MP3, which is 'tagged' internally with information about the track, artist, album and so on. These tags are static, but can be changed with a tag editor.

The recent announcement of MusicDNA
shows that the music industry is thinking about how these tags are formulated and represented. MusicDNA allows tags to be updated online. This would allow for novel new applications of tags, for instance providing information about upcoming tour dates for your favourite band. This is accomplished with a new, but backwards compatible, file format.

Another new approach to music packaging is iTunesLP. Rather than a different file format, this is a different approach to packaging tracks together. A group of individual tracks, for example constituting an album, are packaged together in one file alongside other media of interest, such as album art, videos, a self contained website and so on. Some of these are really quite impressive and take the album experience in different directions, just like great album art used to.

Both of these new packaging approaches offer useful and fun features for music consumers. Further, the tagging is likely to be accurate and complete as the music has been delivered by an authoritative source. However, they don't answer some of the deeper existing problems inherent when managing digital music libraries.

How do I ensure consistency across my music library? How can I be sure purchasing a new album won't introduce another meaningless genre I have to include in my playlists? Will compilations be tagged correctly for the different music players I use? How do I know the special way my mobile phone shows album art is catered for?

One way to ensure consistency would be to purchase all music from one source. However, that's unlikely to be practical or desirable (not to mention anti-competitive), doesn't actually offer any control over how a music library is semantically organised anyway, and finally does not help manage a music lover's existing art.

I can't help but think that while the industry may have found a new way to sell concert tickets and promote their acts, they still don't care about digital music collectors and their collections.

New file formats are helpful, but issues of consistency in music libraries remain.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

New release: build 20100130

This release contains some fine-tuning to various aspects of bliss.

We now show the size of the art when bliss asks you to confirm the art you want, or to change existing art.

bliss also reports the current albums that are being inspected and fixed.

We added an extra query to MusicBrainz to bring back a wider variety of results. These results are never applied automatically though, because although they are useful for badly tagged albums there's also a chance they won't be correct.

Also, previously ignored albums can now be refreshed and updated and bought back into cosy album art compliance!

I hope you find these little tune-ups useful!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Home server music management

In the beginning (well, 2002 anyway), there was the computer. The computer was very useful. You could read and write documents, listen to music, play videos and reminisce with embarrassing old photographs.

Over time, all this data began to grow in size. It became difficult to fit it onto a hard disk on a standard computer. We began to want to backup the data, because losing precious music and photos would be A Bad Thing. Then, as we added more computers to our home in the shape of netbooks, smartphones and tablet computers, we wanted access to all this data from all these devices.

To solve this, we decided to centralise the data.

We moved all our data to computers responsible simply for data storage. These computers are called NASes (Network Attached Storage). They offered far higher capacities, could provide your documents, music, photos and video to whatever computer in your house requested it, and were easier to backup. They tended to run continuously at a low power draw, so as soon as you wanted your data, there it was. Now, companies like Buffalo, Linksys and LaCie make affordable, easy to use home NASes that provide all of these benefits.

This worked well until we found it wasn't just the data that we wanted to centralise in our homes, but the actual applications too. For instance, music streaming servers like Squeezebox and Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) like MythTV would work, in the background, while you got on with your life. This new wave appears just ready to break through. Microsoft's Windows Home Server product is a version of Windows that you can install on servers. Linux is another popular option amongst hobbyists, as is the Mac Mini.

Where does music management fit into this?

There's no reason why music management should be something a collector has to laboriously step through on a constant basis. If we define rules by which our music should be managed, music management can be done on a continual, fully automatic basis. When new music is added to the collection, rules kick-in to ensure that the music library is maintained in a consistent, complete and correct state. If the application of the rules is not certain, then we can ask a human via normal methods such as email or a Web interface, as humans are great at creativity and problem solving.

So, the result is much less time tagging and more reliable and consistent results.

bliss is written to run on a home server.

This is why it has a web interface, so that it can be reached from anywhere in your home network. It is also why, most importantly, it applies the rules you define when new music is added to your collection. This way, you dictate the rules, and bliss does all the hard work.

Where will home data storage go next? Some say 'the cloud', a vague, loaded term that tends to refer to online storage of data over the Internet (and lots more besides). While this is an excellent solution for a number of reasons, as yet such an infrastructure is not capable of storing data in all its guises, for instance the lossless music beloved of audiophiles is simply too large both in terms of the capacity required to hold it and the bandwidth required to upload/download.

It'll be interesting to see in what directions home servers go, but so far it appears it will make music library management quicker and more accurate.