Windows Media Player Album Cover Art Problem Fix Using MediaMonkey

Last updated on December 10th, 2018

I’ve spent hundreds of hours pruning and perfecting my audio library. And there’s always been one issue that has driven me crazy since forever. For some reason, my high-resolution album art covers always got replaced by one or two low quality copies. After years cluelessly dealing with the issue, I finally found out the problem – Windows Media Player rewrites all high-definition album art with 200px and 75px copies! Even if you don’t use WMP! Thankfully, you can stop it from happening again. Here’s an album cover art problem fix using MediaMonkey.

Note – This post is based on users with a Windows PC and Windows Media Player installed. Plus we’ll be using MediaMonkey as part of the solution. If your situation is different, then not everything applies.

What’s the problem

Do you use Windows, keep an offline (ripped/downloaded) music collection and have Windows Media Player (WMP) installed? If so, you might have noticed that your high-resolution album art mysteriously disappears after a while. For years I wasted time replacing the album covers, only for its resolution to get automatically down-sized into oblivion after a few weeks.

Then I found out the problem was Windows Media Player. When I realized the issue, my blood boiled – I don’t even use WMP! Sure, I have it installed like most people, but I never open it. It doesn’t matter. WMP periodically runs in the background and replaces all the album art it finds with square 200px and 75px thumbnails. Whats worse? Users have been complaining about this problem since the early 2000’s and WMP has refused to fix this issue! I can’t believe it’s 2018 and we still have to deal with this crap.

Is there any way to restore the over-written album cover art?

Regrettably, it’s my understanding that there isn’t any way to get back your lost album art. Windows Media Player deletes the artwork embedded in your tracks and creates its own files. This album cover art problem fix will make sure it doesn’t happen again, but it can’t repair past damage. If you just imported your audio library, perhaps you might find it in the ‘Recycle Bin’ – but it’s unlikely. And even if you do find it, restoring it probably won’t work. In other words, trying to restore any album covers after the fact is probably an exercise in futility.

Though there isn’t really any way to restore all the album art you’ve lost, here I’ll show you how to make sure it never happens again.

What you’ll need

MediaMonkey's arguably the best music collection manager out there. If you haven't already, give it a try.
MediaMonkey’s arguably the best music collection manager out there. If you haven’t already, give it a try.

This is what I’m using for this album cover art problem fix. You’ll need ’em too if you intend to follow along.

  • Windows PC with Windows Media Player – Considering how the natively installed Windows Media Player is the cause of this problem, you probably already have this.
  • MediaMonkey – In my opinion, this is the best audio library management software, bar none. It’s also one of quickest ways to review, remove and add album artwork. If you have thousands of tracks on your PC and don’t use this already, give it a try – it’s just freakin’ awesome! Though a bit intimidating at the beginning, the features and customization options are well worth it. And if you try and like it, the Premium Version is even better.
  • Album Art Tagger plugin – We’ll use this MediaMonkey plugin to delete, manage, backup and restore all the album art. Super useful, and it’s free.
Notes

I’m running Windows 10. This solution should work on all present and past Windows versions, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.

I imagine my installation of MediaMonkey looks different from yours. That’s because I have the Eclipse skin for MediaMonkey installed. It’s an older skin, but still my favorite. Regardless, everything should apply regardless of minor changes in how the screenshots look.

Also, I use MediaMonkey Gold, the full-featured premium version of the program. I don’t think you need the premium version to do anything shown in this post, as far as I know. But nonetheless I thought it worth mentioning just in case something changes.

 WMP Album Cover Art Problem fix – Step by Step

Step 1 – Verify Windows Media Player is screwing up your album art

If you check the 'Album Art Properties' tab, you might have noticed your album art getting replaced.
If you check the ‘Album Art Properties’ tab, you might have noticed your album art getting replaced.

The first step is to make sure WMP is actually rewriting, adding and/or deleting your album art.

The giveaway signs are your high-resolution album art disappearing, as well as extra low-resolution copies of album art getting assigned automatically to your tracks. Sometimes it will delete the high-res cover art right away, other times it will disappear randomly over time. If you frequently move your tracks between folders, you’ll often find even more duplicate cover art.

To further verify WMP is at fault, in MediaMonkey hover your mouse over the thumbnail in the ‘Album Art Properties’ tab. You can see an example above. There, a pop-up with the image resolution will appear. If the extra album art has a resolution of 200px and/or 75px (squared), WMP has likely been messing with you. Sometimes it will create both, others just the 200x200px cover. You might notice that the degraded cover art copies that WMP creates are linked as opposed to embedded (for more on that topic, check out this post).

Normally you can’t see the new thumbnails in File Explorer

Windows Media Player may create JPGs, a ‘Desktop.ini’ and a ‘.log’ file for each album folder. Though the files that WMP creates are actually discrete, individual images in your music folders, by default you can’t see them. The problem is that even if you check, you won’t see anything there. That’s one reason why this Windows Media Player problem is so hard to detect and diagnose.

