CDDB: A Smart Way of Tagging Your Music Library

Using an online CDDB is a great time-saving way of tagging your songs

A collection of vinyl records on shelfs

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The term CDDB is an acronym which is short for Compact Disc Database. Even though it is now a registered trademark of Gracenote, Inc., this term is still used to describe an online resource which helps to automatically identify music. This system can be used to not only find out the name of an audio CD (and its contents) but also songs which are already in your digital music library.

When organizing your music, you may have already come across this technology when using a music tagging tool or ripping music CDs. In the case of a typical CD ripping program, the extracted songs are usually automatically named and the relevant music tag information is filled in (if it can access a CDDB via the internet of course).

In What Ways Can I Use a CDDB to Automatically Tag My Digital Music?

As you have probably already figured out, this identification system can potentially save a huge amount of time when managing and organizing your digital music library. Just think how long it would take for a large library that might have hundreds, if not thousands of songs. It would take you a considerable amount of time to type in the names of all your songs as well as all the other metadata information that is typically hidden inside audio files.

But the question is: "What types of software programs use CDDB?"

The main types of applications that often use a CDDB for automatic music tagging include:

  • Software Media Players: Popular programs such as iTunes, Windows Media Player, and VLC Media Player can use various online CDDBs to correctly name, tag, and organize your digital audio files into their relevant albums. If you also use your favorite jukebox software program to rip audio CDs, then it will most likely have the facility to contact a CDDB server to identify the audio CD and fill in information about its contents.
  • Standalone CD Ripping Software: If you prefer to use a software program just for CD ripping, then these too can have the option to use a CDDB. Dedicated audio CD extraction tools can also be quicker which is an advantage if you've got a lot of audio CDs to transfer and tag.
  • Metadata Tagging Tools: You may have already ripped a lot of your audio CDs without using a CDDB — either the software media player you used didn't have this facility or it was disabled. However, you can use a CDDB retrospectively by using a tool like this. Popular programs like MusicBrainz Picard and TigoTago use this method to efficiently tag files and group them into albums.

Why Isn't This Information Already Stored on an Audio CD?

When the CD format was created there wasn't the need (or foresight) to include metadata information such as song title, album name, artist, genre, etc. At that time (around 1982), people didn't use digital music files like the MP3 (this came around ten years later). The closest the CD came to having music tags was with the invention of CD-Text. This was an extension of the Red Book CD format for storing certain attributes, but not all audio CDs had this encoded onto them — and in any case, media players like iTunes can't use this information anyway.

CDDB was invented to make up for this lack of metadata when using audio CDs. Ti Kan (the inventor of CCDB) saw this shortfall in the audio CD design and initially developed an offline database in order to look up this information. This system was initially designed for a music player that he developed called XMCD — this was a combined CD player and ripping tool.

An online version of CDDB was eventually developed with the help of Steve Scherf and Graham Toal to produce a freely available online database that software programs could use to look up CD information.

How Does the CDDB System Actually Work?

CDDB works by calculating a disc ID in order to accurately identify an audio CD — this is designed to give a unique profile of the whole disc. Rather than using a system that just identifies single tracks like CD-Text does for instance, CDDB uses a disc-ID reference code so that software (with built-in clients of course) can query the CDDB server and download all the attributes associated with the original CD — i.e. the name of the CD, track titles, artist, etc.

To create a unique disc-ID for CDDB, an algorithm is used to analyze information on the audio CD such as how long each track is and in what order they play. This is a very simplified explanation of how it works but is the main method for creating unique CDDB reference ID's.