A Digital Symphony

A classical music lover’s guide to enjoying your collection on a computer.

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I'm sure I'm not the only person who has started to rip CDs from their classical music collection and pretty soon got disheartened by the banal fashion with which it is treated by most music software. Most of the software available is based on the simple paradigm that there is a Song by an Artist on an Album (although things are starting to change). Some software may allow for a Composer as well, but it still usually assumes that all composers write only songs, and not works which contain a number of parts.

Furthermore, there should (in theory) be at least two big benefits of ripping your collection:

  • the reduction in shelf space and
  • the ability to quickly locate the music you want.

The first is relatively straightforward, but much software is pretty poor at the second, particularly if you want to look up composers and works rather than artists and albums.

Also, because the physical CD case will not be readily available when the music is playing, you would like to see some information about it. Frequently this is rudimentary.

And of course, you don't want to put in too much work to achieve the required result.

The information presented here is based on my approach to resolving these problems; an approach which has evolved over time and with which I am now very happy, although I’m sure it will evolve further. At the centre of this are two excellent tools.

  • "Muso" is library management software which, I think uniquely, gives the classical music lover a "CD Insert" view of their albums coupled with powerful searching and linking facilities, plus an ability to play to either Logitech Media Server ("LMS" - formerly Squeezebox Server), iTunes, HQPlayer, Foobar or the default Windows player.
  • MusicBrainz is an on-line music encyclopaedia which provides a rich and consistent source of "metadata" (data about your music) which you can use to feed Muso (or other library management software) via the (free) Picard software with my "Classical Extras" plugin.

If you don't want a multi-room system (and your computer is in the listening room) then you do not really need LMS, but it is a cheap and effective route to multi-room / network playing. Other players (e.g. HQPlayer) may be able to play over a network, but not necessarily synchronize multiple devices. See the “Variations” section for more about LMS.

My hardware is a Raspberry Pi (server/player) running LMS, a Windows laptop which runs Muso, 2 SB Touches and various iThings running iPeng.

To obtain the music information I want, I have focussed on MusicBrainz. This is an open music encyclopedia that collects music metadata and makes it available to the public. Furthermore, if it does not have metadata for your music, you can add it so that it does. This helps others as well as you (and means it is available again, should you ever need to re-rip or re-tag your music). MusicBrainz provides a free (open source) tagging application - Picard - but it is rather limited for classical music because it does not capture the rich metadata available in the MusicBrainz database. To address this shortfall, I have written a custom plugin called "Classical Extras", which is also open source. Note that, while my plugin has a number of features designed to work specifically with Muso, it does not require Muso and can easily be used with other software (e.g. MusicBee).