The cause is that Windows hides the files that WMP creates as system files. Allegedly, this is due to the fact that album covers are copyrighted material which the user should not touch. Not even selecting ‘Show hidden files’ in your File Explorer will reveal any of them!

Get Windows to show the hidden files in your audio library

As mentioned previously, the new files WMP creates are hidden as system files. Making them visible isn’t necessary to complete the album cover art problem fix. Nonetheless, you can do so if that’s how you roll. If you want the ability to see them, here’s a trick:

  1. From the Start menu, run the Command Prompt (cmd.exe) as an Administrator.
  2. Type in ‘CD C:\Users\<your name>\Music’ with the folder path representing where your music library is stored. Press enter.
  3. Type in ‘attrib -S -H *.jpg /S’ (without the quotes) to remove the System and Hidden attributes of every JPG file in all of the subfolders below the current location. After that, they will appear in the explorer as ordinary files. Note – It may also be useful to show ‘*.ini’ files as well. To do so, type ‘attrib -S -H *.ini /S‘. The same goes for ‘.log’.
  4. Close the Command Prompt.

To quickly check if there are new files, open File Explorer and navigate to your audio library. In the search box, type ‘*.*‘ to show all the files in that folder. Select the ‘View’ as ‘Details’ and sort by ‘Type’. Scroll through them to check for any new JPG or INI files. In theory there shouldn’t be much more than music files in that folder. if you are able to see the files WMP creates, they’ll have names such as ‘AlbumArt_{B5020207-474E-4720-7741-A520F687F400}_Large’ or ‘AlbumArtSmall.jpg’.

Tip – Another way to check if there are any such hidden files prior to running these steps is using AllWay Sync. Create a copy job selecting your audio library folder as a source and check the list of excluded files. You can see system files there.

Step 2 – Disable Windows Media Player

Disable Windows Media Player in Windows Features menu.
Unmark the checkbox for ‘Windows Media Player’ in the ‘Windows Features’ menu to disable WMP.

Personally, I don’t use Windows Media Player for any media. As such, as soon as I found out WMP had cost me countless hours, my first reaction was to destroy it with extreme prejudice. Considering that that option was off the table, the second-best was to completely deactivate it. Here are the steps to uninstall and disable Windows Media Player:

  1. Go to ‘Control panel -> Programs -> Program and Features’.
  2. Click on ‘Uninstall a Program’.
  3. On the top left side of open window, Choose ‘Turn Windows Features On or Off’. A pop-up window will appear and show you a list of active and inactive features.
  4. Uncheck the option ‘Windows Media Player’ to uninstall Windows Media Player. Note – If you aren’t seeing Windows Media Player directly, then check under ‘Media Features’.
  5. As you uncheck it, it might show you an error message like “Turning Off Windows Media Player Might Affect Other Windows Features And Programs Installed On Your Computer Including Default Settings. Do You Want To Continue?”. Just ignore the message and click on “Yes“.
  6. Click on “OK“.
  7. A progress bar will appear and complete the requested changes. Click on “OK“. Sometimes it will ask you to restart your PC. Click on “Restart Now” in the open window.
  8. Try searching for “Windows Media Player” in your programs to confirm it cannot be opened. To remove the shortcut from the start menu, right-click on the icon and select “Open file location”. There, delete the shortcut.
Note – What if I want to keep Windows Media Player?

There are ways to keep WMP installed while disabling the album art rewriting. However doing so is risky. The solution is more technical and isn’t completely reliable, so I’d caution against it. If you do want to do so nonetheless, an online search should show you the most up-to-date method. Probably involving modifying the Windows Registry.

Step 3 – Decide what to do with the low-res cover art

If, like me, it took you months or years to discover your album cover art was getting chronically destroyed, then your library is probably full of low-res art. If you’ve manually assigned that art in the past, my condolences.

In my case, Windows Media Player left me with a lot of 200x200px and 75x75px thumbnails. You’re going to have to make a difficult choice regarding how to proceed from now on. Whether to keep the low quality album art for the moment or delete it and retag all your tracks again.

Option 1 – Keep the low-res copies

If you’ve got tens of thousands of tracks and no time to spare, you probably have no choice. Keep the low-res album art and simply assign high-resolution album art moving forward. If you disabled WMP, any art you assign from now on should stay in place. In your spare time you can replace the old cover art little by little.

Option 2 – Delete the low resolution album art and start over

The other option is to delete all the small album art covers that WMP has assigned to your tracks. To see one quick way to do so, check out the next step.

Step 4 – Delete the image thumbnails that WMP created

In my case, I reluctantly decided to delete all under-sized album art and start over. There are a few ways to automate that process. One of the easier methods is to use the Album Art Tagger plugin for MediaMonkey. To do so, follow these steps.

