Mp3 player album art is both a common and annoying problem. You have a music collection on your computer complete with beautiful, high resolution album art, and a portable MP3 player or smartphone which, no matter what you do, won’t show that artwork! It does not matter if you have an ipod with music album covers or a generic mp3 player, it is the same annoying problem.
I’ve been writing software to fix mp3 player album art in music collections for a couple of years now, so what are the main reasons I’ve seen for album art transfers failing?
I’ll list the reasons with examples of how to fix the situation using MP3Tag, a popular MP3 tagger. A description of how to install and setup MP3Tag is beyond the scope of this article, so please refer to the MP3Tag website.
1. Support for separate or embedded art
There are generally two ways of providing your album art. Either have it as a separate file, or embed the artwork in the music files themselves.
When using a separate file you normally save the art in a file called ‘folder.jpg’, ‘cover.jpg’ or some other well known name, within the album directory the artwork represents.
When embedding art you need to use a music tagger to insert the artwork into the music file. Music players that support embedded art then read and display the artwork from within that music file. This is more flexible, because you don’t need to copy a separate image file around.
You need to check your documentation for whether your music player supports separate artwork, embedded or both. Some music players take an active dislike to embedded art. If there’s no information in your manuals, check out online resources such as forums dedicated to your music player. You might be surprised to find a Google discussion search for “[music player name] album art” brings back the answer.
To embed art using MP3Tag, first select all the tracks for the album for which you want to embed the artwork. Here, I’ve selected all tracks for Head Music by Suede:
Now, right-click the empty CD cover area at the bottom-left of the window and choose Add cover… Now choose your artwork:
Finally, save the files so that the artwork is actually written into the files. Making sure all the files are still selected, click the ‘Save’ icon or choose File > Save Tag.
2. Multiple pieces of art
Many music file formats allow the embedding of multiple pieces of art. This is useful to record not only the front cover, but also the back cover, inserts and other visual media.
Unfortunately, some music players just refuse to show artwork for files with multiple pieces of art. Try removing all but one of the artworks and trying again. You need to use a music tagger for this.
To use MP3Tag, right click the first track which has multiple pieces of art and choose Extended tags. A dialog is shown:
Note at the top-right of the dialog: “Cover 1/2“. This means the first of the two covers is being displayed. Select the cover you want to remove using the ◀ and ▶ buttons, then remove the cover using the ✘ button to the right of the cover. Advance to the next file using the >> button, at which point you’ll be asked if you want to save the tag… choose Yes.
For a lot of files, this is quite a task. You could also remove album art automatically using bliss.
3. Misuse of the ‘picture type’
Embedded art can carry further metadata. For instance, the image format can be recorded within the music file. In addition, for MP3s there’s a piece of metadata known as ‘picture type’.
‘Picture type’ identifies what purpose a piece of art has, related to the wider album/track. For instance, it may identify a piece of art as the front cover, back cover or a picture of the band performing the song.
Some music players won’t display artwork that is not of the ‘front cover’ type. This can make it difficult to display artwork embedded from iTunes, because iTunes ignores the ‘picture type’ metadata. It’s worth trying to specify your artwork as ‘front cover’ if it’s not already. This can be accomplished with MP3Tag. Choose the file you want to edit, then right click on the album art and hover over Set cover type:
If it’s not already set to Front cover, set it now, save the tags and retry viewing the art in your player.
4. Wrong version of ID3
ID3 is name given to the way metadata is stored within MP3 files. ID3 has come through many different versions. ID3v1 allowed only textual information. It was only when ID3v2 arrived that album art could be embedded, so your music files require an ID3v2 tag to embed artwork.
The trouble is that there are still more versions of ID3v2: ID3v2.2, ID3v2.3 and ID3v2.4. Music players can be quite picky over which ones they support. Support for ID3v2.4 seems to be worst, so it might be, if your music files use that format, your music player is not capable of reading embedded art from the music file. If you’re relying on embedded art, that’s a problem. You’ll have to change your version of ID3. ID3v2.3 is probably the best supported option, but you should check your player’s documentation.
This only saves future edited files with the new ID3v2 format, however. Again, for a large collection this is a pain, so you can use bliss to upgrade all tags to ID3v2.
5. Unsupported image
Most music players support JPEGs (image files with the extension .jpg or .jpeg). Support for other image formats such as PNG, BMP or GIF is more variable, so perhaps look to see if you can change your image format to a different type. JPEG is normally a safe bet.
Believe it or not, not even all JPEGs are created the same. JPEGs can have different attributes unsupported by music players which means your music player will not display the artwork even if it’s a JPEG. ‘Progressive’ JPEGs are optimised for displaying in gradually higher quality over a slow network connection, but support in music players is poor. ‘Lossless’ JPEGs are also less likely to be supported. Try converting your JPEGs so they are neither lossless nor progressive.
To use MP3Tag for this purpose you should follow the instructions above to remove and then re-embed images in the correct format.
I hope this list of reasons helps you fix your album art and portable music player synchronisation problems!