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- This Week's Free Computer Tip -

127 - Windows Media Player Tips

I thought I might take a bit of a technical break this week and talk about a recreational feature of your Windows computers. When it comes to using my PC to play music, I have to tell you that I was a real holdout. I really didn't see the point. I already owned a nice stereo and a jukebox CD player. What did I need another way to play music for? It just sounded like redundancy to me. Well, two things changed my mind and got me really into it. In almost no time, it has become my absolute preferred way to listen to my music, and I'll try to explain why.

If you already use Windows Media Player, you might want to skip directly to "So here's the Tip". I'm going to start by telling you what changed my mind. Next, I'll tell you about some of the major features of Windows Media Player. Then, I'll list the tips. Read the paragraphs that will be helpful to you.

The two changes that got me going -
The first was, Microsoft released Windows Media Player 9.0. This turns out to be an excellent product, bundled free with new computers and available as a free download from Microsoft's Windows Update page. No kidding, the current version of Media Player is seriously kool. It is really worth looking at.

Once I realized I was going to like this, I decided to add a sub-woofer to my computer. That was the second change and it made a dramatic difference in how the music sounds on my computer. Don't panic. I'm not talking about a lot of money here. Sub-woofer sets (two speakers and the sub-woofer) can be very inexpensive. I shopped at Micro Center because I knew that they had the sub-woofers set up so you can listen to them and compare one to the other. They also have a 30-day return policy, so there's no risk. The set I bought was on special sale for $29.95! Hard to beat that and, you will not believe the difference! It is dramatic.

What can Windows Media Player 9.0 do for you?
In a nutshell, lots. Here are six important things it can do:
  1. Copy music from your CDs to your computer while compressing it dramatically in the process.
  2. To give you an idea, where one CD might hold ten or fifteen songs at most, compression will let you save about TWO HUNDRED songs in the same amount of space. Also, and even more important, when you load music to your computer, you get to select the specific tracks you want to load, skipping the others. How often have you purchased a CD because you liked one particular song, only to get home and find out you only like three of the twelve songs on the CD? Well, that problem goes away forever because you just check off the songs you like, and skip the rest. Never again will you have to listen to the ones you don't like!

  3. Have the Internet look up all the information about your CD.
    You type NOTHING. The computer looks up the album title, all the song names, the artist's name, the length of each song, the genre (type of music), and several other fields of information, and loads them to your computer. You will care about this in a moment, so keep reading.

  4. Automatically file the music in one big database but also index it for lookup by album, by artist, by song title, or by genre.
    Nothing to know here. It just does it for you.

  5. Edit any of the data fields for the songs.
    Let's take the genre field for example. You can accept the default genre, change it to another, or create your own new one as you prefer.
  6. For example, you might want to have just one big category for Rock. Fine. But, what if you want to break Rock down into more specific groupings such as Classic Rock, R&B, and Slow Rock? All you do is edit the genre field of just one song to say "Slow Rock", and the new category is automatically added to the database. Select seventeen songs and edit the genre field of just one of them to say "Slow Rock", and they all change as a group. Remove all references to an existing genre, and it automatically goes away. It's no harder than that and these features make maintaining your data very easy.

  7. Take compressed files and "un-compress" them to burn a CD which can be played in any standard player such as your car CD player.
    Burning custom CDs is now very easy.

  8. Listen to your music by artist name, by album, by genre, or by random selection from the entire library, all depending on your mood.

Beyond what music you already own, you might want to fill in some missing songs for your collection. You can do this by downloading individual songs off the Internet. There are "file sharing" services which do this. My only caution is this. Modem connections are pretty slow for this kind of work. If you are just looking to pick up one or two of your old favorites, a modem connection is fine. If you are looking to download more than that, you'll want to have a high-speed Internet connection. File sharing programs will run in the background while you do other work or go eat dinner, so a slow connection can be better tolerated that way.

Here are two popular file sharing services: www.Kazaa.com and www.BearShare.com. Sign on to either of these (I like Bearshare) and do a search for a song you really like. Don't be afraid to try for obscure songs either. For my Mom, I was even able to find songs by the famous World War II era French singer, Edith Piaf. I found about a dozen songs, so don't think your taste is too obscure. Go for it!

This Week's Tip -
Once you get into this, you will realize there are two problems when it comes to genre and artist information. What happens if the song is a duet or you can't decide whether the genre is Rock or Blues? You would like to be able to have these songs listed in both groups, but can you do that? The answer is, yes you can, but there's a trick to it. Let's say you have a jazz tune done by Louie Armstrong and Stan Getz. Whenever you are in a Getz or an Armstrong mood, you want that song included. Here's how you do it.
  1. Select the song.
  2. RIGHT-click on the artist field.
  3. Select Edit.
  4. Change the field to have both names, but separated by a semi-colon,
    like this: Louie Armstrong; Stan Getz
Low and behold, the song will now appear under both artist's names!

The same goes for the genre field, but here's a clever way to use it. Let's say you want to hear only your favorite songs this afternoon. Not necessarily just Rock, or Jazz, or Country, but all your favorites. Why not set up your favorites as a second genre for each of the songs you want to include in this group. One might be: "Rock; Favorites". The next might be: "Jazz; Favorites", etc. As long as you use a semi-colon to separate the two genre, Media Player treats them as two separate groups. Now, when you select Favorites, you hear only your favorites, regardless of their usual classification!

I now have over 1100 songs in my media library. At that size, I can set the player to "random play" and not hear a song repeat for a full week. When I want to listen just to Norah Jones, I select Artist, Norah Jones, and hit play. It's that quick and easy. Once you realize how convenient this is, I'm betting you'll be a convert too, just like I was.

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