iTunes remixed

When Steve Jobs introduced iTunes 7, he said that it was the biggest upgrade to the music program since it made its debut almost six years ago. Nobody argued. From the overall interface to each song’s metadata, from the way the program downloads cover art to the way it manages your iPod, there are changes everywhere you look.

But while it’s obvious that there are many new features in iTunes, it’s less obvious how to use them all. So here’s our guide to what’s new in iTunes, as well as some tips for getting the most from them. And in our official Macworld review, we’ll tell you whether those new features make a better iTunes.

Previous versions of iTunes gave you one main way to view your music and video collection: via a columned list. Now, iTunes gives you two more views: an album view and something called Cover Flow. In both, tracks are grouped by album, and you can navigate your collection by clicking on your albums’ cover images.

But songs don’t always display correctly in these two views. Sometimes, iTunes will mistakenly display tracks from a single album as though they were on multiple albums.

For example, you may have an album by one main artist—such as Santana—who joins forces with a guest artist for some songs (in Santana’s case, that would be pretty much anyone else in the music industry). In that instance, iTunes 7 may display each Santana-and-guest song as a separate album. The fix is to select all the tracks on the album, choose File: Get Info, and make sure that the Album field is the same for all of them. If that field is blank, the selected tracks have different album names, and you’ll have to type the album name you want. Then, also in the Get Info pane, enter the name of the main artist in the Album Artist field; leave the Artist field blank.

Greatest hits, tributes, and other album compilations can also stump iTunes. Again, it may split up such compilations into multiple albums. To put things right, select all the tracks that belong to a particular album, choose File: Get Info, choose Yes from the Compilation pop-up menu, and click on OK.

To take advantage of the new Cover Flow and album views, you need album art. The new version of iTunes gives you several ways to get that art, but getting it isn’t always easy.

The basic process is simple: If you choose Advanced: Get Album Artwork, iTunes will search through your entire library for missing artwork and download the album covers for your artless tracks from its online database. If you want artwork for just a specific selection of songs or albums, select them in any of the three views (hold down the shift key to select a range of songs or albums, or hold down Command to make a noncontiguous selection), and then control- or right-click on that selection and choose Get Album Artwork from the contextual menu that appears.

But there’s a catch: iTunes 7 will get artwork only for albums it has in its online store. So if your collection is full of artists who aren’t in the iTunes Store, you’re going to be looking at a lot of blank album covers. If you want cover art for those albums, you’ll have to go out and grab some artwork yourself.

Thankfully, there are countless utilities—such as the Amazon Album Art widget (free) or Utilitunes ($5)—to help you do this. Or you can do it on your own: After selecting a track, search online for an image of the album cover. (Amazon.com and Wikipedia are particularly good sources for finding album covers; 300 by 300 pixels is the optimal size.) Find the best cover image you can, control- or right-click on the image, and select Copy Image. Next, select File: Get Info in iTunes, click in the Artwork box (or, if you’ve selected only one track, click on the Artwork tab), and then control- or right-click to paste the copied artwork there. If the coverless song is currently playing, you can also drag and drop the artwork from your browser into the Now Playing pane.

Even if an album or song is in the iTunes Store, iTunes may not download its cover art. For example, if you’ve changed the genre of a track so that it differs from the genre the store has on file, iTunes won’t find the art. The same goes for other metadata: If what you have doesn’t agree with what iTunes has, you may not get your art. You can either adjust your metadata so it agrees with iTunes’ or go the manual route and copy over artwork yourself.

If, for whatever reason, iTunes goofs and downloads the wrong art (or you want to replace what’s there), you can delete an album’s cover art by selecting all the songs in the album and then either control- or right-clicking and choosing Clear Downloaded Art, or choosing File: Get Info and deselecting the check box next to the Artwork field.

If you add a video that you ripped from a DVD you own (using a program such as HandBrake) to your iTunes library, and if that DVD has the same name as an album, you may run into problems with artwork. For example, you may have ripped the DVD of U2’s Rattle and Hum, but you already have the CD of that album in your library. When you look up the DVD in your Movies library, it may appear with the CD’s artwork. The Selected Items pane at the lower left of the iTunes window may be correct, but the Cover Flow graphic may not be. One way to fix this is to change the CD’s name. In this case, you could change Rattle and Hum to Rattle and Hum with a space at the end of the name. The correct art should now display in the Cover Flow view.

Some albums—live and classical albums, particularly—were meant to be played continuously, with one track flowing seamlessly into the next. Unfortunately, iTunes has never been very good at handling these kinds of albums. The best it could offer was the Join Tracks feature, which you had to implement before you ripped a CD. And unless you did a bunch of geeky fiddling with iTunes’ Chapter Tool and scripts, there wasn’t any way to navigate to individual songs within those joined tracks.

Gapless playback in iTunes 7 is supposed to fix that by automatically detecting albums and groups of tracks that should play seamlessly and playing them back without audible gaps between tracks. But sadly, iTunes’ automatic detection does not always work.

Normally, this won’t be a problem; when you’re listening to an album, iTunes now plays all tracks as though they’re gapless. (Only true gapless albums will sound gapless, though; tracks on other albums have built-in dead air at the ends.) But if you’ve enabled iTunes’ Crossfade feature, the tracks on your gapless albums will be, well, cross-faded. To avoid this, select the tracks on the album and then choose No in the Gapless Album drop-down menu in the Get Info window.

Keep in mind that if you want to play albums gaplessly on your iPod, only fifth-generation iPods (with the latest iPod software update) and second-generation iPod nanos support gapless playback. No other iPods can use this feature.

Go with the Flow: iTunes 7’s Cover Flow view lets you flip through your albums cover by cover.One Album, Many Artists: In the album and Cover Flow views, iTunes may split up albums with multiple artists. The fix: Specify a single Album Artist.Looking for Art: Need cover art for an album? Select the album tracks, control-click, and then select Get Album Artwork.More Information: The new Multiple Item Information window in iTunes 7 includes several handy new fields, including Album Artist (A) and Gapless Album (B).

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