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Music Software

Advanced music software can accommodate anyone from a beginner to a professional musician.

Music software can provide studio effects in a small setting. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Music software can provide studio effects in a small setting.

Music Software

There is a variety of music software on the market that lets users play songs and organize collections of digital media. Longstanding favorites like iTunes and Windows Media Player are still popular and continue to improve, but newcomers like MediaMonkey and foobar2000 boast just as many features and are often better for managing large libraries. Besides playing MP3s, these programs give users the ability to burn CDs, convert audio files between different formats, create playlists and manage album artwork.

Audio Compression and Playback

Generally speaking, all music software can play at least two kinds of digital audio: MP3s and WAV files. Although WAV files contain uncompressed audio and have the best sound quality, MP3s take up less hard drive space and are the standard format for portable audio players like the iPod. In addition to these two formats, music software can play a range of other files, including:

  • Lossy formats like Ogg Vorbis, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) and Windows Media Audio (WMA)
  • Lossless formats like Monkeys Audio (APE), Apple Lossless and Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC)


All of these formats are compressed, meaning they take up less space than the original audio files (e.g., the WAV files on a CD). However, lossy formats leave out bits of relatively unimportant sound during the encoding process to achieve a smaller file size. This technically lowers sound quality, but the difference is unnoticeable for most listeners.

With a few notable exceptions foobar2000 is probably the most renowned there are no audio programs that can play all of these file formats. Apple's iTunes, for instance, cannot play WMA, FLAC or APE files; likewise, Microsofts Windows Media Player cannot play AAC files, which is the standard format for songs downloaded through online music services like the iTunes Store and Rhapsody

Managing a Music Library

As music downloads and MP3s become more popular, it is becoming more common for enthusiasts to have large libraries of digital music. Whether they are kept on a portable music player or stored on an external hard drive, these libraries often contain thousands of songs and may be hundreds of gigabytes (GBs) in size, making them a challenge to manage.

Fortunately for collectors, music software can do just that programs like iTunes and Media Monkey are designed to make it easy to organize and navigate large catalogs of media. For example, Media Monkey organizes audio files by genre (e.g., rock, classical, jazz, podcast or audiobook), syncs with most music players and handheld devices, automatically looks up track information and lets users edit song tags. The player can also handle libraries of more than 50,000 songs without bogging down, which makes searching for songs and playing tracks quick and easy.

Uploading Artwork and Editing Tags

When adding a new album or song to a library, music software also lets users add album artwork. Some programs automatically search the Internet for the image as soon as the songs are uploaded, but others may require users to copy and paste it into the files themselves; when the song is playing (or simply selected, depending on the setting), the artwork will appear somewhere in the main program window.

Music software also allows users to change information contained in audio file tags. Most basic tags specify the song title, artist, album title and genre, but there are many other options, as well: mood, ratings, composer and release date are more advanced descriptors that users can enter and save. Like album artwork, tag information usually appears somewhere on the screen and can often be edited during playback.

Creating Playlists and Discovering New Music

Some programs can even recommend new artists, songs and albums users might enjoy based on their musical preferences. For instance, according to MacWorld, the Genius Playlist feature on the newest version of iTunes collects information from the user's library and sends it to Apples servers for analysis. After seeing what other iTunes users with the same tastes have listened to, it then creates a playlist out of related (though sometimes unexpected) songs from the library. Other programs, such as Pandora, go one step further by using the listener's preferences to find entirely new music. In either case, the software helps users discover new or forgotten music, which keeps the listening experience engaging and fresh.

Extra Features

Each audio program has its own style and unique set of extra features. Some, like iTunes, offer unique ways of visually organizing a library, while others give users the power to convert audio files between different formats. Advanced music software is often highly customizable, as well: according to PC World, users can download plug-ins or design their own for foobar2000, which gives them access to the features they want without sacrificing performance or computer space.

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