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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Stories Told

Rock shows

Bonus post today: an update on a long-ago post chronicling all the concerts I’ve seen.

Who have you seen in concert? Something the disk jockey said on the radio this morning started me thinking about the concerts I’ve been to. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember them all! It’s not like I’ve seen that many shows, and I certainly wasn’t smoking any dope at them to fog my memory. I wrote down what I could remember and Googled to fill in some blanks. You would not believe the detailed tour information people have cataloged on the Internet! I was shocked to learn that I’ve seen hair-metal band Dokken. Good Lord, shoot me now.

Ann Wilson singing with her band Heart in 2014

My first show was Al Stewart at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. You know, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” My second show was Iron Maiden at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. You know, “The Number of the Beast.” Talk about a change of pace! The Iron Maiden show was so loud that my ears rang for three days. I’ll never forget the newspaper review the next morning: “About as subtle as a baseball bat to the forehead. But to these kids, all zonked to the rafters on Clearasil and beer, it was probably poetry.” It was.

The best performance I’ve seen was Eric Clapton on his 1994 blues tour. His guitar work was as skilled as you’d expect, but it was also unexpectedly emotional. The best show I’ve seen is, believe it or not, Ozzy Osbourne on 1990 tour that was supposed to be his last, but wasn’t. He may have only three functioning brain cells, but he sure knows how to work his audience. It’s hard to call the worst show I’ve seen, but Ringo Starr and Van Halen totally phoned in their performances, and Metallica was badly off their game when I saw them play in the rain in 1994.

I’ve seen Heart six times, Iron Maiden five, and Metallica four. Rush, Eric Clapton, and Pokey LaFarge had me in their audience twice. I’ve seen Paul McCartney, my all-time favorite, just once and wish I could have seen him again and again. But last time he toured, tickets were outrageously expensive and I just wouldn’t pay it.

Here’s the list I’ve pieced together, in chronological order. Headliners are listed first. You’ll see that I gravitated toward heavy-metal shows, and then gave up on concerts altogether for nine years while I was busy with my young family. And then when my kids were older and my time was more my own, I split my time among Heart, classic metal bands, and a couple indie bands I found on YouTube!

1986: Al Stewart

1987: Iron Maiden, Waysted | Eric Clapton, The Robert Cray Band | Heart, Mr. Mister

1988: Iron Maiden, Anthrax | Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, Kingdom Come | Metallica, The Cult | Grim Reaper, Armored Saint

1989: Anthrax, Exodus, Helloween

1990: Motley Crue, Whitesnake | Paul McCartney | Rush, Mr. Big

1992: Ozzy Osbourne, Slaughter

1993: Heart | Aerosmith, Jackyl

1994: Rush, Primus | Metallica | Ringo Starr | Eric Clapton

1995: Megadeth, Korn, Flotsam and Jetsam, Fear Factory

1997: Metallica

2006: Heart

2007: Heart, Head East

2012: Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper

2013: Pokey LaFarge | Heart, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

2014: Heart

2015: Pokey LaFarge

2016: Iron Maiden, The Raven Age | Lake Street Dive, The Brother Brothers

2017: Iron Maiden

2018: Anthrax, Killswitch Engage, Havok

I’m sure I’m still overlooking a band or two. But now tell me who you’ve seen! Leave a comment, or blog about it and link back here.

Stories Told

The sounds of Christmas

This Christmas memory was originally posted in 2009.

The Christmas season begins for my family when we put up our tree shortly after Thanksgiving. But it’s really not trimming the tree itself that does it – it’s that as we string the lights and hang the bulbs, we listen to the traditional Grey family holiday CDs for the first time. So it’s really the music that ushers in the season for us.

And so it was when I was a child. Mom would drag out the big “portable” record player and her short stack of Christmas records and twist the volume knob up high enough that you could hear the music in the front yard. The whole neighborhood knew Christmas had arrived!

Mom favored Christmas music in pop, standards, and jazz styles, and her record stack reflected that. One of her records, Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, has been part of the family tradition since it was issued in 1945. My mother’s parents bought it as an album of 78-RPM discs, one song per side. Mom had it as a vinyl Lp, and I of course have it as a CD. You can own it today, too, as it is the best-selling Christmas album of all time, even though a few years ago the knuckleheads at the record company renamed it White Christmas.

But of all of Mom’s Christmas records, I liked those by Johnny Mathis the best. Johnny really gets Christmas, from hopeless sinner to joyful child. I just can’t help but sing along! When the boys and I decorate the tree, I play Johnny Mathis first.

Johnny has recorded many Christmas albums over the years but his first two are the best. His first one, also named Merry Christmas, was released in 1958. It featured lush arrangements by Percy Faith and his orchestra. But Johnny’s 1963 Sounds of Christmas is, for me, the benchmark against which I measure all other Christmas music. Johnny moves seamlessly between bright, bouncy numbers that capture the happiness to which we all aspire during this season, and traditional songs that show the full power of his voice.

Sadly, you haven’t been able to buy this album in its entirety since the 1960s. Capitol Records reissued it in the early 1970s on one of its budget labels, deleting two songs in the process, and only that abridged collection has survived. You can buy it on CD today as Christmas with Johnny Mathis. It is better than nothing.

Yet I yearned for the two deleted songs. When I discovered many years ago that Mom still had her heavily worn 1963 pressing, I recorded it on cassette. Then a couple years ago I digitized those songs into my computer, ripped Christmas with Johnny Mathis in as well, arranged the songs in the original order, and burned my own custom Sounds of Christmas CD. I made a copy for Mom, too.

If you have wished for those missing songs, then I offer them to you here in glorious mono, with all the scratches, pops, and distortion you expect from a record that was played until it was almost worn out. First is what I consider to be the definitive version of The Little Drummer Boy.

By far the best track on the album is Have Reindeer Will Travel. As my mom says, it just isn’t Christmas without the doop-doopee-doos! You’ll know what I mean when you hear the song.