There are several programs out there that claim to be able to help you keep your music files in better order, by checking and updating the MP3 tags for missing artist, title, genre, album etc, and cover art too. It’s important for digital DJs to do this, as music is our “currency” and without a well-ordered collection, our art starts to suffer.
TuneUp is one such program. It’s from a company that’s expanding rapidly at the moment and who thanks to Google’s ads, you’re likely to see all over the web, here included. But we wanted to see if the software could cope with the very particular needs of the DJ. Let’s find out…
TuneUp is a well-marketed little program with the subtitle “Your music collection is a mess. TuneUp fixes it. Automagically.” It’s easy to download for free from the TuneUp website, but if you like it you pay US$19.95 for a year’s use or $29.95 to use it for ever. (The “Lite” version won’t do more than 100 songs.) The website, help files, instructions and forum are all good.
The first thing to state is that you can probably get most of your music fixed in one marathon session, so it may be worth getting just a year’s licence from them. They’ve guessed this, though, and added on further features to try and keep you hooked. We’ll get to those later.
The program opens semi-docked to iTunes or Windows Media Player (I tested it on iTunes on a new MacBook Pro) on the right-hand side.
There are 5 tabs across the top, of which 2 are central to what you bought it for: Clean and Cover Art. Yes, it “cleans” your MP3s and adds cover art separately – but it turns out that when it fixes missing tags, it also lets you add cover art at the same time, so you don’t have to use the “Cover Art” tab as well as the “Clean” one every time you do some cleaning.
The program suggests you do 500 tunes at a time – but before starting, it pays to hit the “Preferences” button to check a few options. For instance it writes “Cleaned by TuneUp” into your ID3 comment tag by default, and will serve you advertisements unless you tell it not to. No thanks to both.
I also turned off “genre” as I don’t want it to tell me what genre it thinks my music is in – my ears tell me that and I use genre tagging to help me sort my music when DJing, so I want manual control over this.
You can ask it to analyse your collection, then it will add a playlist to iTunes with the “dirty” tunes in it. You can browse this to decide what you’d like the program to try and fix, and drag those titles to the TuneUp window on the right. Or you can just drag stuff that’s plainly missing information to it manually.
The program scans the tunes by consulting the Gracenote database, the same service that iTunes consults when you put a CD in to rip.
TuneUp consults this database in a more thorough way though, and they claim it will attempt to find individual tracks and tracks you don’t know by looking at their audio fingerprint – in effect, listening to the tracks and matching them with likely music from the database.
It then presents you with a set of matched, likely matched and not found tunes. You can check the choices and save them once you’re done.
It takes a while to write the ID3 tags to the tracks, so you end up waiting for the service to catch up with you, but you can move on ahead and OK or otherwise all its results while it is doing so, so no big issue.
There’s a feature that will appeal to anyone who’s ever kept the last.fm window open while listening to music to read the little biographies that last.fm posts for you.
You can click on “Tuniverse” and the software will give you access to YouTube videos of what you’re listening to, which could typically be a live version of something. You can also read biography info and various other bits and pieces of varying degrees of usefulness (and availability) right there in the program.
For completeness’s sake, we should also mention the obligatory “Share” feature to tell your Facebook stream what you’re liking, and a concert tag (again like last.fm) to tell you if the current act being listened to is playing a set near you any time soon, letting you buy tickets in some territories too.
These features are the value-added extras that the company is hoping will persuade you to buy the full, unlimited version even after you’ve tagged and cover-arted all your music. They want you to have it open whenever iTunes is open, sat there at the right-hand side being useful (and potentially earning them money from ticket sales and affiliate links at the same time).
It did pretty well overall. Let’s look a bit deeper…
Unsurprisingly, it by and large did well with albums. You’d expect that – after all, iTunes gets it right nearly always when you put CD in to rip, and that consults the same database.
