What Is It?
Not too long ago, your personal audio library – the recordings you owned – might have included vinyl records, magnetic 8-track or cassette tapes, or laser-decoded compact discs (CDs). You usually kept these storage devices on a shelf, organized by title, by artist or by genre. You might even have had the same album in three different formats at one time or another.
Since the invention of the mp3 file format in the 1990s, music listeners have been moving away from physical recordings to all-digital music libraries. Music is stored on a computer or a device just like any other computer file, usually in MP3, AAC or WMA format.
Digital music libraries began as folders on the computer, organized like other files of documents or images. In 2001, Apple released iTunes for Mac computers and the iPod, a portable audio player (and in 2003, the iTunes Store and the music industry has never been the same. Now, music lovers are able to easily buy albums or individual songs, quickly share music over the internet, and take their entire music collections with them wherever they go.
The latest change in personal music libraries is streaming (remember streaming?). Music files are stored on your own computer, but you can also securely access that music over the internet or from a mobile device. Now, no matter how big or small your collection is, you can have it all with you all the time. We’ll discuss this feature in our next Learning for Life Online post on music “in the cloud.”
How Is It Useful?
Why digital? The obvious answer is that owning digital audio takes up no space in your home – no more shelves of records, tapes or CDs. Also, by syncing your personal media player to your library, you can bring most of your collection with you on a single device – no more lugging around a bag of cassettes or CDs! However, it’s the flexibility of having your music in digital format that’s really exciting.
Music library software is designed to make it easy to get, store and organize your music, not just by the album but by each individual song. You can put all of your music into a single collection and then sort by artist, album title, song title, genre, time, date added or dozens of other details. You can easily add and remove songs from playlists you create, use the search bar to find specific songs or artists, or randomly play anything in your library. In the newer programs, you can see album cover art and (in iTunes) have the computer Genius create playlists that show off your music in interesting ways.
iTunes is the most well-known music library software out there, but there are others: MediaMonkey, Helium Music Manager, JetAudio and MusicBee (for Windows only) are just a few. Most of these programs work on either Windows or Mac computers, and will cooperate with many of the mp3 players on the market.
Try It Out
If you already have a music library program like iTunes on your computer, poke around in it and try something beyond clicking Play. Create a playlist and add items to it, change the details you can use to sort your music, or add star ratings or descriptive comments to a song. This is your music library – customize it to work the way you want it to.
In our next, last post in the online audio series, we’ll look at purchasing music and moving it “to the cloud” – what that is and what it means. Stay tuned….
Help & Resources
Music Library Programs
- MusicBee list of features
- MediaMonkey list of features
- Helium Media Manager features
- iTunes A to Z – describes all of the features
- How-to tutorials for iTunes
- Wikpedia article on iTunes
General Audio File Information