TuneUp: Not So Automagic

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

I usually write on my resumes that I am a very organized person. My friends and relatives are quick to laugh if off and give me examples such as my car and room to disprove my affirmation, but ultimately, I really do think that I’m a person who likes structure and order. One of the examples I give regularly to demonstrate my organisational skills is the tidiness of my iTunes library. I put lots of care in keeping the ID3 tagging clean, which consumes a lot of my time. Title, with the features in brackets, artist, album with the catalog number, label, year, and genre all have to be there, and in the format that I specify. And for most of my life, I’ve been satisfied with the state of my music library.

As my Last.fm account shows, the last year of music for me has pretty much been centered on drum & bass and dubstep; lots of it. I find it wonderful that both scenes, as well as other niche music scenes, are exploiting the new technologies and services to spread their art, such as independent online music stores or even by their own means. This more “grassroots” means of distribution does have it’s drawbacks though, and one of these that seriously ticks me off is the artist’s apparent inability at correctly tagging his or her works. Countless times, on anything from a two song EP to a full album, I’ve seen ID3 tagging with no capitalization , the artist’s name in the title field, or tracks that just weren’t tagged at all. Such outrageous slacking usually results in me taking of my time to modify the tagging, track by track if necessary. It isn’t bad for EPs, but for 40 track mixtapes, it’s a whole other thing. There must be a better way, right?

Robotdeathsquad on Twitter recommended Tuneup, a product which I had previously seen in contextual ads but never really checked out. Knowing that Mr. Clark and I both share a taste for drum & bass and old-school jungle, and assuming (wrongfully?) that he owned the software in question, I went ahead and bought the Gold version for the asking price of 30$USD. I didn’t want to mess with a limited number of lookups on my enormous library, and besides, it got good reviews everywhere, so it should be ok, right? Boy was I wrong.

I installed it, got it running. Integration with iTunes, while not perfect, looked intuitive enough, with illustrated menus that you can drag music to when it needs a little bit of tag cleanup. I fire up a first batch… disappointment. Out of the ~400 songs that I had it analyse, only a handful were actual detected right, leaving me hundreds of items to be verified by hand, and most of those were dead wrong. In some cases, songs were detected as parts of compilations that I do not own instead of the actual EP or LP. I tried to see the bright side of things: if it can detect at least the album art correctly on my library, then I can at least feel like I payed 30$ for album art. But no cigar, very little of my album art was recognized, and most of it was of quite poor quality.

But all in all, I can’t really blame TuneUp. After all, like all the other services of this kind, it relies on the Gracenote database, and god knows that such a database is nowhere even remotely close to being complete, with the outrageous quantity of music coming out of everywhere. Expecting TuneUp to recognize the latest EP from this obscure Future Garage producer or that guy’s fresh-out-the-oven dubstep album is unreasonable, but honestly, I still expected it more than just a handful of matches. Stuff like old-school drum & bass, while it hasn’t and will most likely never gain mainstream popularity, should be in Gracenote’s databases by now.

After a bit of reflection, I came to question TuneUp’s very existence. Who is this software for? People who buy their music online from more mainstream sources like the iTunes store already get proper ID3 tagging. People who buy CDs in physical format usually don’t bother ripping them because they have other means to listen to them, and those who do most often do it with software that already does analyses and lookup of tagging info on the Gracenote databases, like iTunes or Songbird. People who still buy 12 inchers… well they generally spit on digital music as much they can, or rip it and tag it themselves if they finally understood that this is the 21st freaking century. So who is TuneUp for? Music pirates, they’re the only group left. Music pirates who get their music from shit sources, or music pirates who are too lazy to tag, that’s who.

So hey, if you steal pop music off the internet, TuneUp will work wonders for you. But otherwise, you might want to try out the free version before buying like I did. Remember what your momma told you: if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. There is no such thing as automagic.

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