Ripping CDs is Easy, Right?

Actually ripping a few hundred CD’s isn’t that hard.  You open iTunes, insert the CD in the drive, and let the program do it’s magic; rinse, repeat.  It only gets difficult when you add in the following:

  • You have thousands or tens of thousands of CDs
  • You have content coming in through multiple channels – CD’s, digital downloads, vinyl, etc…
  • You need the content in multiple systems and multiple formats
  • You need a way to easily play the content out through multiple channels on your mixing board
  • You have volunteer hosts with varying knowledge and desire to ‘use technology’
  • You need to worry about being fined out of existence by the FCC for letting one little F-Bomb slip through during the day.

The following is a discussion of what it takes to meet these challenges.

The General Process

  1. Rip CDs in Batches
  2. Review/Add Metadata
  3. Import into Music Management/Automation System
  4. Play It!

Ripping CD’s

Ripping CD’s one at a time using a program like iTunes doesn’t scale when you are looking at 1000’s of CDs.  That is why we use batch ripping software and a ripping robot to rip a 100 CD’s at a time.  The robots we use are Acronova Nimbie Plus’s (http://www.acronova.com).  At around $600/robot, they are well worth the cost.  We use dbPoweramp (www.dbpoweramp.com) batch ripping software to run the robots.  One of the challenges when ripping a large number of CDs is metadata – identifying the CD and pulling track information.  Products like iTunes integrate with commercial metadata providers like Gracenote, because Apple can pay them a nice chunk of change every month.  Smaller apps like dbPoweramp can’t afford this, so they use open source metadata sources like MusicBrainz and Discogs.  While these resource have millions of albums in them, there are still many holes, and you will become part of the the community adding new metadata.

Metadata Review

dbPoweramp is good at ripping CD’s, but not so  good for entering and correcting metadata, at least not at the scale we are talking about here.  We built a custom application called ‘Tomato-Banana’ to do this.  You can find this, along with other tools we built for KEXP at github.com/hidat/audio_pipeline  (warning – installation is not for non-technical users).  TB allows you to review the metadata that dbPoweramp was able to find, add missing metadata, add FCC ratings, look for CD’s  in MusicBrainz and Discogs, and simplifies adding new releases to MusicBrainz.

Audio Pipeline/Import

The Audio Pipeline takes the files that Tomato Banana generates and moves them into your playout system.  How this is done depends totally on your playout system.  We have developed plugins for Tomato Banana that can do the following:

  • Put all the files into a single directory – this is meant for automation systems that use a ‘dropzone’ to ingest their files
  • Put the files into a two level directory structure – the first level is the albums  three or four character ‘file under’ code that the user specified when reviewing the album, and then a directory named for the artist/album.
  • Build a directory structure and files meant to be used by Dalet’s ‘Impex’ sessions.

Library Management and Playout Software

It only makes sense to digitize your library if you can find the content your looking for and play it out through your board.  Sounds simple, but since the needs of the community radio station are quite different from that of commercial stations, it turns out that this is the most frustrating part of the process.

Station automation software has been with us for years, first running cart machines, and then came the breakthrough of digital libraries and fully automated stations.  The problem is, station automation software is exactly that, AUTOMATION.  It is designed for continuous playback of content, eliminating the host instead of augmenting them.  Yes, they all claim to have ‘operator assist’ modes, but their UI’s (especially the ‘big boys’) are not built to be used by the ‘lightly trained’ volunteer host.  Last time I was at the NAB show, I talked to several vendors about the needs of community radio, and I was mostly met with blank stares.

I am going to write up a separate post about the different automation systems that I have used or reviewed, look for that soon.  That being said, I am going to mention that I am working on a custom music management solution (Record Bins) to address at least part of these problems.  It was built originally for the in-store music industry, but we will be working with our first station soon to figure out where it’s valuable.   This is very much a work in progress, so let me know what sort of features you would like to see in a solution like this.

 

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