Your digital music doesn't stay in one place, and it should look the same no matter where it's playing. But somehow, in all the transfers from system to system, onto and off of MP3 players, and to and from the net, the album art illustrations that should add visual cues and familiarity seem to always get lost. If you're looking to match up all your music with their album covers, read on for a quick guide to the best tools and sources for finding and locking down album art, no matter what computer you're using.
Make your album art stick
Most modern media players can grab matching album artwork from the major sources—Amazon, iTunes, or paid commercial databases—but don't do such a hot job of embedding the MP3 files themselves with the pictures, so that they always show up, whether they're in an iPod, in a different operating system, or even on your cell phone. This guide will show you, in one editor's humble opinion, the best places to download album art, and the best tools for placing it into your files for all three major systems. Let's get grabbing.
Here are a few good sources of downloadable album art when your media player of choice doesn't find it.
Album Art Downloader (Windows)
This small app covers a lot of ground, querying an array of both big-name (Amazon, Google Image search) and smaller, indie-ish sites to grab album covers. The resolution varies by the source, of course, but you can usually grab at least one 600x600 image of most any album you can think of. Grab the latest version of Album Art Downloader here; XP users may be prompted to install the .NET 3.5 framework if they haven't already.
As Gina noted earlier this week, AllCDCovers doesn't quite live up to its name, but what it lacks in breadth, it makes up for in detail. Completists can often grab front, back, inside sleeve, and CD images from a found album, and the integration of Google Image search gives it a decent shot at finding the goods.
A super-clean (and fast) source for finding album art, AlbumArt.org pulls a lot of its results from Amazon, but serious music fan Adam has cited AlbumArt.org twice as a go-to source when other sites fail.
Other Web Sites
Our commenters have their art-finding-site preferences, as you might've seen earlier this week. Here's a few of the sites at least one commenter vouched for—all are worth a look, if the other sources above fail you:
- SlothRadio: Seems to catch a wider array of indie-type bands and labels.
- Discogs.com: Also strong with the indie force, but apparently has a decent selection of foreign, or just import, discs.
Now that you've found your album art, it's time to embed it into your music files to make them as portable as possible. Here are a few tools to do that.
Alumnus Associate Editor Rick Broida previously covered embedding album art into your MP3s, and more than 18 months later, his chosen tool, MediaMonkey, is still the quickest and most reliable way to embed art into your music files' metadata. Even if you don't plan to use MediaMonkey as your media player, its Amazon-pulling Autotag feature and easy-to-grasp interface make an often tedious job move quickly.
Windows Media Player and Winamp can embed files with album art as well, but through a manual process that's not quite as intuitive or automatic as MediaMonkey.
Mac OS X
Even if it's not your favourite media player, iTunes is the best place to pair your tunes with their proper pictures. Tamar showed us a step by step guide to getting your cover art locked into iTunes and showing up on your iPod; Here's a link to the shorter version of that method. (You will need an iTunes Store account to get album art through iTunes.)
If you want to make sure your album art sticks in nearly any Linux-based system, EasyTAG is your best bet. There's nothing too fancy about it, and the app can't grab the art itself online, but it's easy to drag and drop your pictures for embedding in music files. It's also reasonably smart—click to add a picture to an MP3, Ogg Vorbis file, or most any other format, and the first place EasyTAG looks is in the containing folder. There's also versions for OS X and Windows that offer similar straight-forward art embedding.
If you're a fan of media organizer Amarok, a little plug-in script called EmbedCover might work for you if you just want to add pictures to a few songs in your playlist. The script can be a little fickle, however, especially when working on multiple files. After installing and activating the script, right-click on a file in your playlist, and choose "Do it!" from the "EmbedCover" sub-menu.
That's our list of tools and techniques for embedding album art—but what's your not-so-secret hook-up? How do you keep your MP3s looking shiny and cool wherever they land? Tell us your tips in the comments.
Kevin Purdy, associate editor at Lifehacker, doesn't like to see a blank screen staring at him when he's rocking on the go. His feature Open Sourcery appears weekly on Lifehacker.