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).
Cover Flow: View tricks
Scroll Through Your Collection In Cover Flow, use your mouse’s scroll wheel to quickly flip through your library, cover by cover. The faster you spin your wheel, the faster the flipping will be. You may have to adjust your mouse’s scrolling speed if you want to see just one album cover per scroll click.
Include Podcasts You can browse podcasts in Cover Flow if you create a smart playlist defined as Podcast Is True.
Toggle the Album Column Whatever view you’re in (list, album, or Cover Flow), clicking on the Album column now cycles among three options: Album (in which albums are sorted alphabetically by album title), Album By Artist (in which albums are grouped by artist and then listed alphabetically), and Album By Year (in which albums are grouped by artist and then listed chronologically). Those last two options are particularly nice for playing whole albums at a time and keeping artists together.
Party Shuffle: More iTunes 7 tips
Skipping Records iTunes 7 keeps track of when and how often you skip a song (by clicking on the Next button). The Skip Count view option keeps track of how many times you’ve skipped to the next track within the first 19 seconds of a song. (Skipping backward or using the mouse to begin playing a different song doesn’t count.) The Last Skipped view option shows you the last time you skipped a track. These new view options have no history before iTunes 7, so iTunes 7 will track only those songs you’ve skipped since you installed it.
You can use these two options to create smart playlists of tracks you don’t like to listen to. For example, you could create a smart playlist with the criterion Skip Count Is Greater Than Number , where Number is any number you choose. To get rid of tunes you’ve been skipping, select them and press Command-option-delete to immediately expunge them from your library.
How Fast? When you’re waiting for your latest purchases from the iTunes Store to arrive over the Net, you can monitor their download speeds in the Downloads section. Click on the gray text under one of the songs that hasn’t yet started to download. When you do, it will change from “48.2 MB of 402.3 MB – 24 minutes remaining” to “48.2 MB of 402.3 MB – (15.3 kb/sec) 24 minutes remaining”—a simple way of checking your download speeds.
You can now start watching a video or movie from the iTunes Store before it has finished downloading. In the Downloads pane (click on Downloads in the Store section), double-click on the downloading item you want to watch. It will open and start playing, even as the download continues.
Open a New Library Maybe you have a massive music collection. Maybe you’re planning on buying a bunch of movies from the iTunes Store and wonder if you have the hard-drive space to store them. In either case, it can be handy to keep your iTunes collection in multiple libraries. iTunes 7 lets you. Launch iTunes while holding down the option key. A dialog box will appear, asking you to choose an existing library, create a new library, or quit the program. Once you’ve created multiple libraries, you’ll need to hold down the option key while launching iTunes whenever you want to switch between them.
Easy Backups The new iTunes makes it easy to back up your collection. When you select File: Back Up To Disc, you can choose to back up your entire library, just your store purchases, or just the items that have changed since the last backup. iTunes can back up only to recordable CDs or DVDs, so you can’t specify an external hard drive as the backup destination. The program will, however, automatically split your library into chunks appropriately sized for the selected media.
Convert Smart Playlists One of the niftiest things about the new Source list is that it lets you quickly convert a smart playlist to a regular one: just drag the smart playlist from its position in the Source list until it’s directly over the Playlists entry, and then drop it. iTunes will create a new regular playlist containing the current contents of the smart playlist; the only difference is that the new playlist won’t update itself. The original smart playlist will remain as it was, so you won’t lose anything in the process.
[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of Secrets of the iPod, fifth edition (Peachpit Press, 2005), and The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2006). Senior Editor Dan Frakes is also the senior reviews editor at Playlistmag.com. Senior Editor Rob Griffiths edits the Mac OS X Hints Web site. ]