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Labeling Music CDs:  CD-Text  (August 2017)


I admit to having become spoiled.  I like it when my CD player reminds me of what I’m listening to—album name, album artist, and track title, and I’m disappointed when that information is absent (for example, see Figure 1).  So why is it that album information is sometimes displayed and other times isn’t?  The answer is that it depends on the capabilities of the CD player and on what information is contained in the CD’s metadata (information about the CD that’s separate from the music).

Figure 1.  Windows Media Player display of unknown album.


The most basic CD players, including old computer software, ignore the metadata.  The best you can hope to see is a track counter.  Some early computer players allowed users to type in the album information and track names, stored this information in a database somewhere on the computer, and displayed it when the same CD was played again.  Though labor intensive, this approach worked well—up until the time you got a new computer and had to start all over again.


Music CDs generally contain an identifying code within the metadata.  More recent computer players access this code and retrieve the album and track information from on-line CD look-up services like Gracenote, which may also provide an image of the album cover.  Some stand-alone players such as car CD players do something similar by accessing a locally stored version of a look-up service’s database.  This generally works well when the database recognizes the CD’s identifying code, but at times the process presents the information for a different album than the one you’re playing, scrambles or omits some of the track titles (especially with re-releases), or presents the information in an Asian font (Figure 2)!  Of course, none of this is relevant if your player doesn’t have an Internet connection or access to a local database, if the identifying code doesn’t appear in the look-up service’s database, or when the CD doesn’t have an identifying code in the metadata.

Figure 2.  American artist and CD; a few track titles are in English, but most look like this.


Album and track information can also be stored within the metadata on the CD itself, and the specification for doing this is known as “CD-Text.”  Some computer players can read and display the CD-Text information (perhaps only after a plug-in enabling CD-Text is installed), but others cannot, relying instead on an Internet CD look-up service.  Similarly, some stand-alone players can read and display the CD-Text information while others can’t.  Additionally, while published standards define CD-Text’s format, they do not stipulate that the content must be provided on the CD.


On CDs that I create, I provide the album title, the album artist, and track names through CD-Text (see Figure 3).  I believe this provides the best opportunity for your CD player or computer software to display album information.   Note that the artist name pertains to the entire album rather than individual tracks.  “Various Artists” is used for albums or compilations containing pieces by multiple artists.

Figure 3.  Dialog box for entering CD-Text information for a track.


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