It didn’t match up split tracks (you know the annoying problem when an album shows twice, with tracks 1,3 7,8,9 in one “album” and 2, 4, 5, 6, 10 etc in another), but apart from that (and sometimes the cover art – see later) it was good. You can drag and drop “split” albums in the window to make them one, which is a good touch.
The thing is this though: DJs don’t like albums. This software does. They even warn you it works best with whole albums. My big hope was that if it is audio fingerprinting records, it shouldn’t matter. But it does matter. As we’ll see…
One engaging use was putting DJ mix compilations through it. The software can ignore the fact that it’s analysing a compilation if you tell it to, and instead go looking for the original release of the material.
I did this with Tensnake’s “In The House” unmixed double compilation CD, and once it tells you where the songs all come from (not withstanding any inaccuracies – see below), you can then go and research the originals, find mixes you prefer to the ones used, and generally have a musical discovery mission.
Even better, because it can attach original cover art, you can get the original artwork for commercial compilation albums’ individual tracks, which won’t only make you look cooler when DJing with the MP3 in your DJ software, it’ll help you associate a proper cover with each song rather than a generic cover.
With individual songs and DJ tracks
When it came to individual songs, though, things sometimes fell apart.
It doesn’t like acapellas. It doesn’t like mash-ups (not too surprising). I can forgive this. But worse, it often pairs records with something unrelated in everything but vague naming.
For instance, it matched Chrome Sparks “I’ll Be Wait For Sadness Comes Along” with the The Kinks “Wait Till The Summer Comes Along”; it paired Golden Haze “Wild Nothing” with Bear Hands “Golden”. There were dozens this way. The audio fingerprinting it seems is not being used here at all or it would know right away it’s not the same song.
I think some of these things are to be expected. After all, DJs record collections contain upfront, unreleased material, one-offs, vinyl rips, mash-ups, DJ tools, acappellas and generally obscure songs that would I’m sure challenge any software.
You wouldn’t expect 100% accuracy here. But I’d rather the software held its hands up and said “sorry, no idea” than guess so badly. Luckily, if your finger slips or you’re being gung-ho, there is an Undo, but I ask again – where’s the promised audio fingerprinting?
With cover art
It is not perfect with cover art. It suggests up to 4 covers, but some will be low quality, and others just won’t be there – you click “save” then it changes its mind and tells you that sorry, the cover art isn’t actually available. Bottom line is you have to do a bit more work, that really you shouldn’t.
However, it’s good at scanning your collection for missing art and as long as you check first, you can certainly make things look a lot nicer without too much effort.
Performance wise, it was OK most of the time. It takes a while to write ID3 tags, but they take time in most applications.
Sometimes it stalled for a few seconds, and there was a weird graphical display issue when scrolling with the trackpad that made the tunes listings unreadable, too: You could solve the latter problem by using the drag bar, but I’d rather not have to. (The company is aware of it and say they’ll fix it in an update.)
If you use iTunes and want a quick, simple way of tidying up and improving your music collection with some cool bells and whistles attached, TuneUp can help you greatly.
If you want to throw mainstream dance music at it and let it help you organise it for DJing, it’ll be good too.
It doesn’t do it “automagically” as they claim, as you need to keep an eye on cover art in particular, but it’s pretty good. It’s also easy enough to use, it’s got some good add-ons, and it’s well presented and explained. Having it right there “in” iTunes is a big plus – it just makes the workflow simpler.
However, DJs collect obscure tracks that aren’t on albums, and TuneUp often can’t handle that situation very well – and worse, makes some silly suggestions when it should just say “no idea”. While it will ferret out some obscure titles for you, it will also make mistakes. Tread carefully.
It’s only $20 for a year and $30 forever though. If you’ve got piles of badly tagged albums, for the price of a couple of CDs you could bring them all back to life and start enjoying your mainstream digital music collection properly, maybe for the first time.
And the fact that it lives right there with your iTunes, and integrates nicely with iTunes playlists, means you can easily keep working on your music collection as you go along. Just check the results before you hit the “save” button – and tag those mash-ups by hand.
Download the trial version for free from TuneUp Media Inc.