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Monday, 26 April 2010

Bulk resizing album art

Size matters. Some MP3 players don't show album art if it's too large. Some music lovers don't want album art that is too small.

If you have a large music collection, resizing album art can be a pain. You may have hundreds or thousands of albums for which the album art must be resized. Resizing all of those images is bad enough, but if the art is embedded in your music files you also need to extract the art from each track, resize it and then re-embed it. This is a tedious, time consuming task.

Resizing album art with bliss is simple. bliss is rule based, so with the album art rule you specify the constraints your album art should obey. Let's try an example where we shrink art to be no bigger than 300x300 pixels.

The bliss UI shows that our collection's art is currently compliant:
Here I've exposed the '(why?)' link for each of the top albums, to show the current size of my album art.

Now I set a rule that art should be no larger than 300x300 pixels. (bliss adds 10%, by the way, to make sure slightly larger art is not ignored when searching for alternative art).
We click 'Apply rule' to... apply the rule. bliss starts working through my music collection, resizing art that is over 300x300 pixels in size. Once complete, all art is reported as compliant:
Bulk resizing of album art with bliss is easy. Just set the size constraints and you're done. Changed your mind? Change the setting again, one click is all it takes. This is the power of rule based music management.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

New release: build 20100417

I just got back from Venice in time to release a new version of bliss!

This version has some improvements with the way bliss handles music collections with large folders with hundred of tracks in.

There are a number of UI cleanups after last weeks new 'compliancy' changes. For instance, I made sure the 'why?' link only appears when assessment is complete.

Miscellaneous tracks stored within a folder were previously being reported as uncompliant, because we couldn't save a separate file for the track as well as embedding art. I fixed that, so now it will be reported as compliant - if the track is in a directory which cannot be ascertained to be the canonical directory for the album then bliss will not consider this when assessing compliance.

Also when resizing art bliss wasn't doing it proportionally, so I fixed that.

A user asked me to make sure that even when an album's art isn't compliant, the art is still shown. I added that in.

Get the new download from!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Using bliss with iTunes - viewing embedded art in iTunes

A customer found a problem viewing embedded art in iTunes which had been embedded by bliss into MP3s.

This is down to the way bliss embeds art into MP3s. The ID3v2 specification describes some information that should be stored with embedded art.

iTunes requires the MIME type of the art to include a subtype. Previously, bliss would embed art with just the MIME type "image". However, iTunes requires a more specific MIME type, such as "image/jpeg" or "image/png" depending on the type of the image.

I've fixed this, and the new build is under test by the customer in question. bliss now fully populates the MIME type, and for good measure populates the picture type of the art to 'type 3' - cover (front).

The build with this fix in will be available in ten days. Any other users wanting to try it out should get in touch and I'd be pleased to forward it onto them.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

New release: build 20100410

This week's build adds some features to the way bliss reports 'compliance'.

bliss now says whether each album is compliant/uncompliant with respect to your settings in the album art rule, and why. For instance, the most basic aspect of the album art rule is 'there must be album art'. Therefore if there is none, and bliss can't find any it should install automatically, the album is marked as uncompliant and left for you to choose from the alternatives available.

Each album is marked 'Compliant' or 'Uncompliant', and if you hover over the album a little link appears '(why?)' which gives you more detail as to why bliss thinks your album is or isn't compliant.

Another aspect is the sizing of art. The current size is always included in the 'why?' list. If you have sizing enabled as part of your rule, and the art is outside of that size, you may see this marked as too large or too small.

I'm trying to further the idea that bliss understands your rules and can apply them to your library; it lists where music conforms to your rules (compliant) and where it doesn't (uncompliant) and where possible makes your music compliant, if it can find a way.

A couple of smaller fixes are in this build. I fixed a bug where the art resizer was not resizing proportionally. Also, I fixed an unsightly bug where some art in the change art screen was reported to have -1x-1 size.

The new build can be downloaded at Existing licences apply!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Automatic digital music workflow with VortexBox - (part three) ripping, tagging and album art

I've been trying to streamline my digital music workflow. That is, remove as many manual steps from my current CD-to-FLAC workflow as possible:

I've been using VortexBox to automate these steps. In previous blog posts I've described how to install VortexBox in a VMware home server environment and how to integrate VortexBox with an existing music collection. This week I complete the story by describing my new digital music workflow, from CD to FLAC to listening pleasure.

