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An Alternate Naming Scheme for MP3's
By Thiravudh Khoman

I spend a lot of time in front my computer and being a multitasking sort of person, I'm apt to listen to music when I'm working, even when I'm writing. (Incidentally, I always use earphones, never speakers.) As shuffling CD's is hardly conducive to productive work, I got onto the MP3 bandwagon pretty early and needless to say, I love it.

Like many PC/Windows users, I use WinAmp (https://www.winmap.com) to listen to my MP3's. It was the first program I ever used and I never bothered to change even though there is now a flood of newer MP3 players, and despite the fact that I use a different program anyway to rip my CD's (i.e. MusicMatch Jukebox).

The Problem

One thing about WinAmp that I find bothersome is that its artist/song list is a bit difficult to visually scan because the artists and songs are not displayed in columns. The effect of this is that when you're looking for a particular song, you'll constantly need to search for the starting point of each song name. Look at the list below, read out each song title, and (hopefully) you'll see my point:

    Toto - Africa
    Vanessa Mae - Jazz Will Eat Itself
    Acoustic Alchemy - Ariane
    Mark Knopfler - Smooching
    Sandy Denny - Late November
    Fairport Convention - Fotheringay
    James Newton Howard - She
    Strunz and Farah - Twilight at the Zuq
    Peter, Paul and Mary - Mon Vrai Destin
    The Alan Parsons Project - Eye in the Sky

One other problem is that you may have to widen your WinAmp display to accomodate some of the lengthier artist names/songs. Me, I like WinAmp to have a small footprint, yet remain fully in view.

One Solution

To make life easier for myself, I devised a short-hand notation which allows me to columnize the artist/song listings. Now, my WinAmp songlist appears as follows:

    TOTO - Africa
    VMAE - Jazz Will Eat Itself
    AALC - Ariane
    MKNO - Smooching
    SDEN - Late November
    FCON - Fotheringay
    JNHO - She
    SAFA - Twilight at the Zuq
    PPAM - Mon Vrai Destin
    TAPP - Eye in the Sky

While the song titles haven't changed, the artist names have now been replaced by four-letter abbreviations. The effect of this is that the song titles line up reasonably well (even with proportional fonts) and I can now scan for songs in a reasonably straight vertical path, rather than having to zig-zag my eyeballs as I move down the list.

The scheme I used to create the abbreviations is simple. Assuming the artist name consists of two words, simply take the FIRST letter of the first word and concatenate this to the FIRST THREE letters of the second word. Thus, "Vanessa Mae" becomes "VMAE", while "Fairport Convention" become "FCON".

With artist names consisting of more than 2 words, I simply take the first letter of each word until I reach the last word, where I tack on the remaining letters to create a four letter abbreviation. Thus, "John Newton Howard" becomes "JNHO", "Strunz and Farah" become "SAFA", and "The Alan Parsons Project" gets shortened to "TAPP".

With single word artist names, simply take the first four letters of the name, as per my "Toto" example above.


While I haven't come across any cases that don't fit the above rule, the possibility does, of course, exist; for example, single word artist names with less than four letters, or artist names with more than five words, or artists with different names that result in the same abbreviations. No problem - as with all things in life, simply customize to insure a fit.

Without doubt, though, the biggest problem will be that other people will have difficulty in making out the artist names unless they've been "trained" to interpret the abbreviations. Again, this isn't a problem since I don't make a habit of "distributing" my MP3's (satisfied RIAA?), and in any case, I tend to choose songs by title more than I do by artist.

Technical Stuff

Unfortunately, renaming the songs isn't necessarily as simple as renaming the MP3 files. In fact, WinAmp IGNORES the MP3 file names and retrieves something called an "ID3 tag" from within the MP3 file to display in its songlist.

Here's what I do. I clear the ID3 tag (highlight a song, press Alt-3 and then click the "Remove ID3" button) and thereafter, WinAmp will copy the file name to the "Title" field of the ID3 tag. If you don't like having the artist abbreviation in the title field or the string is so long that it gets lopped off, simply move the artist abbreviation to the next "Artist" field. Remove the "-" from any/all fields while you're at it, since WinAmp will automatically use this to separate the "Title" and "Artist" fields. The other fields may be keyed in at your leisure (or not) since it doesn't affect the songlist display.

Copyright © 2000, Thiravudh Khoman