Two weeks ago, I was visited by Michael Aczon, a music lawyer friend from San Francisco. He was in town promoting a new artist of his (Greg Scott). They gave me their new CD fresh from the manufacturer. I popped it into my computer and opened up iTunes. Instead of displaying the album, artist and track names, the playlist merely showed "Track 1", "Track 2", etc. A couple of hours later, I put the CD into my car stereo. Lo and behold! All the info, including track names, were accurately displayed on my screen.
Is this some sort of magic or voodoo? Nope, it is just a little thing called Gracenote.
There is a lot about the Internet that remains a mystery. In fact, most people barely understand the technology that is part of our every day life. Fortunately, basic elements of technology do not have to be understood to use them. We don't need to know how electricity flows or how microprocessors works in order to use our computers. The same applies to a lot of Internet technology e.g., flash, java, active-x, etc.
One ubiquitous tool that every music lover unknowingly uses is Gracenote. Whenever a song or album's name is automatically looked up or displayed, Gracenote is usually at work behind the scenes. Unlike your computer's microprocessor, as a label or artist, it really helps to understand what Gracenote does and how it works.
Gracenote was originally called CDDB which stood for "CD Database." It's origins can be traced back to an old filebox with index cards. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see this original "database" in their offices. There was nothing high-tech or pretentious about it. Just a plain, metal filebox (3x5, I think) sitting on top of a file cabinet. The cards had the CD name, artist and tracks written on them. Now, the Gracenote database has millions of entries. They are the preeminent collection of album data as well as lyrics and other information associated with the world's body of recorded works.
The mysterious appearance of the album information on my car radio was indeed unmagical. All it required was for me to enter in the metadata for the album. I used the Info window in my iTunes software. Then I merely "Submitted CD Track Names" which is a command found on the Advanced menu. This information was immediately sent to the Gracenote server. Two hours later when I inserted the CD into my car, my satellite radio searched the Gracenote database and found the newly entered album.
Without going into elaborate details, it is very easy to understand how Gracenote works. It is essentially a recognition program that looks at the number of tracks on a CD, the lengths of each track and the overall length of the CD. If you have a CD with only a few tracks, it is possible to get a mismatch. But on a typical CD with 10-15 tracks, these factors create a mathematically, unique footprint. (Note: if, by chance, there are two albums with an identical number of tracks each of which are exactly the same length, then the user is prompted with the various album options and asked to select the appropriate one.)
Gracenote technology makes it possible for anyone to update their database. In the above example, I was able to enter in the information for someone else's album. (I won't go into all the protections that Gracenote has against false or malicious data entry. Trust me, they have a lot of safeguards.) Then this information is made available to Gracenote's worldwide network of subscribed services (of which my satellite radio is one). This means that every time someone puts in that CD, the artist, album and track info will display.
Even if you gave out an unlabeled, CD-R, the album information would be there if you had previously submitted it to Gracenote. All it takes is about 5 minutes and you make your album's metadata available to practically every computer, internet player and satellite car radio. Yet, many new releases that cross my desk which are fully printed and manufactured often show up as unnamed.
I consider Gracenote to be an amazing, free service to promote your new album. So, the first thing that you should do when your newly manufactured CD arrives is to type in the album and track information. Then submit this info to Gracenote via your player. If you can't find the right menu command, keep looking. I'm sure that your player has this functionality. Do this before you hit the play button. (By the way, did I say that it's free?)
For a much more eloquent and accurate description of Gracenote's service, please refer to their FAQ: