Taggin’ with Louis C.K.

17 December 2011
Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater

Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater. Click to enlarge.

I just got on this bandwagon. Louis C.K. is doing something pretty special with this special. I bought it, expecting to download an SD 640 x 360 video file, probably in H.264. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were two sizes available, 720p and a just-under-NTSC 800 x 448 SD version, both in an iTunes-friendly H.264/AAC format. I downloaded both. They were not prepared for iTunes, so I figured this was a perfect opportunity to create a tutorial on the subject.

The two files will become what I call a “HD•SD” package, which is an iTunes Store standard that includes a 720 HD file and an SD file. They appear as one item in iTunes with a HD•SD badge:

Appearance in iTunes

Appearance in iTunes

Mr C.K. was canny enough to provide an actual DVD label on his site, so I didn’t have to cobble together art. I downloaded the PDF, cropped it, resized it, added a little black at the bottom to get my 1000 x 1500 pixel ratio, and saved it as a new file. You can download it from here.

We then open both files in Subler. Edit one, then copy the tags to the other. I’ll start with the HD version. Click the Other Settings tab:

Editing, Stage 1

Editing, Stage 1

Change the Media Kind to Movie. Because this is the HD version, check the HD Video checkbox.

Click the Artwork tab and drag in your edited artwork file:

Editing, Stage 2

Editing, Stage 2.

Finally, we fill out the tags. Special notes:

  • All the data for the tags came from Louis’ site and the DVD label. You can download a PDF from here that contains all the data for the below tags.
  • The Artist, Album Artist and Studio are all the same: the name of the studio, in this case, Pig Newton, Inc.
  • I like to put the encoding tool in the Comments tag so that I can use playlists to find videos encoded with HandBrake 0.9.5 (you can’t use the separate Encoding Tool tag as a criterion). Interestingly enough, Encoding Tool was the only tag these files originally had, and the value was HandBrake 0.9.5, so Mr. C.K. uses the same tool that I do!
  • I’ve used the Australian rating that I guessed applied, which is MA15+. Choose the appropriate rating for your country.
  • The tag contentID is a unique code that the two files must share. iTunes sees this code and knows that it must bundle the two files together. I use the date, followed by a sequential number, so for the first set that I tag on 17 December 2011, it becomes 2011121701. The second set of two will become 2011121702, etc.
Editing, Stage 3

Editing, Stage 3. Click to enlarge.

Do the same process for the SD version, except you won’t check the HD Video checkbox. Select All of the tags in the Metadata tab, copy and paste into the other window. Save both and drag them into iTunes where they will be filed appropriately.

I tested the files, too. The HD version works on the old Apple TV, the Apple TV 2 and the iPad (and will also work on the iPhone). The SD version will not sync to a Classic, unfortunately, but given that I never watch movies on my Classic, it’s no great loss. You’ll use the SD version on your iPhone or iPad to save space.

I hope this is useful to all who buy the special and is my contribution (other than payment) to Mr. Louis C.K.’s grand experiment.

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Going Lossless

24 August 2009

I’m ripping CDs to 256Kbps AAC, mostly because it’s Apple’s standard on the iTunes Store. I started out in 2002, ripping to 128Kbps, again because it was what Apple was doing, but also because my iPod was 30Gb and I had to fit everything on it plus leave some space for my rapidly burgeoning collection. iPods, in my book, dictate the bitrate you will be using.

I just bought two albums from sources other than the iTunes Store: the remarkable chiptunes tribute to Kind of Blue, Kind of Bloop and a new Paul & Price EP, Believing. I like the iTunes Store’s 256Kbps, but these two titles had a killer feature–they both were available in a lossless format. I ripped both to 256Kbps AAC and stored the lossless files away for later use.

I’ve been through three bitrate standards: 128Kpbs, 192Kbps and now 256Kbps. Each phase represents a time when the iPod (and to a lesser degree, local storage) capacity increased markedly. There is another phase to come, but thankfully it will be the last. When the iPod has another great leap forward in capacity, say to 500Gb, I will make that final step to full lossless for all my CDs.

The beauty of lossless, from a management viewpoint, is that you can’t make it any better, and thus your bitrate journey is over. By lossless, I specifically mean Apple’s Apple Lossless format, because that’s the one I’ve selected for compatibility with iTunes and the iPod.

It struck me, with these two titles I bought, that I don’t need to convert them to 256Kbps. There are only 9 songs between them, and keeping the lossless versions in iTunes means I don’t have to archive copies and there is no need to maintain two versions. My 160Gb iPod Classic still has about 25Gb free, and my iTunes library is on a readily upgradeable Drobo, so there’s no need to be careful about space considerations. I wouldn’t do this with all my music yet–there’s still the iPod capacity barrier, but the distinction here is that these files do not have a hardware CD source. I might as well leave these bits and bobs as lossless. Now I need replacement lossless versions for the Neptune Pink Floyd tribute compilations None of Us is Pink and The Return of the Sons of Neptune, lost in a hard-drive accident.


Net Labels: Free Music for the Taking

16 October 2008

A net label is a website that offers free music. It is distinguished from a site that offers a random selection of tracks by these factors:

  • The music is organised into titles, analogous to singles, EPs, albums and compilations
  • Often the work of a single artist is the subject of a title
  • Artwork accompanies the title, often of high resolution and intended for printing, so that jewel cases can be created for the title if burned to CD.

The music is given away for free. There are a number of reasons for this. The artist doesn’t want to release commercially, they are a hobbyist, the free work is promotional, etc. This means it’s legally free and legal to give to others. Often a Creative Commons licence is employed.

Those raised on a diet of commercial music will ask if the music is any good. In my opinion, the music from net labels is often very good in terms of skilled technical execution and aesthetic appeal. Rarely do I feel that a track is amateur. The point of the net label is to treat an artist’s music with respect and thus the resemblance to a commercial label operation.

I like music I can chill out to, so I have focussed on net labels that provide this type of music. Here is a list of sites that I consider to be the best.

  • Alpine Chic: Swiss electronica at its best.
  • iD.EOLOGY: German electronica, dub and hip hop.
  • Mercedes-Benz Mixed Tape: Awesome ephemeral compilations released every six weeks. A marketing vehicle for Mercedes, promoting it as a lifestyle brand. Each compilation is a mix of electronica, pop, RNB and hip hop, sometimes featuring known artists, but mostly a platform to present up-and-comers. As each new compilation is released, the previous is deleted, so these are collectables.
  • Jahtari: Amazing blend of low-tech computer music and reggae and dub. It really works.
  • Lo-Kiwi: Electronica.
  • Petit Poulet Records: Electronica.

These sites vary in that they can be considered net labels for individual artists, in other words, their own label. They still present their music in titles, so I consider them net labels.

These sites are still good, but I don’t always like the music. That’s just my opinion of course. The music still has that skilled technical execution, so it’s still good.

  • Monotonik & Friends: Huge repository of electronica and glitch/bleep (scratchy-sounding music created with low-tech computers). The titles vary widely in style, thus I don’t like everything on the site.
  • Autoplate/Thinner: Sister sites that specialise in glitchy electronica.
  • Electrobel: Electronica, some glitchy.
  • Offaudio: Spanish site. Beatier, dancier electronica.
  • One: Electronica.

Tagging is the one area in which they fall down. The tags are incomplete and lack artwork. Artwork is supplied separately, of course, except in the rarest of situations, and can be reformatted for use as album artwork. The Mixed Tapes are the worst, because the album tag is different for every song and the compilation flag is not used. I like fixing these tags, however, and this, in combination with my dissemination of the music, is my contribution to their efforts.

To keep track of the various releases, I tag the Grouping field with the website and the release number. Often there will be a specific release number, such as iD049 (iD.EOLOGY). If none, I number from the earliest, starting with 01. A title may end up with a Grouping tag something like this: http://www.ideology.de (iD049). I then create a smart playlist that looks for all tracks with http://www.ideology.de in the Grouping field, and that’s my iD.EOLOGY playlist.

Net labels have serious works available to you for free. Use them well to greatly expand your music library.


Podcast Management for Podcastees

15 May 2008

Up to about a year and a half ago, when my storage was somewhat limited, I chose to archive a number of episodes in order to free up space on my main drive and to reduce the number of records in the iTunes database, theoretically to improve iTunes performance. I have recently changed this approach.

I used to have a 10Gb monthly allowance from my ISP. Anything downloaded at the time was precious to me because I paid dearly for it. Thus I hoarded every episode that I downloaded. I filled the drive and archived onto DVD. That didn’t work because I felt compelled to modify some of the tags and before I knew it, I started to have differing versions. I scrapped the DVDs and used a small old external hard drive that was big enough to store the archives. This allowed me to modify the tags and overwrite the existing file. Multiple-version problem solved.

Ephemeral Podcasts

Now that I’m on a 30Gb monthly allowance, and even though I’ve got plenty of storage, I’ve decided that I am no longer going to keep everything. A number of podcasts, e.g. Geekbrief.tv, MacMost, The MacObserver‘s Mac Geek Gab and Triple J‘s Sunday Night Safran, are topical or ephemeral and I consider that they can be deleted after listening or watching. I think a copy of every episode should be retained, but the responsibility for this I leave up to the podcast producer. I certainly would hoard my own work if I were podcasting.

