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Managing Your Media Library

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The contents of the Windows Media Player library are drawn directly from the corresponding libraries that are part of your user profiles. Thus, adding an item to the library is as simple as copying it to a folder within the corresponding library. If you click the Organize menu, you'll find a Manage Libraries menu with four choices on it: Music, Videos, Pictures, and Record TV. Choosing any of these options takes you to the exact same dialog box you use to manage libraries in Windows Explorer.

Windows Media Player includes the option to assign ratings to every item in your media library. For music and picture files, this capability unlocks several features in Windows Media Center, specifically the capability to "play favorites." Giving 4 or 5 stars to your favorite tunes and photos makes it easy to create playlists and slide shows guaranteed to contain only items you're certain to enjoy.

1. Using Ratings

Every music track in your library has a star rating, assigned on a scale of 1 star (lowest) to 5 stars (highest). Auto ratings are assigned by default and appear in the Rating column with a soft blue tint over the stars. Ratings you assign explicitly appear in gold. By default, all new tracks are auto-rated at 3 stars; tracks in WMA format that are listed in the Windows Media database are auto-rated using values from that source. When you first play a track, its auto rating increases to 4 stars. (The rating goes up only if you play all the way through a track; if you click the Next button while a track is playing, Windows Media Player assumes you did so because you didn't like the selection.)

If you choose to do so, you can assign ratings to tracks, one at a time or in groups. You can adjust a rating for one or more tracks by opening an album or playlist and clicking the values under the Rating head. If the playlist is visible, you can drag it to its full width to make ratings visible for all selected tracks. In any view except Now Playing, you can select one or more tracks, right-click and choose Rate, and pick a rating from the menu. As soon as you assign a rating, Windows Media Player stops using auto rating for that track. (To completely remove a rating you've assigned, choose Unrated. In this case, the track will once again pick up a default auto rating.)

Inside Out: Preview a music track

You don't have to add a track to the playlist to enter it. Windows Media Player 12 includes a new feature that allows you to preview any track from the Player Library view. When you allow the mouse pointer to hover over the track name for a second or two, a small blue window pops up, displaying the track name, album name, and album cover. Click the Preview link and leave the mouse pointer over the preview box to begin listening. While the track is playing, the elapsed time of the track is displayed; click the Skip link, as shown here, to jump forward 15 seconds at a time. When you've heard enough, move your mouse away from the preview box to stop playback immediately.

2. Managing Metadata and Album Art

If you're connected to the internet and you've accepted the default settings, Windows Media Player automatically downloads information about any disc or media file you play for the first time, including the track name(s), album name, album cover, and information about artists and composers for each track. This information is stored as part of the library when you rip a CD or when you add one or more MP3 or WMA files to your Music folder. If you downloaded the tracks from a music service, some of this metadata (composer names, contributing artists, and so on) might be missing. To retrieve all details for the selected album, right-click the album cover and click Find Album Info; if Windows Media Player believes it has a perfect match for a complete album, it displays a dialog box like the one shown in Figure 1. If you're satisfied that all of the information is correct, click Finish to update any missing information in the selected tracks.

In some cases, the update check is unable to find a match for all of the tracks on an album. In that case, you're given the opportunity to manually match up the tracks from your collection with the downloaded track lineup. The cause of such a mixup might be as simple as a discrepancy between the song name in your saved file and the name listed in the database. If you find a typo in a song listing from the metadata service, or if a detail it provides clashes with your preferences, you can change the listings on the fly. Click the Edit button beneath the album name to manually edit album and track information.

Figure 1. If the Windows metadata service finds a perfect match for your album, you can click Finish to update all tracks with full details.

The algorithm that identifies tracks is truly sophisticated. It actually plays back the track, creates a "fingerprint" for it, and then searches the online database based on that identifier. The result is that Windows Media Player is uncannily accurate at finding the correct track. In fact, the fewer details that are available in metadata, the more accurate it's likely to be.

