Review: TuneUp for iTunes fixes it fast
A few weeks ago, I was asked if wanted an opportunity to review a new software app under embargo that is designed to solve one of the great remaining problems with any music library – fixing album art and metadata. Over the years between WMP/Zune/iTunes conversions of my library, converting all of my tracks into 160kbps MP3, migrating between HDDs and just plain idiosyncracies with ID3 tags and where album art gets stored, my library has become a severe mess. TuneUp promised to fix it and I have to say aside from a few minor nits, it does a commendable job and is now available for download in two versions: TuneUp and TuneUp Gold but more on that later.
Around the UI
TuneUp is a companion app to iTunes for Windows (Mac coming this Fall) – it rides shotgun, snapping to the right-hand side of iTunes and listens into your library via iTunes’ scripting engine. The UI offers four options – Clean, Cover Art, Now Playing, and Concerts. The first two options – Clean and Cover Art are the meat of the app. The second two options- Now Playing and Concerts are similar to other solutions offer links to YouTube, Stubhub, Amazon, Google, and eBay searches for artist information and concert listings in your area (via Ticketmaster/Stubhub). But what sets TuneUp apart is the cleaning feature. My library started off with about 40% accurate information (horrible!) and by running through TuneUp’s algorithm, was able to successfully match the majority of my songs.
Taking it for a Spin
After backing up my music library, I did a series of ad-hoc tests to determine the accuracy of the service. TuneUp representatives tell me it works by applying a heuristic evaluating ID3 tags, filename, and even samples the audio of the song to create a fingerprint of the content. From there, it’s matched against Gracenote’s massive library of songs. Gracenote is now a subsidiary of Sony and they’ve been making great strides in accuracy since their grass-roots efforts as user-supported CDDB so many years ago.
TuneUp correctly found a large # of U2 songs in my library that had missing album art or inaccurate media information, mostly a mix-match of Genre information. Results are listed in one of three categories – Matches, Likely Matches, and Processing. All display by album and can drill down to You can then choose to save each track.
Not Perfect, But Closing in on the Target
Most of my issues with TuneUp are easily solvable. First the UI has layout issues with the progress bar often colliding with text. Here is a good example:
Another issue is accuracy on Live Sets or rare tracks. The library does a good enough job of identifying the songs, but normally matches them to studio recordings. As of right now, I wouldn’t recommend TuneUp for eclectic music libraries.
Also, I’ve noticed the Genre naming is quite a bit different across the industry – U2 suddenly went from a mix of Pop and Rock to Adult Alternative. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing though I’m not sure Bono would agree. Sheryl Crow’s "Good is Good" genre became, "Singer-Songwriter". Huh?! I actually started using it as an indicator for when content had been cleaned in my library.
Then there’s the pricing. The app appears to be ad-supported, with an American Apparel banner ad at the bottom of the screen.
Pricing and Advertisements
TuneUp is free to evaluate with over 500 song clean-ups and 50 album covers. This is a commendable # for testing and the price of $11.95 for an unlimited version is reasonable. What I don’t see noted here however is whether the Gold version removes the advertisements at the bottom. I’d like to see more details about how TuneUp intends to use this space and exactly what information is shared with advertisers. Right now this appears to be limited to American Apparel – I don’t see much of a fit between the ad and the content though, it would be less annoying if they did some frequency capping and targeted the ads to my interests. I suspect this is to come in a later release.
Features I’d like to see
TuneUp isn’t perfect- but it’s pretty darn close. Here are a few features I’d like to see included:
- View ID3 Tags and Fix. iTunes will offer, but I can only see all of TuneUps changes after they’re applied.
- Duplicate finder. Yes, iTunes has a similar feature but is largely dependent on you as the user to go through and find
- Lyrics finder. Gracenote offers the service, would be good to see here.
- Offer to Remove Missing Songs from iTunes. WMP and Zune talk directly to the file system and know when files are removed. iTunes tries to play and then gives you the dreaded "bang". Nuke em all as an option.
- Zune/WMP Media Bridge. Ensure media info is correctly set in the places Zune & WMP look, and offer a sync option for playlists, playcount, and ratings. (Check out MusicBridge as a good proxy)
- Genre Mapper. Ability to rename a Gracenote genre (e.g. Adult Alternative) to Pop or whatever you wish. It’s a highly contentious and subjective topic.
- Faster indexing and better notification. TuneUp normally works well with ~50 tracks loaded but I decided to
try and break itload in over 1000 tracks at a time. It actually held up remarkably well but the UI updates started getting slow and I wasn’t sure if it died or not. A countdown time or est. time remaining option would be a big help.
TuneUp solves a major problem of most music enthusiasts, though if you’re fastidious about your ID3 tagging, have invested hours in genre matching and the like, you may find continuing to manually update to be right for you. Also, if you wear a tin foil hat and are concerned about personally identifiable information such as track names, playcounts and personal ratings being uploaded to TuneUp, you may want to scrub through the privacy statement. TuneUp assures us this is used for improvements to the service and personalization features such as concert listings (e.g. they won’t give you a suggested concert for a one-star rated artist you hate). For the mainstream music lover, TuneUp is a worthy addition to your toolkit, even in this first release with one caveat- back up your library before you try. It’s not perfect, but it’s major improvement over in-app solutions. Be sure to tell us how your experiences are going in the comments below.