I’ve changed the podcast option to keep All unplayed episodes:

Keep All Unplayed Episodes
(Click to enlarge)

Now every podcast episode with a play count of 0 will be retained, but anything with a higher play count will be deleted. The deletion occurs when the podcast is checked for updates.

Podcasts to Keep

There is another class of podcast which you will want to keep, due to sentimental, timeless or other characteristics. Examples of this for me are the first Ricky Gervais Show (this was produced shortly after podcast support came to iTunes and is significant to me because I really like him), Puffcast (unfortunately now defunct but awesome, timeless dub/reggae) and Scott Sigler‘s first podcast novel Earthcore, which I not only enjoyed and would consider listening to again, but I could conceivably give to someone else so that they didn’t need to download it. All the episodes of a podcast can be protected from deletion by right-clicking the podcast title and selecting “Do Not Delete”:

Do Not Delete
(Click to enlarge)

Note that you can selectively do this to individual episodes without affecting the other episodes of the same podcast.

The Problem

There is a caveat: while you can protect all the episodes of a podcast, this only applies to the episodes existing at the time you applied the command. Future episodes will not be protected and will be deleted if not individually protected before their play count reaches 1. This is a non-intuitive behaviour and should it offend you, you should complain to Apple about it.

My Workaround

Create a smart playlist called Podcasts to Keep. The criteria are as follows:

Podcasts to Keep
(Click to enlarge)

You will fill in the album name for any podcasts that you want to keep. This keeps a running master collection of every episode you want to keep. You can add to this from time to time if you later subscribe to a new podcast that you want to keep.

Create a second smart playlist called Podcasts to Be Processed. The criteria are as follows:

Podcasts to Be Processed
(Click to enlarge)

This playlist is the one you will work with. Every now and then (if you get new episodes daily like me, do this daily), click this playlist in the sidebar and see if there are any episodes in the righthand pane. If there are, select them all, right-click and select “Do Not Delete”. When an episode is played (i.e., reaches a play count of 1), it will disappear from the playlist but will remain in your Podcast library.

An Alternative Approach

There is another approach that works the other way around. The disadvantage is that you’ll be filling up disk space with played episodes you don’t want to keep unless you check it frequently.

Change the podcast option to keep All episodes:

Keep All Episodes
(Click to enlarge)

Instead of the Podcasts to Be Processed playlist, create a smart playlist called Podcasts to Be Deleted with the following criteria:

Podcasts to Delete
(Click to enlarge)

Check this playlist from time to time. If you see any episodes, select them all and delete them.

Summary

Unless Apple solves the problem above, investment in podcasts can mean an investment in management, but I feel it is worth it. Use this as a guide to determine whether you are willing to make that investment.


Podcasters: Beware of the Evil that is .mov

2 May 2008

Podcasters may not be aware of why they should not be posting video podcasts in the .mov format. .mov is a software “wrapper” that contains a minimum of two components: video and audio. The components can be in different codecs. So even if you believe that you are doing the right thing by using H.264 and AAC (you are), there are implications in using the .mov wrapper that you should be aware of.

.mov cannot be tagged. Well, a number of tags can be assigned in iTunes (notable exception being album art) but this only writes the tags to the database, not the file. This means that as soon as the episode is moved out of iTunes, it loses all the tags. In the case of podcasts, this includes, most tragically, the podcast flag and the long description. The only “tag” remaining is the title name and the disc and track number (if set), and this is only stored in the form of the file name. When you bring those episodes back into iTunes, they appear in the Movies library as 01 Episode 1.mov, etc, with no other tags. All that hard work from your RSS feed is wasted and is not recoverable.

A podcastee may have archived past episodes and want to reconstitute them into iTunes, or, as I have done in the past, handed them on to others so that they don’t have to download the episodes themselves. This saves lots of bandwidth. In either case, the results will be disappointing.

The MPEG 4 file format (.m4v or .mp4) is a wonderland of tagging possibilities. Cali and Neal, of Geekbrief.tv, for example, have recently started using one of my favourite tools, Lostify, to tag their .m4v (H.264/AAC) files as TV Show so that, in addition to all the embedded podcast tagging that iTunes does when the file is downloaded, they can be found in both the Podcasts and TV Shows libraries. Copyright, explicit, short description, etc. can also be tagged.

So my appeal to podcasters is to be aware of this and not to use .mov. The software you are using to create your files might be able to generate .m4v files. iMovie 08 will do it. Personally, I use QuickTime Player Pro to export MPEG 4 video (MPEG 4 or H.264) from .mov to MPEG 4 with the Passthrough option for both video and audio. This preserves the full quality of both components but regenerates them as a .mp4 file, the name of which is simply changed to .m4v prior to tagging (if H.264).