Album art, once retrieved from the internet, is cached on your computer. Thereafter, even if you're no longer online, you can display the album art in Now Playing view, in the Player Library, and in any Windows Explorer view that includes thumbnails.

Inside Out: Add your own album art

What do you do if the Windows Media database doesn't have an album cover for your album? If you can find the correct album art anywhere online, you can add it to the library with just a couple of clicks. Start by locating the album art (ideally, at a size that is at least 200 pixels square) at your favorite online music store or fan site. In the browser window, right-click the cover image and copy it to the Clipboard. Now return to the Player, right-click the generic album cover image on the Library tab, and click Paste Album Art. (This menu choice is available only if a suitable image is on the Windows Clipboard.) This saves the copied image as a pair of hidden JPEG files in the folder for that album and also caches copies of the JPEG file for individual tracks.

Regardless of the source of your music files, errors and inconsistencies are bound to creep in to your library. Simple misspellings of track names are probably the most common error, but other problems can occur, too. Variations in the spelling or styling of an artist's name can result in that artist's work being filed in two different places.

You can edit any of the incorrect information directly. You can do this on the Audio CD page (if you're tackling this task before ripping a CD) or from the Player Library view (if you've already added the tracks). Right-click the Album, Album Artist, Genre, or Release Date fields under the Album heading and click Edit to change these details for all tracks. Right-click the Title, Contributing Artist, or Composer fields in the track list and choose Edit (or select the track name and press F2) to edit these details for individual tracks.


Previous versions of Windows Media Player included a feature called Advanced Tag Editor, which provided a rich editor for viewing and changing all metadata associated with a music track. This feature is not included in Windows Media Player 12. To edit metadata that isn't visible in Windows Media Player, use Windows Explorer or a third-party program.

While you're editing, you can move from column to column by pressing Tab or Shift+Tab, and move from row to row by pressing the Up Arrow or Down Arrow.

If you want to change the Contributing Artist or Composer information for a group of tracks or an entire album, select all of the rows first. (Click the first entry and then Shift+click the last entry, or press Ctrl+A to select all items in the currently visible list.) Then right-click and choose Edit. Move to the column you want to edit by pressing Tab or Shift+Tab, make the edit in one row, and then press Enter to duplicate the edit to the entire column.


The Rating and Track Number fields cannot be edited until you have actually added the tracks to your library. The Length field is always determined by the file itself and can never be manually edited.

How and Where Is Metadata Stored?

All editable data that appears in your library is stored as metadata within your media files. In addition, some information that is specific to your collection is stored in the library index—details about the play count for a specific track, for instance, or when the track was added to the library. When you edit details about a track in the library, such as the name of a song or an artist, Windows Media Player rewrites the information in the underlying file. (To change file names, you need to work in Windows Explorer.) For music files, Windows Media Player can read and write these details by way of tags stored directly in the file, using one of the following three formats:

  • ID3v1 This relatively old format is still in wide use for MP3 files. It consists of six fields, each of fixed size, stored in 128 bytes at the end of the file. Windows Media Player can read ID3v1 tags but does not write them.

  • ID3v2 Modern media players that use the MP3 format typically store metadata using these tags, which can contain dozens of fields, each holding an unlimited number of characters. Because these tags are often used to help identify streaming media, they are stored at the beginning of the media file. If you edit the details associated with an MP3 file in Windows Media Player, it writes the data to the file using this type of tag.

  • WMa These tags are the native format used for Windows Media Audio files. The metadata is stored at the beginning of the file, and the format is functionally equivalent to ID3v2 tags.

When you import files into Windows Media Player, the data stored in these tags is used to populate the fields in the library. When you edit details of a track in your library, Windows Media Player writes the information back to the file containing that track, using either an ID3v2 or a WMA tag. This change is permanent. The Player continually scans for changes to metadata within files. If you use an external tag editor or Windows Explorer to change information stored in a WMA or an MP3 file, the changes are reflected in your library the next time you open it, usually within a few minutes.

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