The Great Music Ripping Project

I finally ripped all of my CDs into my computer. And now I’m saying goodbye to them.

My Paul McCartney CDs stacked up while I ripped them

I used to listen to my CDs a lot, almost entirely in my car. But in 2013 I bought a used car with a broken in-dash CD player. That wouldn’t do, so I bought and installed a fancy new head unit. It had a USB port on it to connect to a music player. I sucked a bunch of music into my iPhone to try that out — and it was so great that I stuck with it. I’ve hardly used my CDs since.

I was content to keep my CDs, as they’re the original source for my music. But Margaret and I don’t have enough room for all of our stuff since we married and combined two households. It was easy enough to keep just one of our two toasters, but most of the rest has been more challenging to deal with. My CDs are one of those things. I have hundreds of them and they take up a lot of space. (Far less space than the hundreds of vinyl records I owned until I let those go in my mid 30s! I loved my records, but they were always in the way.)

I briefly considered signing up for Spotify and getting my music that way from now on. But I still like the idea of possessing the music I listen to. And what if an artist I like doesn’t release their music on Spotify? Also, I don’t want one more monthly fee.

I’d ripped a healthy portion of my CDs in the past, but not all of them. I’d ripped them at 128kbps, which is adequate for the speakers in my car and for my earpods. But if files on my computer were going to be my new original source, I wanted higher quality rips. I considered using a lossless format, but yikes the disk space that would take, even using a compressed lossless format like FLAC. I decided to rip my CDs as 320kbps MP3s, which is a good compromise between quality and disk space.

I worked on this project little by little at first. During the project my computer started showing signs of its very old age. I bought it new in 2011, with a Core i5 processor, 12 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive — a well-specified machine for its time. The hard drive failed in 2017, so I replaced it with a 1 TB hard drive. (I have good backups, so it was only a minor disruption.) But in the last year not only was some of the other hardware starting to act flaky, I assume due to old age, but also the latest versions of Photoshop wouldn’t run on the machine as it wasn’t powerful enough. I was stuck with a version from early 2020.

I bought a new computer. It’s a tiny thing, an Intel NUC, 4.5 inches square and 1.5 inches high. Instead of having a minitower under my desk limiting my legroom, this little guy sits on top of my desk out of the way. It has the latest Core i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB solid state drive. It’s a great little machine. I hope it’s as long-lived as the one it replaced. As you can see, it’s too small to have an onboard optical drive. But the USB DVD recorder I bought was inexpensive and works fine. Because of my good backups, I was able to install my apps and transfer my files in just a few hours. Photoshop, by the way, is lightning fast on this new machine!

During this time I was offered a great new job, so I gave notice where I was working. I wasn’t very busy during my last days there, so I used some of that time to finish ripping my CDs.

Then it was time to bring all of this music into iTunes, so I could bring it into my iPhone. Holy frijoles what a pain that turned out to be.

I decided to start from scratch, which meant blowing away my existing iTunes library. That’s simple enough: in your Music folder, open the iTunes folder and delete “iTunes Library.itl” and “iTunes Music Library.xml”. Then open the iTunes Music folder and delete everything inside except any files you’re using as ringtones. (Note that this destroys your playlists, too. I was okay with recreating mine from scratch; I had only a few and they weren’t complicated.) Then in iTunes you open the File menu, choose Add Folder to Library, and choose your Music folder. iTunes then brings in all of the music.

Trouble was, iTunes split many of my albums into two or more albums. Turns out iTunes uses MP3 metadata to decide which songs belong to which albums. If on an album the artist is “John Doe” on some tracks but “John Doe and His Band” on the rest, and there’s no value in the Album Artist metadata field, iTunes thinks that these are two albums. Also, some albums’ metadata was simply wrong, like one album where three songs were given the wrong names. This can all be fixed, but it requires tedious editing of the metadata in iTunes. I spent hours fixing it.

Moreover, iTunes couldn’t find cover art for more than half of my albums. Lacking cover art doesn’t affect iTunes’ ability to play the music, but dang it, I like having the cover art! So I copied cover art from Amazon and added it to iTunes one by one.

Also, a handful of albums had duplicated tracks. I had forgotten I owned the CDs and at some point bought the music again through iTunes. Despite blowing away my iTunes library and (I thought) deleting all the files, iTunes was finding those files somewhere. I gave up on trying to find them on my hard drive and just deleted the duplicates from my iTunes library.

Finally I recreated my playlists. I spent as much time getting things right in iTunes as I did ripping the CDs in the first place!

But the job is now done. All of my music is synced to my iPhone.

I’m going to keep 20 or so CDs, all special editions, imports, and rarities. My older son wants the rest. If he has the space to store them, he can have them!

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