iTunes for My Tunes

There was a time in the not too far distant past in which one made a token of affection for another person by putting one’s favorite songs onto a cassette tape. This mix was considered to be either (a) romantic or (b) dorky and a big turn-off. From those days until now, I have tried to ride the dorky mix wave. I have accounts with last.fm and pandora both of which are also on my iPhone. I have internet radio (Radio? Sure!, radiotime.com, etc.) on my computer and WunderRadio on my iPhone.

I use pandora and last.fm to (a) keep me open to new artists I might enjoy and (b) provide variety in the music I hear on a longer trip. last.fm seems to produce a better mix, but has buffering issues on my iPhone which cause it cut out more frequently than pandora.

Internet radio allows me to stay current with the places from my past (ranging from KKNE in Honolulu to KDKA in Pittsburgh).

I purchased music from a variety of sources, but gravitated to Amazon for convenience and as a reward for bashing down the DRM wall. (Three cheers for Amazon. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!) I have tried a number of music players ranging from Songbird to MediaMonkey to VLC to Windows Media Player etc. My bias is toward open source, but I have come to accept that iTunes is the best library management tool and music player, and not just because it can sync my iPhone. This isn’t to say that if I didn’t have an iPhone I might not use Songbird just to play with all of the available extensions.

Neither Songbird nor MediaMonkey seemed able to keep my library organized or even recognize all of my music. Their user interface was also not as polished. (Although if you’re in the market for cute, they both beat iTunes.) I like coverflow, playlist folders, smart playlists and easily editing meta-data (data associated with a particular track like the genre or cover art).  One nice thing is that with iTunes 8 one can set the Media Kind in the options pane of the Get Info.  It is now that easy to specify that something is an audio book with its attendant place holding.  I haven’t tried the new Auto Fill function for my iPhone but I’m looking forward to using my iPhone’s storage to capacity.

However, Apple is just as much “The Man” as Microsoft and they have some nasty corporate traits.  They may be The Music Man, but they are still “The Man.”  iTunes’ playlists are not compatible with other players and it only automatically monitors what you buy through Apple’s iTunes’ Store. Not that they’re attempting to monopolize your purchases. No, I’m sure they’re happy that I buy my music from Amazon and listen to my music not using their Airport Express. They’re not the kind of company that would make you jailbreak your iPhone if you want to buy apps from somebody else or have to buy an iPod to sync with their playlists.  They wouldn’t come out with a new version of iTunes just so you can’t sync your new Palm Pre, now would they?  No, of course not. (Note: Sometimes print media makes sarcasm difficult to discern so let me make it clear – this is sarcasm.)

Wooo! Got that out of my system. So, naturally, we need to tweak our iTunes a little to optimize it’s potential.

Major shortcoming 1: doesn’t automatically add new songs from non-Apple sources. Correction 1:  iTunes Folder Watch. iTunes Folder Watch will monitor any folder one desires and add new songs automatically to iTunes and, optionally, to a smart playlist. Yes, the free version opens with an annoying splash screen and it is not immediately obvious that there is a way to put it into the system tray without purchasing a license (7.5 Euros), but it does work. CNET has a nice tutorial on how to use iTunes Folder Watch. An alternate approach from iLounge states: “File > Add folder to library > select same directory as “iTunes Music Folder Location” in the “Advanced” Tab of Preferences. I had “Copy music to iTunes directory” on and it didn’t make duplicates.”

Major shortcoming 2: limited to five “authorized” computers for playing your iTunes Store purchases.  Correction 2:  Don’t buy from the iTunes Store.  That’s why there is an Amazon store.

Major shortcoming 3: proprietary playlists. Correction 3: iTunes Export. iTunes Export generates a playlist that my TiVo can understand so that I can stream my music through TiVo to my home sound system. After years of either using headphones or crummy computer speakers this is waaayyyy awesome. I mean way.

“Clean up in Aisle iTunes.”  I’ve been moving my music library around a bit lately due to problems with my hard drives.  This has resulted in ghost tracks that don’t know where their files are, duplicate tracks, and lost artwork.  With iTunes one can choose to display only duplicate tracks, right-click on the one you want to lose, and select clear.  But since I use meta-iPod for the other two tasks, I use it for this as well, and find it quite useful and intuitive.

I heard about all three of these applications through Lifehacker.com and they go a long way toward keeping me satisfied with iTunes for my tunes.  But I’m keeping my eye on Songbird and Media Monkey – just because I don’t like Apple’s attitude.

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4 Responses to iTunes for My Tunes

  1. avatar Tom says:

    The picture with this lifehacker post is too funny. I could have saved myself the above rant if I had only had this poster to show!

  2. avatar Tom says:

    Jason at TechCrunch shows once again why our Apple fails to shine.

  3. avatar Tom says:

    I keep running into issues where I have somehow inadvertently created duplicates of some songs so I ran a few experiments. The good news is that the iLounge tip worked. If I want to add songs from non-Apple/iTunes Store sources, I put the folder into the iTunes library folder/directory. I then simply go to the File menu, select Add Folder and then select the library folder. iTunes added new music without duplicating the old music. iTunes did however convert wma to mp3, placing the mp3 files into iTunes organized folder. Unfortunately, it left the wma’s. From what I could tell, however, it only converts those on the first time you add the iTunes directory folder to itself.

    In fact, the only way I could generate duplicates was with “File->Library->Consolidate Library” where the target folder was not empty.

  4. Awesome post as usual, thanks for posting such informative content on a regular basis.

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