I start by inserting a CD, but instead of inserting it in the VortexBox's CD drive, I insert it in my laptop's. Because this is a virtualised home server, and the VortexBox runs inside a VMware virtual machine, I can link my laptop's CD drive so it appears to be the VortexBox's, and the VortexBox proceeds none-the-wiser. A real concern for home server users is access to the home server. If the server with VortexBox is elsewhere in the house, perhaps in an attic, basement, locked cupboard or similar it can be tedious to access it and add and swap CDs, so it is useful to reuse the CD drive on more accessible computers.

Choose 'Client Media', 'Connected' and then choose the CD drive you wish to use. You must have VMware Tools installed in the guest to forward a CD device.

Now I insert a CD in my laptop and I watch the VortexBox ripper screen to make sure the rip is proceeding correctly. The screen updates with the progress of the rip:

You can see that the music has been automatically recognised. This means that as the digital music files are saved to the hard disk they are tagged so that Squeezebox and other music players can display the correct album name, artist name, track name and so on.

What about album art? VortexBox has its own facility for fetching album art, but I'm going to use bliss. If I take a look at bliss's activity, we can see that the new music has been automatically recognised, album art downloaded and installed as-per my album art rule.

Now the most important bit... listening to the music! VortexBox automatically rescans its internal Squeezebox Server when the rip is complete, so the new music, with its album art, shows up automatically too!

So that's it. Here's what I used to do to rip one CD:
  1. Insert CD
  2. Run 'abcde' on the command line
  3. Choose the tags from CDDB
  4. Copy the resulting FLACs to my music server
  5. If I have more CDs, go back to step 1
  6. Rescan the Squeezebox Server
Now, I:
  1. Insert CD
  2. Wait for the CD to pop out, if I have more CDs go back to step 1
blissful indeed...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

New release: build 20100403

After last week's lull we do have a release this week. There aren't any new features, but it includes a rewrite of the way bliss stores album compliancy to make it easier to implement new features like showing the current size of album art.

I have removed a couple of items: the 'question' choice in the drop down, which is no different to 'uncompliant', and the refresh option in the change art screen which was poorly explained and rarely used.

Pick it up at As ever, existing licences apply!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

What are the best websites for album art?

What are the best websites for album art? Nowadays I, like most people, want to enjoy album art as a part of the whole album experience. I want high quality album art and I want it part of my listening experience.

Of course, bliss already automatically retrieves album art when it is missing from my collection. However, some people prefer to look manually, and some people, including myself, just enjoy browsing the wealth of history's album covers. If you are wondering what websites can provide album art, I hope the suggestions in this blog post help you find what you are looking for.

I've found that the quality of album art from any particular website varies inversely proportional to the chances of finding the art you are looking for. That is, there's a quality/quantity trade-off. This is because some websites operate strict control policies over the album art that is submitted which keeps quality up but quantity down.

To combat the quality/quantity trade-off I operate a sequential checklist of websites, starting with those of highest quality and working my way down.

I start with Album Art Exchange which has some beautiful album covers. The art is generally of a large size, so it is easily reusable for different applications, whether on a mobile phone or on a big-screen TV. bliss doesn't search Album Art Exchange just yet as there isn't an API, but I'd love it to.

Next it's MusicBrainz, a generalised music database that links to Amazon for its album art. MusicBrainz submission policy is more open than Album Art Exchange, so there are a lot more albums recorded in it. MusicBrainz's link to Amazon means the latter is responsible for storing the album art, and for many releases this means a good range of art including back covers. bliss searches both MusicBrainz and Amazon.

Discogs is my next site. Like MusicBrainz, Discogs is a general music database and operates a community model. The difference with Discogs is that it appears to operate a more open definition of what constitutes a 'release' and so you get more unofficial releases such as cover mounted CDs and bootlegs.

Finally, if I haven't found a match yet, I tend to use Google image search, followed by Yahoo image search. You have to be careful with the results, because art of all sizes and qualities are returned. bliss searches Google as a fallback option, but never installs art from Google automatically because there's too high a chance that it will be incorrect.

Although I use them less frequently directly, it's also worth mentioning maniadb and AllCDCovers.

If you still can't find the art, it's probably not available on the Web, so it's time to get the scanner out (and don't forget to submit your art to the sites above so others can benefit from your work!).

And that is how I search for album art.

All of the pictures of doubtless rare album covers in this blog post were provided by get directly down.

Subscriber note: I am aiming to post the third part of my series on VortexBox/digital music workflow next week.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

No release this week

I try to release a new version of bliss with new features and bug fixes each week. This week I haven't been able to because some work on the internals of bliss to support features like showing the current art size overran.

Normally each build is released to beta testers a week in advance and then promoted to a release the next week. This is why the build numbers always look like last week's date! A new version is going to beta testers today so hopefully this will be good enough to release next week.