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 for "Compact Disc Database," which is an online resource that helps to automatically identify music. This system can be used to find out the name of an audio CD (and its contents) as well as titles that are already in a digital music library.

When organizing your music, you may have come across this technology when using a music tagging or CD-ripping tool. 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.

How Can I Use a CDDB to Automatically Tag Digital Music?

This identification system has the potential to save a lot of time when managing and organizing digital music libraries. Libraries with hundreds, if not thousands of songs would require users to manually type in the names of artists and titles, as well as other metadata information that is typically stored inside audio files. CDDB automates this process.

But 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. If you also use your favorite jukebox software program to rip audio CDs, then it will most likely have the ability 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 for ripping CD's, then it may have the option to use a CDDB. Dedicated audio CD extraction tools are often quite fast, 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 the ability or it was disabled. However, you can use a metadata tagging tool to retroactively access a CDDB. 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 was no need to include metadata information such as song title, album name, artist, and genre. At that time, people didn't use digital music files like they use modern digital media. 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. 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. The system was initially designed for a music player that he developed called XMCD, which 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. The goal was 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 merely identifies single tracks, like CD-Text does, CDDB uses a disc-ID reference code so that software can query the CDDB server and download all the attributes associated with the original CD. Those attributes include the name of the CD, track titles, artist name, and more.

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 it is the main method for creating unique CDDB reference ID's.