iTunes 8 Subtleties

15 September 2008

As I was skimming through albums in Grid view, by Artist, it struck me that the grid art was always the first title in alphabetical sequence. I wondered if I could change this to another cover as in iPhoto, by pressing the spacebar when hovering over a cover. Being iTunes, this of course started playing the first song from the first album for that artist. However, I found that if you skim to the cover that you want to represent the artist, right-click and select Set Default Grid Artwork, this will have the desired effect:


There’s a new Description tag in the Video tab:


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You can use this to tag either audio or video. Note that while you can enter a huge amount of characters in this field, analysis with Lostify reveals that this is the short description, and anything over 256 characters is truncated when written to the file. If you import the file into another iTunes library, the description will be truncated.


In the Options tab, you can set whether an audio file is Music or an Audiobook:


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or if a video file is a Movie, TV Show or Music Video


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These are contextual based on file type and the tag is written to the file, not just the database, which is what earlier iTunes versions did. This is a good thing when transferring files to other iTunes libraries. Note that all these and more (Ringtone, etc.) are taggable in Lostify.


Nice new tagging options, but I’m going to stick with Lostify, as it still can access more tags than iTunes 8.

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Make Use of the New Album-Rating Feature in iTunes 7.4

13 September 2007

A poorly advertised new feature in iTunes 7.4 is the option to rate whole albums as distinct from individual items.

Rating in general can be tricky, as it’s arbitrary and one rating must necessarily be compared with another in order to be meaningful. Apple could have created 10 stars (and strangely enough with a bit of voodoo, you can rate with half stars) but that’s getting too complex.

Long ago I realised I could only effectively rate songs as they relate to each other on a particular album. It’s hard to compare The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s outstanding Take Five to AC/DC’s Heatseeker because they are so different, although I’ve rated both songs 5 stars. Therefore I have a lot of 5-star rated songs, but some albums I like more than others. This is where the album rating comes in. Spiderbait’s Grand Slam is one on the top of the list, but Bowie’s Heathen, although cherished, comes in a bit below in my personal estimation. Now I can rate them accordingly. This allows me to more effectively create playlists based on the best songs of all time. For example, I could filter 50 songs rated 5 stars but the album has to be rated 5 stars too. This guarantees the truly best songs. Conversely, you could create a playlist that filtered an album rating of 2 or 3 and cause yourself to reevaluate just how you feel about those albums.

Album Rating

Albums are rated automatically by iTunes, indicated by open stars. As soon as you rate one song, it starts averaging all the individual song ratings and applies this to the album. As you continue to rate songs, the average gets more accurate. You can override at any time and select a rating just like you do with individual tracks, by clicking a star, only you do this in Album View underneath the album artwork. This will change the open stars to closed stars, and iTunes will stop averaging the album rating. If you haven’t rated some songs and you define an album rating, it will update all the unrated songs with the same rating, also indicated by open stars, which can also be changed manually.

We can assume that you bought your albums because you liked the music, so it’s also reasonable to assume that there will be many highly rated songs that saturate the top two ratings. This made it hard to identify the truly great songs without this additional rating option.


How to Split Your iTunes Library

10 July 2007

I am aware that I have a configuration optimised for my own particular computer system, which sometimes makes me shortsighted, and that others’ systems vary widely, but sometimes viewing another’s system really brings home the point.

I have a friend who has three 300Gb drives, but they aren’t RAIDed. He has a space problem that prevents him from moving all that data temporarily while he RAIDs the drives, which was the original plan. I gave him some video for iTunes that he couldn’t fit on his current iTunes drive. He has a huge iTunes library but it’s mostly music, with little video in it.

I have to credit him with the idea that enabled him to split his library. Instead of putting all iTunes content on the one drive, he realised that he could turn off iTunes’ “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” option. This means that he can put the videos on a different volume, then add them without copying. iTunes simply writes the path in its database. In summary, here is his set up:

  • iTunes library folder (consists of database, support folders and files): drive 1
  • Music (in iTunes folder): drive 1
  • Video: drive 2

What can be a little confusing is the location of your support files and the media files themselves, as they can be different. A library means a folder containing your database and any support folders/files, such as Artwork, iPod Games, etc. Your media is by default also in this folder but you can scatter any media to your heart’s content, and with the copy option turned off (as covered above), iTunes will track it all. It is advisable to keep everything together, but not essential.

This technique has ramifications for laptop users. Laptops have smaller drives than desktops. With the default preferences, CDs you rip to your library will go into your iTunes Music folder on your laptop. To add video, which makes sense to keep off your laptop due to file sizes, put it somewhere, then add it to the library and iTunes will write pointers to those files. When you want to play them, attach the external drive or mount the network volume and go.

There is a caveat, which is a disadvantage to this system. The volume where the media is has to be mounted to work. It is best to mount it before you launch iTunes, or at least before you interact with any offline files. If you are using network volumes, it is wise to mount them on startup so you don’t have to think about it. On the Mac, you can add any currently mounted volumes to your startup items in System Preferences > Accounts. They will then mount automatically every time you log in.

This is a good solution for those with limited space.