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July 26, 2007

How To Destroy Your Music Collection

Filed under Reviews, Software, WTF

Brought to you by Windows Media Player 11 (WMP).

I started trying to rip some CD's I recently purchased. When I put the CD in, it was labeled as "Unknown Album". If I right-clicked on the blank CD album art, I had the option of "Find Album Info". I tried this option out and it worked as expected...it found the correct album. Clicking "Finish" adds all the album information to the CD....except my CD information stayed blank.

I tried doing this using my guest account and it worked right: I inserted the CD and it immediately had the right song names, album name, artist, album art, etc.

I couldn't find any help online. I did find a solution when I was trying to find where WMP was attempting to store the CD information. I found (on Vista) that WMP stores information in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player. I moved this folder to "Media Player.old" and tried again and everything worked as expected.

WMP does a great job of getting CD information. It also has the same feature for files in your music library. In WMP, if you right-click on an album in your music library, you have the option to "Find Album Info." Even though the album had all the information correct that I care about, I thought it would be interesting to see if it filled in all the missing pieces.


It asked me how I wanted to search, so I gave it the artist name ".38 Special."


Next it gave me a list of albums by .38 Special and I picked the correct one. The final screen shows you all the details of the album it found. Just click "Finish" and your information will be up to date...right?


If you do, WMP will start searching your music library for music files that are about the right size to match the music file sizes for the songs on the album (Special Forces). I actually only had one song from that album (which it found correctly), but after I was done I had 6 other songs. It took a few Bee Gees songs, a Banannarama song, a .38 Special song from another album, and a Father MC song and relabeled them as songs from "Special Forces." It changed...

  • File name was changed from the correct "artist-song" format to a combination of "38 Special" and an incorrect 38 Special song
  • File location...moved the files from their correct "artist/album" folder to the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder
  • File information...artist, album, song name, etc. were all overwritten with the wrong info

I can understand software getting this wrong, it is not a perfect science. But *if* there is a chance it is going to do the wrong thing, shouldn't it show me it's proposed changes and allow me to decide if I want my beloved music collection mutilated?!?!?!?!?!

Also, I figured it would limit its search to just the album folder that I did "Find Album Info" for, but it looks like my entire music collection was fair game. That is scary! Getting those songs labeled correctly took a lot of time...but just a fraction of a second for WMP to turn it to garbage.

Luckily, I have my system backed up and I just deleted the bad files and restored them from the backup. I use Vista's excellent "Backup and Restore Center" and an external hard drive to back up changes to my system daily.

So everything is back to normal...or so I thought.

I had my Bee Gees folder open to verify the files were replaced correctly by the restore. I went on to doing something else when I noticed one by one the Bee Gees songs disappeared! Where did they go?

They went right back in the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder...and all their information was again changed back to a 38 Special information.

WTF? How did that happen?


It turns out that WMP stores the album information it used to update files...in case a file needs to be "fixed" again. 

To get WMP to stop changing file names, locations, and song information, I had to disable a few options. These are the options to *avoid*:

    1. "Overwrite all media information"
    2. "Rename music files using rip music settings"
    3. "Rearrange music in rip music folder, using rip music settings"

I figured I was safe, since I used "Only add missing information" with #2 and #3 (I never had #1 on). But I definitely had my information overwritten even though #1 was off!

I'm not sure if it is necessary, but I'd recommend deleting the WMP data folder (C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player) if you ever use "Find Album Info" or "Update Album Info" so it won't even think about renaming your files ever again.

After disabling those options, erasing WMP's memory, and restoring my old music files again...all is well.

Lesson learned:


Comments (18)

Mike Alves:

Hello? WMP? Really? I MEAN REALLY? Truly?

Mike Schriever:

I've run into similar problems with WMP. iTunes is a better program for classifying your collection. It isn't as intrusive, however, it doesn't find the album info as often as WMP. Bubba mentioned www.mediamonkey.com in an earlier post I want to give a try. It may be better.

.38 Special...Bee Gees...Bananarama.... I think the problem is deeper than Media Player 11.

I've been playing my music collection through WMP11, and I like the Library option that shows what I've played already. I decided to import my music hard drive (250GB+) into WMP11 so everything can be there.

Bad idea.

