So the mastering session is over, and you’ve broken all the road rules to get home and listen to your reference disc. You eagerly pop your disc into your CD drive, (for those that are still lucky enough to have one), only to see that iTunes, bless them, have rudely decided to name your album titles ‘Track 1, Track 2, Track 3’ etc….
“What happened to the names that were on the un-mastered mixes? Why aren’t they appearing on the final master? I went to the trouble of giving the mastering engineer all the names but he didn’t put them on. I thought I saw him enter the titles, but now they’re gone!”
These are all perfectly good questions, and I can only imagine that this experience could leave one feeling a tad deflated after the highs of a rewarding and productive mastering session.
However it’s important to remember one vital thing; iTunes and other media players don’t get the metadata they need from your audio CD. It’s simply not the way the technology is designed. Let me repeat. This metadata is not found on the CD.
What do I mean by metadata? Well this is a fancy term that the digital world has come up with that means…wait for it… “words”. Yes, the words that make up your Album Title, Artist Name, Song Names and all the other information that the nice people at Apple let you tag your music with.
These words, sorry..metadata, are not capable of being stored on CD Audio. Compact Disc technology is after all a relic from the glorious 1980’s. Yes kiddies, believe it or not, there was a time long ago before the interweb, before drone delivered pizza, before selfies and before… (in my best Cylon voice) …me-ta-da-ta. Confused about the Cylon reference kids? Well that’s another reference to the 1980s.
So how do your shop bought CDs magically populate iTunes with all that impressive data and cool artwork? Well this data is entered manually folks. Yes. You have to type with your fingers on that keyboard thingy with letters (that is if Apple haven’t removed that from your laptop as well).
Once you get your reference CD from the mastering studio, or your pressed CDs from the plant, you should pop one into iTunes and and manually populate all the fields with as much data as you like. Once you’re satisfied with this, you need to ‘submit’ this data via iTunes. Now as iTunes updates itself with a new version and more confusing layout every 3 hours, it’s hard for me to direct you to the exact where abouts of this ‘submit’ button. But it’s there. Apple in their infinite wisdom decide to change the location of this feature with each update. Consider it as a free game you get to play with iTunes every update. It’s like a where’s Wally, only much more annoying.
Now when you finally discover the secret location of the submit button, there’s only one thing left to do….submit. This data then gets sent to a very smart company called Gracenote. This is a database company that collects all this information which is used by most of the leading media companies in the world.
But alas, I can hear you’re still confused. If that data ain’t on the CD, then how in the world does the right metadata instantly appear in iTunes when I insert a new disc?
This is a super question. One that’s also easy to explain. There’s a couple of ways that your CD is totally unique to anyone else’s. Each track time is broken into minutes, seconds, frames and sub frames. This data alone is enough to give around 99% of releases a unique i.d. On the off chance your track times are exactly the same as an obscure, Swedish metal band’s release, then the clever people at Gracenote have perfected a kind of ‘audio fingerprint’ technology. This includes waveform identification as well as audio identification. Neat.
But what about the CD-Text we entered in at the mastering session? Well unfortunately CD-Text is as old school as the compact disc itself. It’s just not compatible with modern day metadata requirements. CD-Text is good for one thing only. Displaying track names on CD players that have the ability to read this sub-code from a physical CD.
I hope this was of some use, to someone…somewhere.
By Joe Carra