Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fun With WMP

Unlike virtually everyone else I've ever met, I primarily use Windows Media Player to organize and listen to my digital music collection. I've got iTunes, too, and I use that maybe 20% of the time, mostly to burn CDs and sync with my iPod. But I've been stuck with WMP since 2001, before iTunes even came out for Windows -- partly because of the whole learning effects thing (I know how to use it) and partly because WMP works uncommonly well at organizing a large music collection. In particular, my collection spans multiple hard drives -- which iTunes just doesn't do as well. (At least, I don't know how to make it do it as well).

As it turns out, Windows Media Player 11 Beta has recently been released. There are things about it that drive me nuts -- for example, the "monitor folders" feature has improved, but it's impossible to easily add just one file or folder to your library. Instead, it scans your entire collection to see if you've added one new track. Eventually, I figured out a fix -- you have to disable the monitor folders feature for most of your folders. Which is sort of like shooting your horse so you can get in the saddle. But I digress.

What WMP 11 does particularly well -- once you figure out the meant-to-be-intuitive-but-really-isn't interface -- is give you multiple views on your music. For example, you can choose to view by album, album artist, contributing artist, year released, etc. -- then re-sort within each grouping. The sorting doesn't just change the order, but also groups each category entry together. So, for example, if I sort by Artist, then select "The Flaming Lips," then sort by year, it'll group all of the entries according to the year released, with little subheadlines for each category: "2003," "2004," etc.

So recently, I selected "Artist," then sorted by total number of tracks -- so I can see which artists take up the most space (at least by track number -- I could also do it by total file size). Some of the results in my top 20 were a little surprising:

1) Various Artists -- 1706 tracks. (Duh. This includes compilations, box sets, etc.)
2) Bob Dylan -- 450
3) The Beach Boys -- 298
4) The Beatles -- 294
5) The Rolling Stones -- 248
6) The Mountain Goats -- 224
7) Pavement -- 194
8) The Flaming Lips -- 190
9) Talking Heads -- 179
10) Yo La Tengo -- 178
11) Dylan Thomas -- 173
(I downloaded a free box set of Dylan Thomas recordings about a year ago.)
12) Johnny Cash -- 172
13) The Who -- 165
14) David Bowie -- 159
15) The Kinks -- 154
16) Guided By Voices -- 152
17 [tie]) John Lennon -- 149
17 [tie]) Magnetic Fields -- 149
19 [tie]) Original Soundtrack -- 143
19 [tie]) Smog -- 143
The Mountain Goats at #6 were the big surprise for me -- I mean, yeah, John Darnielle and co. are prolific, and I have most of their stuff, but it's mostly attributable to the fact that (like Guided By Voices) The Mountain Goats write really short songs. If you re-sort by total time, they drop below the top 20, while John Coltrane and Miles Davis shoot to near the top. Guided By Voices' 152 tracks only wind up being about 5 1/2 hours of music -- Jim O'Rourke covers almost an hour more with only 36 tracks.

Likewise, I was surprised by The Beach Boys -- I'm a huge fan, but not a completist of theirs at all, and I don't think I have more than three of their studio albums. It's buttressed by a couple of box sets and the complete bootleg sessions for Smile and Pet Sounds. But I still would have thought that Dylan would have blown them away by much more than he did.

Surprises at the low end -- only twelve tracks each from The Breeders and The Sex Pistols -- which, when I was a teenager, I thought were two of the greatest bands ever. (I've got a cassette of Last Splash around here somewhere.) And only six from Ornette Coleman (The Shape of Jazz to Come), eight from Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story -- a criminally underrated album by an artist who, when he was good, was very, very good), and just thirteen from Paul McCartney. Apparently I don't have any of Sir Paul's solo stuff except Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which came out last year. A situation I shall have to remedy.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

But iTunes is really the only way to fly when you're running the beautiful Tiger interface. Everything just looks so clean and lovely and I can feel Steve Jobs smiling upon me.

Besides, I spent, like, a whole effing month importing album artwork -- I'm not about to switch now.

What's more, I spend my commute just trying to navigate 7,000 songs on the speak-and-spell controls of my friendly iPod. By the time I get home, I feel like my iTunes just has more features than I'd know what to do with. I don't have to spin the wheel a bazillion times to get from The Afghan Whigs to my favorite Yaz album -- just hit Shift+Y, dawg! The simple things are what make me happy, as with any true-blue Mac user.