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Tweaking iTunes

by Giles Turnbull
01/31/2006

What Is iTunes?

We've shown you how to tweak Apple's Mail application. Now it's time to explore similar tweaks and tips for making iTunes more to your taste.

Of course, iTunes is in a different league from Mail. You could almost argue that it is Apple's single most important piece of software after OS X, its flagship digital product.

Why? Because iTunes is the software hub that makes the iPod such a successful device.

And since it was made available for Windows as well as Mac OS X, iTunes has become the first piece of Apple software many people ever see. As such, it acts as a representative, a means for Apple to show off its wares to potential new customers. The presence of iTunes on so many Windows machines may well be a significant contributor to the apparent iPod "halo effect" that has helped Apple's bottom line in the last year and prompted encouraging predictions from industry analysts about the years to come.

What's more, iTunes does so many things. From its beginnings as a humble audio player, iTunes has now become a central point for downloading and enjoying all manner of multimedia content. Podcasts, music videos, online radio, TV shows, and audio books have all got a place in the iTunes Sources bar.

And iTunes is also a store. For many people, the iTunes Music Store is the first thing they try out when using iTunes for the first time. What better way to celebrate the arrival of a new Mac than to fire up iTunes and go shopping? For some newbies, buying a song on iTMS might be their first-ever experience of online retail. No wonder people get hooked.

So iTunes has a unique position. It is much, much more than a music player. It is Apple's representative to the non-Mac world, a focal point for Apple's growing media empire, and a pioneering combination of desktop application and online service.

With all that in mind, let's ask ourselves: how can we mess around with iTunes?

Automate iTunes

Related Reading

iPod and iTunes: The Missing Manual
By J.D. Biersdorfer

If you're someone who likes to sleep in the same room as your Mac (oh yes, we know you're out there), then it makes sense to use it as a sophisticated alarm clock. Better yet, fix it so that iTunes wakes you up with your favorite songs each morning. AlarmThingy should do the trick.

If it can wake you, of course iTunes can lull you to sleep as well.

Two little apps, iTunesshut and Counter, can help you here. Just pick a playlist to fall asleep to, and nod off knowing your machine will switch itself to sleep when you're safely snoring.

In OS X 10.4, iTunes comes with a decent stack of Automator actions (including several designed for use with iPods) you might like to play around with.

It's easy, using Automator, to create a workflow that looks out for important mail messages, or those filtered in any way you choose, combines them into a new text file, and syncs it to your iPod every time you plug it in.

Browse Easy

When you have the Get Info panel open, you can quickly zip through the info for other songs in the current playlist or view by hitting Command+N for Next and Command+P for Previous.

To stop your iPod automatically updating itself when you plug it into the computer, hold down Command+Option while you do so. You can let go when the iPod appears in the Source list.

To toggle the equalizer window (what do you mean, you didn't know iTunes had an equalizer window?), hit Command+2. And to control precisely what columns are displayed in each playlist, hit Command+J and fiddle with the view options.

At the bottom of the iTunes window, you see a summary of the size of your iTunes library, showing the length of time, in days, that it would take to listen to all your songs. Command-click this to change the display to a precise total showing days, hours, minutes and seconds.

To scrub backward and forward through a song while it is playing, use Command+Option+left/right arrows.

Print CD Sleeves

Many people won't even try to print anything from iTunes--after all, it's not used to create any kind of document. But if you do select an album or playlist and hit Command+P, you'll find a clever dialog box that lets you print various kinds of CD sleeves, including album artwork and neatly formatted track listings. In full color, if you want.

Customize the Visualizer

If you enjoy the visual stimulation of the iTunes Visualizer, you might also get a kick out of taking control of it. While the Visualizer is active, you can use a handful of key commands to change how it behaves:

  • Q and W: step through the list of shapes
  • A and S: step through the list of effects
  • Z and X: step through the list of colors

You can use these in tandem, flicking from one color/effect/shape combo to another, until you find the visual effect you like. It's fun. There are some more Visualizer commands:

  • C: display the current color/effect/shape info
  • D: go back to the default settings
  • F: toggle display of the frame rate (a number will appear in the top left of the Visualizer)
  • H: display all these Visualizer commands (press twice to see the full list)
  • I: display current song info
  • M: toggle through the following modes: Freeze current config / Random slideshow mode / User config slideshow mode
  • O: toggle "overscan" mode (use if you're mirroring your display to a TV; this mode brings all info and feedback text inward so it will be visible on a typical TV display)
  • T: cap the frame rate
  • Shift+0-9: Set a user config
  • 0-9: Go to a user config

While we're on the subject of obscure keyboard commands, here's another. When looking at the iTunes preferences panel, you can flip from one tab to another by using Command+1 for the General tab, Command+2 for the iPod tab, and so on.

Set the Equalizer for Every Song

Using the equalizer in a Library columnWith Library selected in the Source column, hit Command+J to bring up the View Options box; tick the box next to Equalizer. A new column appears in the library view, with a drop-down menu next to every song, so you can adjust the sound to suit your taste, and to suit the music.

Explore Your Music Collection Visually

One of my favorite add-ons for iTunes is Clutter, a free, open source app that lets you look at your music collection the old-fashioned way: by seeing the sleeves.

Clutter gives you the chance to put music CDs anywhere you like on your Desktop. You can drag them into whatever patterns or piles you like. To play an album, double-click the sleeve. It's nice.

And if you're someone for whom the thought of manually importing thousands of artwork images is too much to take, don't worry. There are a bunch of apps and scripts around that can do much of the work for you. Fetch Art is free software for OS X that uses the ID3 tags in your music database to identify songs; it downloads the appropriate artwork from Amazon. Doug's Applescripts has a good selection of additional artwork management tools once you get the hang of things.

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