iTunes and artwork

I was chatting with a pal the other day and during the course of the conversation he said:

“Hey, what’s up with iTunes’ artwork? I took a bunch of my iTunes music files, opened them in another music application that should show embedded artwork, and the artwork was missing. That didn’t used to happen.”

And I said:

“Ah”

in that all-knowing way and replied, simply, “Stay tuned,” because you don’t want to waste this sort of information on a casual chat when you can earn the daily loaf by blogging about it.

In the pre-iTunes 7 days, album artwork was embedded within individual music tracks. This meant that if you opened those tracks in an application capable of displaying embedded artwork, that artwork made its presence known. The downside of this scheme is that the inclusion of artwork made the file a bit bigger—artwork can be a few hundred kilobytes in size.

iTunes 7 comes along and changes everything. Album artwork is no longer embedded in files but, instead, placed in a labyrinth of artwork folders stored in these locations:

Mac: youruserfolder /Music/iTunes/Album Artwork

Windows: /My Documents/My Music/iTunes/Album Artwork

Within this Album Artwork folder you’ll find Local and Download folders. The artwork for your music files is stored in the Local folder, inside a series of incomprehensibly named folders within a series of incomprehensibly named folders. Dig down far enough and you’ll eventually encounter an incomprehensibly named file that ends with the .itc extension. This file houses the .jpg file of a particular piece of album artwork.

This is a more efficient system than embedding a single jpg into multiple music files. It keeps file size down because it adds a small reference to the .itc file rather than appending the same jpg to every track on an album. And because iTunes adds just a single piece of artwork and then references multiple files to it, artwork is added more quickly.

You can’t open this file in a graphics application because it includes more than just the image—there’s some header data in there that allows iTunes to deal with the file. There are applications that will extract album artwork but you can do it by hand by selecting a track, calling up the Info window, clicking the Artwork tab, selecting the artwork, copying it, and pasting it into a graphics application. Tedious if you do this a lot, I know.

You have the option to copy album artwork to an iPod capable of displaying it. You’ll find that option in the Music tab of iPod Preferences. Click that tab and enable or disable the Display Album Artwork on Your iPod option. If you enable it, thumbnails of the artwork will be stored on the iPod in the Artwork folder within the invisible iPod_Control folder at the root level of the iPod. On my 2GB 2G iPod nano this artwork takes up around 5MB of storage.

If you’d like to return to the days of old and have your artwork embedded in individual tracks—so you can view that artwork when opening tracks in another application, for example—it can be done. Mac users can turn to Brian Webster’s free Embed Artwork AppleScript, which can be found on Doug Adams’ Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes. Windows users can put Robert Jacobson’s free iTunes Insert Artwork script to use for similar purposes.

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