What good is a collection of digital music files if you can’t find what you are looking for? In order to quickly find your music, you’ll need to add / embed crucial tags that hold metadata that describes and identifies aspects of the track or album. Want to filter your music by a certain genre, composer, producer or find all songs from the 1970s? You can, if you’ve added that type of metadata to your files. We will show you in a few easy steps how to add quality metadata tagging to all your music files using the auto tagger, SongKong.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez
What is Metadata?
Metadata is the hidden data embedded inside many digital files which aids in locating key information about the music. The metadata is stored inside a tag which is a container for that data. For example, a tag named Artist would contain the name of the artists or group. There are also tags that hold metadata for, the song title, the composer of the song, the year of release, the record label that released it and more including album cover art and even song lyrics. It’s this metadata that we use to search for our favorite songs. Whether we are playing our music through iTunes a.k.a Apple Music, Audirvana, Pure Music or the superb Roon, the more complimentary and higher quality the metadata you add, like producer, remixer, tempo, lyrics… into a music file, the deeper and quicker your searches can be.
Sources of Digital Music Files
You might have acquired your digital music files by ripping your compact discs (CDs), digitizing your old vinyl records a.k.a. needledrops or buying digital music files online from places like HDTracks or BandCamp. Whether they are lossy MP3 or newer lossless high-resolution HD files as FLAC, AIFF or DSD files, they will all benefit greatly from the simple addition of metadata which is the same for all the file formats. So, let’s get started!
Ripping CDs and Adding Metadata
Most of us have amassed a sizeable collection of compact discs that we’d like to rip to our computer so, let’s start here. If you’ve already ripped your discs and/or purchased digital files, then skip ahead to the next section. Using the right CD ripper that automatically adds key tags with metadata as you rip is key and a valuable time-saver. A workhorse CD ripper is the venerable dBpoweramp CD Ripper. It’s available for Mac and Windows and is highly regarded by audiophiles because of its secure AccurateRip ensuring bit-perfect rips as well as adding key metadata using its PerfectMeta™ service which queries multiple sources and fills in artist names and song titles including album cover art.
As you can clearly see from the example above, the metadata is basic artist and song title per track yet saves you valuable time not having to research and manually type all that information for each CD. In the next section we can go in and add more in-depth metadata tags including tempo, moods and performers. Now that you have your CDs ripped to digital files with a set of tags containing base metadata on your computer, we can move on to finetuning and adding even more tags with metadata.
Adding Metadata to Digital Music Files
So, you have a hard drive full of digital music files that you’ve either ripped or accumulated from other sources. These music files may have been tagged with basic metadata or they may be devoid of any meaningful data. There are quite a few programs out there that claim to add tags and metadata to your music files, but most fall short or can only add very basic tags. We want something more robust and able to unearth extensive metadata including links to Discogs and/or MusicBrainz, tempo, acoustic qualities of each track, performers and the instruments played and more.
Choosing a Tagging Program to Add Metadata
One of the best reasonably priced programs for this job is SongKong by JThink which is cross-platform and available for Mac and Windows as well as Linux.
SongKong is a very powerful tagging program that can run automatically on your entire library of music to add, modify or delete erroneous metadata, but loading your entire library is not recommended. This is especially true if you have lots of rare releases like promos or remix singles that have similarly named songs.
The proper workflow, which I’ve employed and works quite well, is to make some key manual edits/additions to the tags and run each album or single individually. First in Preview mode to see if the match it finds is indeed correct and then a second run that actually commits the metadata. Let’s be clear, this method is not fully automated, but I’ve learned the hard way that this little extra work usually produces better quality results with less errors.
The SongKong Workflow
Although we will be working with SongKong, we will need to also use a basic tag editor like the one that comes with dBpoweramp or its companion tag editor app PerfectTUNES as we need to manually create a few freeform tags with metadata to seed our files before we plug them into SongKong. This is crucial to get the most accurate metadata for our particular release.
In this example we will add metadata to the album, “Slave to the Rhythm” by Grace Jones. While this album was originally released in 1985, the version we are using here is the French CD reissue from 2015 so we will search Discogs for this exact release and keep that page open in our web browser as we will need to copy a few items from it to our dBpoweramp tag editor and SongKong. The url to this release on Discogs is: https://www.discogs.com/Grace-Jones-Slave-To-The-Rhythm/release/7197999. Notice that string of numbers at the end of the url? That’s a unique identifier for that release and is important to what we are about to do.
Go to your folder that contains the music files for this album and edit the metadata in dBpoweramp or PerfectTunes. If you have this program installed and are running on a Mac, then simply select all the files and right click them and select: Services > Edit with dBpoweramp as shown in the screenshot below.
dBpoweramp will open the tracks in the tag editor showing it already has some basic tags and metadata that were acquired when the CD was first ripped. If these tags are empty, you will need to at least add the artist and album title manually:
We will now click the “+Add” button that appears below the last tag. A new tag with the highlighted word “Edit” will appear directly above the Add button we just clicked. Replace the highlighted word with the following exactly as shown:
and to the right paste the url from Discogs of the exact release:
This is a crucial hint we are supplying for SongKong, which also works for its bigger brother program Jaikoz, so that it can try and use this version of the album. It will look similar to the screenshot below:
If you'd like, another unique identifier that you can add is the Universal Product Code (UPC) or barcode for the release if it has one. To add a UPC, add another new tag and select UPC from the dropdown and to the right, paste in the UPC number.
We can now save our changes and close the window by clicking OK.
Launch SongKong and load this album into the app by dragging the entire root folder of the album into the SongKong interlace. See screenshot below:
Click the second button from the left “Fix Songs” (1) and in the new window that pops up select the tab, “Basic” (2) then select/deselect the checkboxes as shown in the screenshot below making certain to have the top option for “Preview” (3) selected as we only want to do a test run to make sure everything looks good. Select “Start” (4) at the bottom for SongKong to begin searching for metadata based on the Discogs url we entered earlier:
Take a Look at All That Metadata!
A new browser window will appear with the matching SongKong results. Open each title and confirm that it is indeed correct. You will see a plethora of additional metadata that we didn’t have before. This is exactly what we want for all our albums. Cells shaded in green are items that will be updated. Cells shaded in yellow is new metadata that will be added. Cells shaded in red are items that will be deleted. In this example, the original album cover art (in red) has been replaced by a larger higher resolution version (in yellow). See screenshot below:
Since the results look correct, we will rerun the “Fix Songs” command, but this time uncheck, “Preview” so that changes actually get saved into our music files. That’s it. You’ve added tons of new tags filled with useful metadata that you can now search on. Repeat the above steps for each album and you’re well on your way to having a killer music library.
The above workflow and directions have been simplified. SongKong is extremely powerful and has loads of options and settings that we can’t possibly go into in this article. What we hope to show is that with a few simple steps, one can add a tremendous number of tags populated with metadata that can prove useful when using music management software such as Roon, which loves metadata to create interlinked relationships. Simply put, the more metadata embedded in your music files, the richer the experience and music discovery options.