It’s kind of bizarre how this goes, but it never fails. Mere seconds after I discover the “best” software, doesn’t matter what type of software, just that it’s the “best” and I’ll never need to look for anything else… I find something else. Okay, it’s not really mere “seconds” later that this happens, but it’s surprising how quickly I often notice this new software. Now, this new software isn’t always better, but it usually is something I’ve never heard of, and generally offers something that the other software doesn’t.
Such is the case with Picard. One day after I wrote a review of EasyTAG, a great tag editor that is more complete and flexible than Ex Falso, my previous “favorite” tag editor, I stumbled across Picard. Produced by the folks at MusicBrainz (and yes, named after Jean Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation), Picard is one of the more automated tag editors I’ve come across for Linux. It’s also available for Mac and Windows, but as I’m using Linux at the moment, I’ll be using that version.
First, to quote from my EasyTAG article, regarding why exactly someone would need a tag editor for their MP3 files:
“The reason I’ve found for needing a good tag editor is that either the source of my music includes more tags than I want, or else none at all. Amazon, for instance, includes not only artist, album, title, track number and cover art (all that I really want), it includes other information, such as composer, year, and more. Similarly, when I take a CD I’ve purchased and rip it to MP3 files, this often comes with no tag information.”
Picard, when compared to EasyTAG, offers many of the same features. You can edit tags by hand, add or remove different tags (if you don’t want a “Composer” tag, you don’t need one), as well as use different encodings. My MP3 player, for instance, doesn’t support Unicode, so the ability to use ISO-8559-1 instead of Unicode is necessary for my use. Both EasyTAG and Picard support this, much to their credit.
There are a couple areas where Picard offers features EasyTAG does not. First is the use of the MusicBrainz database to look up and automatically fill in tag information, instead of the common CDDB or Gracenote database. Years ago, CDDB was a database of CD track information (the kind of information used in MP3 tags), but it was eventually purchased by Sony and re-branded as Gracenote, which is a commercial entity. Eventually, the originally CDDB database was used in the FreeDB project, and then the MusicBrainz database, which uses audio fingerprint analysis to determine what album a song is from, was introduced. Of course, as always when using information someone else provides, as well as the slight differences CD ripping can introduce into a file, you won’t always get perfect information. In the second screenshot, for instance, an album that was properly ripped doesn’t fully show up and is therefore not fully tagged. This is because three of the tracks have “official” lengths that differ (by a second or so), from the version I have. Therefore, the database “sees” my tracks as being different. This is common, however, and not unique to Picard.
A second difference is the ability (once a plugin is installed and running properly), to download and embed album artwork into the MP3 file. This is a nice feature (although not one I tend to use very often, since I typically receive artwork with purchased MP3 files or else scan in my own cover art from purchased CDs), but does bring up the one drawback Picard presents. I am unable to use my own cover art. What this means to me is that while I might be able to use Picard to quickly and easily (and generally accurately!), look up and fill in my tag information, I’m forced to then use another program to embed the cover art I already have into the MP3. For me, this means I use something other than Picard… in this case, I use EasyTAG.
All this isn’t to say that Picard isn’t a good program. It is. Really. Many people have no ready source of cover art, so the built-in ability (via the official plugin page), to download, embed and save artwork is a really good thing. I get that. It just isn’t the way I want to use the program. But for those who do, it works, and works well.