  1. Download the file and install the plugin.
  2. Next, in MediaMonkey select all your files with potentially low-res album cover art. The fastest way is to click ‘Entire Library’ and press ‘Ctrl+A’ to highlight all your songs.
  3. Click ‘Tools > Scripts > Album Art Tagger’.
  4. Select ’06. Remove artwork not matching size’, as well as all the other options shown above.
  5. Review the confirmation screen to see if it makes sense for your audio library. Tracks in green have album art smaller than 200x200px (or whatever you have selected) and will be deleted. Tracks in red have larger album art and will not be touched.
  6. Click ‘Ok’ to delete the files.

Step 5 – Reassign your album art

After completing the WMP cover artwork problem fix, you’ll need to rebuild your artwork libraries. There are a few computerized tools to help with that, but honestly I always end up doing it manually. I’ve never been satisfied with any of the automatic album art programs or scripts.

Finding and assigning album art can get a bit technical if you’re a neophyte to the topic. Deciding on the ideal sizes and quality isn’t as intuitive as one might think. I’ve written an additional post with some suggestions and guidelines on cover image specs and where to find them. I’m sure you’ll learn something new. If you’d like to see it, check out the following link:

Tips & Tricks for Finding Album Cover Art for your Music Catalog

Anyway, assign your album art to your tracks and when you’re done come back to see the next step. For those of you with a few thousand albums, I’ll see you in a month or so. I can feel your pain – I’ve been there. Multiple times.

Step 6 – Back up your album art to avoid this problem ever again

How to Backup & Restore Music Library Artwork - Main Thumbnail

After having personally lost countless hours to this bug, I was going to make damn sure it never happens again. And like with anything data related, the best way to do that is a backup. To avoid this post from getting too long, I separated that topic into its own how-to. To see it, click the image above or the link below:

How to Back Up and Restore your Music Library Cover Art

There’s always the possibility that the same problem might occur again if you ever move your music library to another PC. After carrying out the album cover art problem fix, I’d really recommend you take a few minutes to make that backup.

Extra Notes

Alternative method for checking or deleting small album art

Another method to check what size images are in your audio library folder with File Explorer is as follows:

  1. Follow the steps in the ‘Get Windows to show the hidden files in your audio library‘ heading shown above.
  2. Open File Explorer and navigate to your audio library folder.
  3. Type in ‘*.jpg’ in the search bar. It will show you all the jpg files in your folder.
  4. Right click inside the window and change the ‘View’ to ‘Details’.
  5. Right-click on the names of the columns at the top to see the column options, and click ‘More…’ at the end.
  6. Select ‘Dimensions’ and hit ‘Ok’.
  7. When you’re back to the main menu, select ‘Dimensions’ to organize the album cover art by image resolution. Sort them from smallest to largest, or as appropriate.

Once you’ve done so, you can see how many images are below a certain size, how many above, and if desired delete them directly in the File Explorer. Take note that if you delete linked album art this way, it’ll lead to invalid artwork in MediaMonkey. If you do so and need to delete the invalid cover art from your tracks, check the next tip.

Deleting invalid Album Art in MediaMonkey

This is only necessary if you’ve manually deleted JPGs linked as album art in your audio library. If you did, in MediaMonkey, inside ‘Album Art Properties’ you’ll see a bunch of tracks with ‘Invalid Album Art’. This is because the tracks metadata says there should be linked album art, but MediaMonkey can’t find it (because you deleted it). To fix this, we can use ‘Album Art Tagger’ yet again:

  1. Open MediaMonkey, select all tracks (Ctrl+A) and click ‘Scripts > Album Art Tagger’.
  2. Run ‘07. Remove artwork which is invalid’.
  3. Confirm the operation.

After that, you can restore your backed up album artwork if applicable, or simply add it manually on your own.

Next time you install Windows, consider choosing the ‘N’ version

If you’ve ever formatted a PC and installed Windows manually, you might have noticed that one option is a Windows ‘N’ version. The ‘N’ version is simply Windows without the media features, like Windows Media Player. Besides that, it’s identical to regular Windows.

When formating your PC, you might wanna install the ‘N’ version to prevent WMP from rewriting your album art after import. However keep in mind that some issues with missing codecs may appear if you do. A potentially easier option is to simply install the regular Windows and disable WMP before you bring in your files.

Conclusion

While I recognize that all of this is a huge PITA, there's nothing that satisfies one's OCD like a perfectly tagged audio library...
While I recognize that all of this is a huge PITA, there’s nothing that satisfies one’s OCD like a perfectly tagged audio library…

The end. Finally! Anyway, if you’re among the unlucky souls who have had WMP seed destruction among their personal music library, you are not alone. Hopefully this post is the album cover art problem fix you were looking for. If so, may you sleep better at night knowing that your audio cover images are now safe – I know I did. If you weren’t familiar with MediaMonkey before, I hope you like it – It really is one of my favorite programs. And if you really want to empower your OCD, check out this article on fully tagging album art in your music library. It’s worth the read.

Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, check out the homepage to see what other projects I’ve been up to! Or check below for some other popular ones. Besides that, have a good one!

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