My favorite Christmas toy of 2007, or how the CueCat brought out my OCD tendencies

I’ve been meaning to get a modified CueCat for a while, and after I got my company profit-sharing check this year, I took the plunge. It arrived early last week, and when my holiday vacation started this weekend, I transformed into man possessed.

I use a music collection database software called, appropriately enough, Music Collector. I bought a license back in 2000, and back then, the program was pretty barebones. I just needed something to track artist, title, release year and label, and the integration with the formerly open CDDB (now Gracenote) was an added bonus. The features over the years piled on to incorporate more sources, and eventually, more recent entries in my database had much more content than earlier entries. At some point, I wanted flesh out those older entries.

I thought I was going to spread that task over a few months. I ended up eating the last four days on the project. All thanks to that damn CueCat.

Music Collector can query Amazon’s web services for album information., the makers of Music Collector, also maintains its own proprietary database culled from freedb and Musicbrainz. Armed with a CD ID and a barcode, the software can get minute details of a single CD with a click of the mouse.

Once I got through the CDs — approximately 900 of them — I tackeld the vinyl collection, particularly the Duran Duran vinyl I inherited from an old co-worker’s move. I also imported an old spreadsheet of cassette tapes I no longer own, and for thoroughness, I added acquisitions from eMusic and various other digital vendors.

I made a big list. Let me show you it.

I actually duplicated a lot of effort I put into my Rate Your Music profile. I like Rate Your Music, but it provides only a limited number of ways to view and filter a collection. I also wanted the data to be as thorough as possible. Rate Your Music is editable, but 30 minutes after submitting an edit, additional changes need to go through moderation.

The list above doesn’t include the minutiae of detail in the database itself, but as thorough as Amazon, freedb and Musicbrainz can be, they are by no means complete. I still have a lot of holes to fill, and the classical data is all over the damn place.

A number of ideas emerged as I scanned and queried, scanned and queried. I call them my "VC ideas" — sites or services I’d want to launch if someone wants to throw some cash into them.

First, a consistent, reliable and open database for classical music. Musicbrainz does a tremendous job enforcing a style guide for tagging classical music, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite conform to ID3v2 specs (by design.) The submissions also have gaping holes. I’d love to contribute the 22-disc Works of Igor Stravinsky set released back in July by Sony, but man — that’s a major time suck. And freedb? It’s the wild, wild west.

Music Collector can export to the cdplayer.ini file in Windows, so having classical titles in my database use a consistent style is essential for ripping programs which rely on cdplayer.ini.

Second, a consistent, reliable and open database for historical release dates. Amazon and CD Universe seem to use the same product database because any CD released in the late ’80s has a release date of Oct. 25, 1990. That’s a Thursday, not the industry standard Tuesday for a release date. (Yeah, I looked that up with the help of Mozilla Sunbird.)

Amazon does attempt to supplement that default date with an original release date field, but it’s pretty much populated with the most copyright date on the CD cover. The bigger titles get full original release dates because, well, die-hard fans really care about that kind of thing.

Personally, music is a way I gauge time, and as I’m getting older, it’s a way of gaging history as well. It’s like that scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack’s character reorganizes his music collection by autobiography. I’m interested in a time line of listening, so I can recall at what point, say, Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie entered my life, as compared to The Real Thing by Faith No More. Both albums were released in 1989, but each have particular memories tied to them.

On the flip side, there are albums I’m listening to now which I didn’t when they were first released, and I’d love to see those albums in context with what I was actually listening to at the time.

I’m sure there are commercial databases that provide this information, but I don’t plan on opening a record store soon.

P.S. I am so procrastinating on the 7-inch singles.