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Old 27th January 2017, 18:08   #1
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Lightbulb Create Playlists for MP3s - A Utility

Create Playlists for MP3s - A Utility

Background & Context
Quite soon after having purchased my Sync-equipped EcoSport, I noticed that the Sync system had a behaviour that annoyed me to no end. I have over 5000 songs in the MP3 format that I have saved on a USB pen drive, and use Sync to play music from this pen drive. This music is neatly categorized by into one folder for each artist, and a sub-folder for each album by that artist. The tracks are also named correctly with the track number and track title (e.g. '01 The First Song.mp3', '02 The Next One.mp3', and so on). Within each MP3, its metadata is also correctly populated for artist, album, year, track number, song title, etc. As you can see, I'm quite OCD about having these organized.

When I choose 'Play All', I'd expect Sync to be smart enough to navigate the folders logically and play the MP3s in order (i.e. for each artist, play each song for an album, followed by the next album, and so on). The 5000 rupee Kenwood head-unit that I used in my Getz worked correctly this way, and I took it for granted. After all, Sync is co-developed by Microsoft, so they would use a logical approach, similar to what they use in Windows Media Player, wouldn't they?
Name:  Sync UI  01 Home Screen.gif
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'Play All' plays all songs, just not in the order you'd expect!

Boy, was I mistaken.

In all their cleverness, it appears they used an inexperienced engineer to decide the playback order. If I choose to play all the songs from the pen drive (or play all songs by artist), the order is based purely on the filename of the MP3 track, and without paying any attention to either the folder it is present in, or the artist/album metadata. Now, since all my MP3 tracks are named as '<Track #> - <Track Title>.mp3', you can see where this is heading - Sync will play the first song of every album, followed by the second song of every album, and so on.
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These 3 songs are the first songs of 3 very different albums from different artists!

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Playing all songs by an artist exhibits the same problem - these tracks appear twice because one is from a studio album and the other is from a subsequent live recording. Having songs alternate and play in such a manner is annoying.

Now, this might not be a problem for some kinds of music, or for those people who enjoy shuffling their music. But if you listen to certain types of music (e.g. progressive rock, live concerts, etc.) then the order of songs is important. Or if you're as OCD as me, it just won't do

Potential Solutions
There were a couple of ways out of this annoyance:
  • Rename my files to <Artist> - <Album> - <Track #> <Track Title>.mp3
  • Generate playlists to have the songs ordered correctly, since Sync can play playlist files (M3U playlists) and respects the order of the playlist

I wasn't keen on the first approach of renaming the MP3 files, since it would mean reorganizing the way I stored music on my computers, all due to Sync's silliness.

So, I took the second approach, of generating playlists that have the songs ordered correctly. To generate the playlists with the correct order of songs, I created a small utility that I've been using for a few years now. I realized that this might be useful for others, in case they are facing the same (or a similar) issue. Bear in mind that this utility just creates playlists for MP3 tracks, it has nothing to do with Ford, or Sync, nor is it specific to Ford or Sync. If you have any head-unit which does not play MP3 tracks in a logical order, but does support playlists, then you can use this.

Steps To Use The Utility
Firstly, download the 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.zip' ZIP file attached to the bottom of this post, and unzip it. There's a single file named 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.exe'.

Launch the utility by running the file 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.exe'. It will show the following UI:
Name:  CreatePlaylistsForMP3s  Startup UI.gif
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From this UI, you can select:
  1. The parent folder that contains the MP3s - this can be the 'My Music' folder, or a folder like D:\Music or so.
  2. The output folder where the playlists should be created.
  3. The type of playlist required. The choices here are:
    • A single playlist for all the MP3s. Within this playlist, the MP3s will be ordered by Album Artist, Year, Album Name, Disc Number, Track Number.
    • One playlist for each artist (e.g. Abba.m3u, Guns n' Roses.m3u, AR Rahman.m3u, ...). Within each playlist, the MP3s will be ordered by Year, Album Name, Disc Number, Track Number.
    • One playlist for each artist+album combination (e.g. Guns n' Roses - Appetite for Desctruction.m3u, ...). Within each playlist, the MP3s will be ordered by Disc Number, Track Number.
  4. Once these details are filled out, clicking 'Create!' will start the playlist generation. This can take some minutes (based on the number of files, and speed of the drive), after which a message box will announce the following:
    Name:  CreatePlaylistsForMP3s  Completed.gif
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  5. Plug in this pen drive in your head unit, and navigate to the playlist selection, pick a playlist, and enjoy:
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    Select the option that lets you play songs by playlist...

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    ... and enjoy music that plays in the correct order - notice the same track 'Dreams' that was shown earlier now comes in the correct track order.

Some Tips
  • If the input and output folders are set to the same folder, then the playlists generated use relative paths. This is preferable, as Sync and other head-units will not recognize absolute paths (the absolute path contains Windows drive letters, which may not be recognized).
  • However, if you're generating playlists for any other reason (e.g. for use on a computer itself), then you can use different input and output folders to have playlists created with absolute paths.
  • For copying music for the head unit, I find it easiest to copy all the required music to the pen drive, and then run this utility against the pen drive directly, using the pen drive as the input and output folder. While slower than a hard disk, it ensures that the playlists truly reflect the MP3 tracks that are copied, and with correctly relative paths.

Pre-Requisites
  • This utility is built on the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5, and will run on Windows Vista and later, and most machines will already have the required .NET Framework library already installed. If not installed, it can be downloaded and installed from Microsoft at this link.
  • This utility expects the MP3 files to have proper ID3 tags to allow for correct playlist generation. If the MP3s do not have correct or consistent ID3 tags (for instance, if an album was released in 2010, but some of the songs are marked as 2009), then the generated playlists will not be as expected. This can be resolved by correcting the ID3 tags in the MP3 files. There are a variety of free tools on the internet that allow you to do this - see this Lifehacker article for recommendations. For what its worth, I use Mp3tag.
  • The ID3 tags used by this utility are: Album Artist (and not the Artist field), Year (i.e. Year of Album Release), Album Name, Disc Number, Track Number, Track Title.
  • The Album Artist is used instead of Artist because Artist is sometimes used to capture collaborating artists in tribute albums (for example, in this tribute album to Black Sabbath, the Album Artist is Black Sabbath, but each song is by a different Artist).
  • If the disc number is not present for all songs in an album, it does not affect the sorting order.
  • If the track number is not present for songs in an album, the songs are sorted by track title. This is not ideal, and is best avoided by populating the track number in the ID3 tags.

I hope you find this of use, and please post any comments or questions you might have.
Attached Files
File Type: zip CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.zip (15.3 KB, 37 views)
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Old 6th February 2017, 13:45   #2
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Default Re: Create Playlists for MP3s - A Utility

Quote:
Originally Posted by arunphilip View Post
Potential Solutions
There were a couple of ways out of this annoyance:
  • Rename my files to <Artist> - <Album> - <Track #> <Track Title>.mp3
  • Generate playlists to have the songs ordered correctly, since Sync can play playlist files (M3U playlists) and respects the order of the playlist

Steps To Use The Utility
Firstly, download the 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.zip' ZIP file attached to the bottom of this post, and unzip it. There's a single file named 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.exe'.

Launch the utility by running the file 'CreatePlaylistsForMP3s.exe'. It will show the following UI:

I hope you find this of use, and please post any comments or questions you might have.
Arun Philip! Thank you so much. The HU in my wife's car has a similar issue and this playlist method is a solution I would like to try. I have just returned from a long trip and am currently swamped with a backlog of work but I intend to try your solution as soon I find the time.
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