Music Video: Why Can’t Artists Get it Right?

20 February 2008

Time for one of my infrequent rants.

Why is it that artists (or their technical people) constantly make a hash of music videos? Case in point: the independent, Karmacoda. They’ve just released a new video on their website. I downloaded the iPod-ready version and it looked funny. The native aspect ratio of the video, 16:9, had been squashed horizontally into 4:3 and was between QVGA (320 x 240) and the iPod standard VGA (640 x 480). The slightly larger version (“for computer”) looked correct (heads not squashed) but even it was 3:2. Here’s the real kicker in this case: it was shot in HD. That means the trouble and expense of 720 or 1080, which should look amazing, has been squandered on a lousy postage stamp. A prior music video, also shot in HD, was made available on DVD, which I bought. I knew it was going to be NTSC (480 pixels vertical), but was unpleasantly surprised to find that it was 4:3 letterboxed. This just should not be. It’s not hard to make anamorphic video these days. Again, the quality of HD was wasted on this 720 x 400 video (after cropping).

My frustration with Karmacoda stems from the poor responses to emails I sent. The first, after I received the DVD, was extensive and contained a breakdown of the technical issues with the DVD and the free version and offered solutions. I also said that I would like to buy a HD version from their site. The response was a mere acknowledgement that I had sent something. I tried again after getting this new video. Same thing. I’m giving valuable feedback and advice. As they are an independent band, I expected a meaningful two-way conversation with the artists themselves but seemed to have been screened by a manager.

It’s not just independents at fault. Prior to the release of Daft Punk’s Alive 2007, I downloaded a teaser trailer in VGA resolution, H.264 video, AAC audio. Looked quite good. When the album arrived, the enhanced CD included a music video. The specs? QVGA, MPEG 1 muxed. What is EMI thinking? When will record companies wake up and start providing iPod-ready video on enhanced CDs? Nobody is going to want to put the CD in a computer to watch the video.

So why aren’t they done right in the first place? A possible solution is to make the video available on iTunes–after all, they’re giving it away for free on their site, and we know that free often doesn’t mean quality. If they package it for sale, the consumer can be assured of a certain level of quality.

Music video is being denigrated by ignorance or unwillingness to produce a good product. In the past, it’s been used solely as promotional material, where marginal quality would be a non-issue. It’s only been since the iTunes Store started selling them as a product in their own right that quality should be something that artists are aware of.

Am I alone in thinking this?


Audiobooks: They’ve Come a Long Way

11 December 2007

There’s never been a better time to play audiobooks. The 2007 iPods are extremely intelligent when it comes to enhanced audiobooks, which are AAC files with a chapter track. These are functionally equivalent to enhanced podcasts.

Modelling this look here on a 3rd-Gen Nano is the final episode of the much-loved but inevitably cancelled Australian national radio show Get This, with the actually rather-famous comedian Tony Martin and his lovable young roguish companions, Ed Kavalee and Armitage Shanks:

Get This on 3rd-Gen Nano

This file has been stitched together from the three-part podcast that consists of the entire final show minus the music. I’ve removed the beginning and ending ads, chaptered the file and tagged it down to the release date and copyright information. It’s now a .m4b file, no longer an MP3 podcast, and appears in the Audiobooks library in iTunes.

Note the third line down, Slim Shady Sr. This is the name of the currently playing chapter. The first line is the name of the overall track. The progress bar is divided into the chapter markers. If you click forward or reverse, it will jump one marker. What’s really cool is the fact that once you’ve clicked the audiobook in Music > Audiobooks, the Nano and Classic show you all the chapters, like you’re looking at a music album. If you’ve stopped playing somewhere in an audiobook, then return to this menu, there will be a new item at the top, Resume, which allows you to rapidly pick up where you left off:

3rd-Gen Nano Audiobook Menu

Here’s what this audiobook looks like on a Touch:

Audiobook on iPod Touch

The Now Playing screen looks like any music track, but if you flip the cover, the chapters are broken down into tracks similar to what you see on the 3rd-Gen Nano and Classic. No Resume option as above, but tapping the audiobook will pick up from where it left off.

Oh, and why is the podcast of a radio show considered an audiobook? The basic logic is that it’s not music, so it shouldn’t be in the music library and I consider podcasts to be ephemeral, so I like to move the ones I want to keep out of the Podcasts library. There’s no other place to put these. They are “spoken word”, so that’s the stretch I use, plus they do lend themselves to this type of treatment. And this type of content is considered an audiobook at Audible.com.

PS: If you would like the above file, you can download it from here for a limited time.