Monday, June 30, 2008

Tellico: Cataloging your Collection in Linux

I suppose it's really easy to put cataloging your music collection on the back burner. Especially if you only have a few CDs. But once you collection starts to tip in at a hundred or more titles, keeping track of what you have and where you have it starts to get problematic. Around the second time I purchased a duplicate copy of a CD I already had it dawned on me that maybe I should try to keep better track of such things...

I have been using a Windows based program called Music Collector by for a few years. I quite liked it, it was easy to use and allowed me to be as thorough or a sloppy as my mood dictated. I easily retrieved track information and cover art right off the Internet, all I had to do was insert the CD into my drive and ask the program to scan it. It then searched several sources until it found what it believed to be the best match. I was then able to edit this information as I saw fit. It worked well, life was good!

But lately I've been trying to move as many of what I consider to be my vital functions into open source land as possible. I know we've all heard the horror stories: the producer of a program you relied on has gone belly up, so now all of your precious data has been irretrievably orphaned... Or you suffer a hard disc crash, so you have to reinstall a program, only to find that the vendor in question doesn't support version 2 anymore, but they'll be glad to sell you version 4... Do you really want to rely that much on the good graces of proprietary software developers?

And so I have been looking for a good Linux cataloging program for a while. Frankly, the biggest stumbling block for me was the inability of most programs to import my already large windows based catalog. If you're starting from scratch this won't be a big issue for you, but the last thing I wanted to do was to start all over.

Then I discovered Tellico. It was designed for the KDE desktop environment, but so far I have not encountered any problems while using it in Gnome (Linux Mint 5.0, Elyssa). I was finally able to import my windows based data into a new program with relative ease. All I had to do was export the Windows data as a text file and then import it into Tellico. To be fair, there are quite a few other Linux programs that offer the ability to import text files, but their interfaces were not nearly as easy to use or as straightforward.

Those of you who are starting from scratch can skip ahead if you like, but I'd like to go over a few tips to make importing a bit easier. I ended up using a semicolon as the field delimiter for my export file. I have quite a few artist's names that are in the format "Last Name, First Name", the commas in these cases were giving me some pretty bad results if I used a comma as the delimiter. It will help you out if before you decide which fields to export you look at what fields Tellico has by default in a music collection database (Tellico can be used to catalog many different types of collections, in fact it appears to have been originally designed to track collections of books...). Don't bother with exporting the individual tracks, those can in most cases be easily retrieved from the Internet. Even though you should use a semicolon as a delimiter, name your file using “csv” as the extension.

Once you have your export file you're ready to import it into Tellico. Now is when the beauty of Tellico's interface is really apparent. Tellico's Import dialog makes it simple to assign fields from your csv file to be imported into the appropriate field in your new database. All you have to do is increment the column counter, then select the appropriate field from the drop down. But don't forget to click the “Assign Field” button before moving on to the next column.

When you're done assigning each column you need to click the “Import” button to finish importing your data. You should end up with most if not all of your windows database data in place. In my case, I was able to successfully import a complete list of the artist's name, album title, label, genre and release date. You may have imported more or less, I would say that as a minimum you should import the artist's name and album title, but the more information the better.

Once you have a list of artists and albums, it's really a simple matter to flesh out you collection with track listings and cover art. Before I go any further, I should mention that you should really tell Tellico to store your cover art in a separate folder, this helps prevent the program from bogging down when you have a lot of titles and a lot of cover art. To do this all you have to do is click the “Settings” button on the menu bar, then select the “Configure Tellico” option. You make this selection under the “General” options, you can select either “Store images in common application directory” or “Store images in directory relative to data file”. I chose to store my images in the common application directory.

Now, you're ready to get the tracks and cover art! All you have to do is to right click on the album title, then select “Update Entry”. You'll now be given the option to search either or Yahoo Audio Search. In my experience Amazon works better, but YMMV. Chances are excellent that the program will find the Amazon listing and that it will be the right one, complete with cover art and all the appropriate tracks. But occasionally it will either not be able to find it, or will present you with more than one search result. Don't panic! In the case where you are faced with more than one option, simply try each one until you get the one that's right. If it turns out that you've chosen incorrectly, simply try updating again. In cases where the program was not able to find the correct selection, just keep going, you can go back later and use the other search tools available to find the selection you're after.

For those of you starting from scratch, the steps involved are similar to the steps required when confronted with a title that the program had a hard time finding. If you look at the menu bar, you'll see a “Magic Wand”. If you hover your mouse pointer over this icon, you'll see that this invokes the “Search The Internet” function. This is the best way to enter a new item or the find a title that resists being found.

Click this button, and the search dialog will appear. You'll see a “Search” text box where you type in your keywords, a drop down where you can choose the items to search for, and a “Search” button to start the search. Your options for searching are “Title”, “Person”, “ISBN”, “UPC/EAN” and “Keyword”. Personally I have had the best luck using the “Keyword” option, this allows you to use both the artist and the title at once. In fact, I've enjoyed good results by typing in the barcode frequently found on the back of the CD case.

Once you've started a search, you will likely see a few search results listed in the results window. Now it's a simple matter to select the best match and click the “Add Entry” button to add that entry to your database.

With any luck you won't have too much trouble finding the info you need on the Internet. But there may be times where you have to type the information in yourself. I hope that these instances are few and far between, but if you're a serious collector chances are good that you will have to do this at least a couple of times.

I've had a chance to use this program for a while now, I can say that I'm quite happy with it!

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