A Digital Workflow for Classical Music and Opera: eBook review

“In the digital world, portability is everything,” writes David Wank in the introduction to his latest eBook, A Digital Workflow for Classical Music and Opera. I’ve been following David’s informative blog, Classical Weekly, for some months now and was fortunate enough to receive a review copy from him of said eBook. Being a full-time grad student, portability is indeed music to my ears. As regular readers of this blog may know, I do most of my reviewing on the go, listening to albums daily on my iPod while dictating my thoughts and impressions into a digital voice recorder. These I transcribe later and polish as time allows into the finished posts you see here on between sound and space.

For this reason and more, having a clear and accessible archive of my music collection is key. For popular music, this has rarely been a problem. With the exception of compilations, CDs imported into iTunes are easily designated under band names, song titles, and genres. When importing and archiving classical CDs, however, things sometimes get tricky. Should I archive by composer name or performer? If the latter, which performer? Conductor, soloist, ensemble, or orchestra? How will I be able to access exactly the piece I am looking for without confusion? What if two or more composers or performer configurations are represented on the same album? Such are the questions confronting the classical archivist, and this eBook provides cogent and practical advice on how to negotiate these and more. I have worked my way around such issues through much trial and error over the years. I only wish I’d had something like David’s methods on hand from day one.

Most classical enthusiasts will tell you that, outside of attending live performances of course, CDs offer the best listening experience, and neither David nor I would contest this. But in our increasingly hectic culture we tend to do much of our listening through headphones and car speakers. In addition, CDs are not permanent resources. Regardless of how well one cares for them, accidents can and do happen, and with the technology widely available to the common consumer to create digital archives, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t take advantage. That being said, this book is less about meta-tagging (I, for example, have all of my 1000+ ECM albums archived in iTunes under the genre “ECM” rather than as jazz, classical, world, fusion, folk, etc.) and more about the creation and organization of a high-fidelity classical and opera library at near-CD quality without compromising too much in the way of valuable hard drive space. Still, there is plenty of tagging advice sprinkled throughout that will be of use to anyone.

Computer knowledge requirements are minimal: if you can create, rename, and move folders, you’re golden, and for those still intimidated David offers 30-day personalized support to all purchasers of the eBook. And while the methods outlined therein are geared toward iTunes and iPod users, one can certainly use any preferred combination of player and management software.

David’s process involves three basic steps: 1) ripping the original CDs as high-quality files and importing these into a designated holding directory, 2) editing the filenames and folders as needed, and 3) moving the finished archive into iTunes. While Step 1 will require (free) external software, there is in this Third Edition an iTunes-only workflow which can be performed entirely “in house.” While the latter option, even at 320kBit/s, will not give you quite the same quality, it will save a step or two. As someone who has ripped all of his CDs over the years for archiving purposes, I found this method to be the most applicable.

One cannot simply follow my summation above, however, and expect stellar results. The key is in David’s well-thought-out subtleties and ease of explanation. David has clearly spent countless hours refining his process and the eBook is an ideal tool for those whose audio collections seem to grow, like mine, of their own accord. He walks you through the steps of working with the appropriate third-party software, getting the most out of your tagging and folder options, and working with either pre-existing or to-be-ripped archives.

I feel obligated to reiterate his advice about backing up everything before attempting such a feat of organization. This is a tedious and time-consuming process that, in the rare instance of a skipped step or two, can backfire, but if followed to the letter the results will be more than worth the effort.

You may purchase a copy of David’s eBook here for $5.95.

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