Music Databases (CDDB, FreeDB, MusicBrainz)

History

This was a long time ago. The index file system became more widely used when Windows users started using this index file, but the system was not very mature then. The Windows Audio CD player could use an index file with track information, but the index size was limited to 640 KB. This meant that Windows users could not use the large Internet index file without correcting software.

In 1996 things changed when the Internet Compact Disc Database was created. Instead of a flat file with information of thousands of Audio CDs, the client/server model was applied. A single central server called "CDDB.com" could be used to access the information of Audio CDs. This server accepted new submissions of Audio CD information. At that stage the index file was reported to have grown by up to 800 Audio CDs/day. But these numbers say nothing about the quality of the submissions. The number of duplicate Audio CDs that now exist in the database is high - 10 entries of the same Audio CD under a different number is not uncommon. Many entries also contain numerous spelling errors. CDDB.com had no mechanism to correct errors.

Despite this, the system became popular and useful. Things changed dramatically when the open CDDB.com server was bought by a company that wanted to make money from the contributions that users had made. The index file created by the Internet community could no longer be copied. Patents were obtained and granted. A large public outcry resulted into the start of several projects to create an Open Source competitor for the now commercial CDDB.com.

From the five originally started projects, two project are still active. You are currently visiting one of them. The other, the www.FreeDB.org project was very quick in duplicating the functionality of the commercial CDDB.com server. This project has a very large collection of Audio CDs, more then 660.000 entries. A large group of users query this information at a rate of more then 500.000/day. The FreeDB.org server and CDDB.com server do not use a relational database. The servers use a very large collection of files, one for each entered Audio CD.

The MusicBrainz project does not aim to be a drop-in replacement for CDDB.com. MusicBrainz uses a relational database and has a list of other features that makes it more advanced than the original CDDB.com server. MusicBrainz started as a tool called "CD Index". The new name was selected after a meeting in Amsterdam in 1999 where it was decided that the free insertion of information and website-based voting would be the focus of the second generation project.

CDDB

CDDB is a Disc Recognition Service (DRS) with a database of CD text information, used for CD recognition purposes. CDDB Music Recognition Service is included in many software applications, such as CD players, MP3 players, CD burners, MP3 encoders, catalogers, and other programs. So, when you put a music CD in you computer's CD-ROM drive, your CDDB-enabled player will access the online CD database to identify the CD and download this information. This information is not on the CD itself - there is no disc title, artist, track title or other information that a player running on your computer can extract and display for you. That's why the database was created. Now you won't have to type in this information.

One of the most interesting features of the service is that it provides a forum for exchange of music information between fans. If you see an error in the data for a favorite CD, or the data is incomplete, or the service does not recognize the CD at all, you can submit changes or additions to the database maintained by the service. In turn, you benefit from the processed submissions from the millions of other fans who have ever used the service.

One of the jobs of the CDDB service is to construct a database from thousands of these submissions every day from all over the world. The service compares edits from multiple submissions, reconciles duplicate entries, corrects errors, combines many submissions into individual records, etc. The result over the many years that the service has been in existence is a massive database compiled from many sources, and made instantly available by high-speed servers with dependable, worldwide, around-the-clock access. That is the CDDB service.

Note that CDDB is not a music seller. Although the CDDB web site will let you search the database to discover and identify lots of great music, there are no actual songs to listen to, to download, or to buy.

In addition, the new CDDB2 is the next generation of the CDDB database and disc recognition service. The new service offers significantly extended information for each CD title in the database. Examples include searchable credits for production, songwriting, and musicians (including instruments) at both disc and track-by-track level; over 250 genres; related URLs and associated content; and segments (portions of music that can be smaller or larger than a single track). The new service also offers support for international (non-ASCII) character sets and tags for language and geographical region.

FreeDB

FreeDB is an open source online database of compact disc track listings where all the content is under the GNU General Public License. It was originally based on the, now commercial, CDDB. As of May 2003 the database holds over 978,000 CDs. FreeDB is Open Source and Free.

What is the difference between FreeDB and CDDB?
  • CDDB is a service offered by a company called Gracenote; there are two versions: CDDB1 and CDDB2. FreeDB is an open source project.
  • CDDB1 and FreeDB are fully compatible; that is, any application that supports one (in theory) automatically supports the other. The "in theory" is because an application may be designed to make it hard for the user to choose between one or the other.
  • CDDB2 is a new version that is not compatible with either CDDB1 or FreeDB.

MusicBrainz

MusicBrainz is a user maintained community music metadatabase. Music metadata is information such as the name of an artist, the name of an album and list of tracks that appear on an album. MusicBrainz collects this information about music and makes it available to the public so that music players can retrieve information about the music that is playing. For instance, an audio CD does not contain the name of the artist, album or a listing of the tracks. A music player can use the physical characteristics of an audio CD to lookup the correct metadata for the CD and show it to the user during playback.

MusicBrainz also takes this concept one step further in applying it to digital audio files like MP3 files and Ogg Vorbis files. The metadata contained in these files is often incorrect or missing altogether. If this data is not present or correct, it makes it difficult for users to find the music they wish to play. Many MP3 lovers have a huge collection of MP3 files but often have a hard time finding the music to which they want to listen. The MusicBrainz solution for this is the MusicBrainz Tagger, a Windows application that uses acoustic fingerprints (TRMs) to semi-automatically identify tracks in your music collection and then write clean and accurate metadata to your music files.

The MusicBrainz web site provides a catalog of music data that is known to MusicBrainz. The MusicBrainz only provides the data about the music and not the music itself.

MusicBrainz users can browse and search this catalog to examine what music bands have published and how artists relate to each other to discover new music. The music metadata and its ability to uniquely identify music will also enable non-ambiguous communication about music, and will allow the Internet community to discover new music without any of the bias introduced by marketing departments of the recording industry.

Another important aspect of the web site is the creation and maintenance of the data. All of the data in MusicBrainz is user contributed and user maintained. This means that if you spot a mistake in the database, you should take the initiative to create yourself a MusicBrainz account (for free of course!) and edit the data. MusicBrainz will never share your personal information with anyone (you don't even have to give your email address).

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