Now everything is messed up similarly to yours. I've resigned myself to doing searches on artist name, hoping to find the correct artist and playing that.

Maybe it was a blessing that WMP11 won't install under MCE02.

And what rocket scientist thinks file length is a proper metric for determining content? Its like going grocery shopping with a list that only has weights and measures.

"Gee honey, I knows its motor oil and not milk, but the important thing is that its exactly a quart. Now shut up and get me that bowl of cereal like I told you."

I don't know for a fact that it used file size, but I don't know what else it would be doing.

I've seen software that takes a audio sample and compares it to a library of audio samples to determine what the song is...and that is very effective. I'm pretty sure WMP is not doing this.

This is not a new feature either...I saw a posting that said it (Find Allbum Info) has been around since WMP 8 (2001), I believe.


I've used FAI on older versions of WMP, and found it to be clunky and inaccurate. I did a lot of editing after the fact.

Why the RIAA can't advance into the 1990s and add this info on the CDs is a mystery. Its not like the format isn't flexible enough.

@David, don't try Find Allbum Info in big cities, especially downtown. You will get too many results.

@Steve's Cat

Your first comment was funny. This last one...not so much.


Yeah, not my best work. I think I was on a high from that first zinger that I didn't realize I was breaking the cardinal rule "Always leave 'em wanting more."


Read above comments with interest re wmp's find album info & stuff. How about when you've got one of those magazine cover cds by various artists and you painstakingly enter all the info manually and three months later you find you have an entire album by the Czars. Hmm? Don't remember downloading/ripping that! No, turns out to be that cover cd with one track on it by the Czars.
I'm unticking some of those boxes.


I keep having my ripped filess automatically reshuffle even when I have all your suggestions, so this program media player is a load of garbage!

I even delete the original ripped folders before I rip the next cd, but this crappy microsoft program automatically removes the file name and reverts back to the original initial burn. When you have 1,000's it a pain in the butt..


Did you delete the temporary folder where WMP stores all the invalid names? Without that, it *can't* rename your files because it has nothing to rename them to!

For Vista, it is...
C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player

It will be different path under XP...not sure what it is.

It is a hidden system folder, so you might have to turn on Explorer's "Show hidden files and folders" option. In Vista, it is under:

Explorer ->
Organize ->
Folder and Search Options ->
View ->
Advance settings ->
Files and Folders ->
Hidden files and folders ->
Show hidden files and folders.

Good luck!

I think digging through the system directory structure to delete or rename hidden files and folders to trick the application into working properly is well within the skill set of the average home user.

The youth director at our church keeps wanting to move our AV stuff to Macs, and I'm running out of reasons not to.




I won't consider a Mac until they advance their window resizing technology beyond one corner.

Gates Is Antichrist:

This is yet further demonstration of the Microsoft mantra, "We know what the user wants better than the user does." They should have the LIVING S*** kicked out of them for this particular transgression. How about it touching MP3 file dates by doing NOTHING MORE THAN PLAYING THEM. It touches the dates just because it can.

This along with the file-touching of Access objects is a capital offense. Kicking the S*** out of them is not sufficiently persuasive.

Microsoft. Spoiled kids upholding the tradition of the auto industry - showing the world that the USA USED to be a leader, and now is feeble.


Did you rip these songs into your library from a "mix CD"? Each CD has a unique identifier. If you burn a personal mix CD, that custom CD gets its own identifier. When you ripped the songs from the CD, WMP remembers that all of the songs came from the same CD. When you them tell WMP that the track is track #5 on some commercial album, WMP concludes that track #6 from your mix CD must be track #6 from that same commercial CD, and so on.

Put another way, WMP is "album aware" and uses album playlists to automatically match other songs on the same disc. This is exactly the behavior you would want when dealing with commercial discs -- it dramatically reduces the work to tag your music, since you only have to identify one song on the disc, not all 16-20 of them. The behavior doesn't fit so well when you rip custom mix CDs, though.


These were CD's made from music I downloaded from Rhapsody...so it would not match an album since I made it myself. So yes, they were mix CD's.

If their algorithm can't tell the difference between a mix CD and an album (which it can't based on my experience), then it should in the very *least* ask you if you want to update tags with the suggested values...not automatically wipe out all of your work.

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