Listen Different: Add Silence to your iTunes and iPod Playlists

I’m reposting this article, as it is a perennial favorite. I find that several people a day find this through Google searches, as apparently a lot of people want to know how to add silence to playlists. I can imagine that this is useful for more than the reasons I mention below; I would think DJs and performers might benefit from this technique, but if you find it useful, I’d be interested in knowing how. Several people in the comments mention music for weddings or fitness routines; how do you use these bits of silence? Feel free to post a comment saying how you use these silent files.

iTunes and the iPod are all about music, but as composer John Cage once said, “The music is in the silence between the notes.” In fact, Cage is famous for one of his works, 4’33″, where a pianist sits at the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds and does nothing. The music is in the silence; or rather the lack thereof. For true silence does not exist on our planet. Any performance of this work brings out the ambient noises of the concert hall, the coughs and rustles of the audience, and all the other noises we usually never hear. (Download a performance of 4’33″ here, or buy Cage Against the Machine, an album featuring a recording of this work and a number of remixes.)

You can have thousands of songs on your iPod or iPhone, providing you with hours of listening pleasure, but sometimes you just want to listen to silence. Not that you want silence for any long stretch of time – that’s easy; just turn off your iPod – but you may want to have certain playlists, or even albums, with a bit of a pause between certain songs. A time to take a breath, to appreciate the beauty of the music. So why not use silence in your playlists? After an especially poignant song, add a few seconds of silence – 15 seconds, maybe 30 seconds, or even a minute. Let yourself absorb the song, the world around you, the people with you…

Unfortunately, iTunes does not allow this, nor does the iPod. But there is a simple solution: I’ve created a few tracks of silence that you can download and add to your iTunes music library. You can use them in any playlist, or copy them and add them to specific albums. You can download the files here (right-click on a file, and choose Download Linked File, or whatever your browser says in the contextual menu):

Note: the zip archive also contains a .1 second MP3 file, and a .1 second iPhone-compatible ringtone, as per this hint on the Mac OS X Hints web site.

Each of these tracks is a very low bit rate MP3 file; I encoded them at 8 kbps mono so they take up very little disk space. Each track is tagged with its name, and with the artist, album and genre marked as “Silence” so you can find them easily.

So, what can you do with these tracks? When you’re making a new playlist, think if you really need all the songs to follow each other in a mad rush, or if you want some of the music to sink in before the next song. Insert a Silence track and appreciate the music that you’ve heard before the next track starts. This is especially useful with classical music, where you want enough time for one work to fade away before another – which may be quite different in form or instrumentation – begins. (Many classical albums are engineered with long bits of silence at the ends of works for that reason.)

If you want to insert silence into an album, take one of the Silence tracks and copy it. Then, change the tags so it has the artist, album and genre for the album you want. Finally, you’ll need to edit its track number tag as well as edit all those that come after it on the album. (For example, if you want to insert it at the 3rd position, you’ll need to change track 3 to 4, track 4 to 5, and so on.)

Silence is especially useful if you make playlists for romantic situations; for mellow music that you want to listen to when meditating, doing yoga or simply watching the grass grow; or just to change the way you hear your music. You can also use them when you listen to your iPod in shuffle mode. Make copies of each of the tracks; make a few dozen of each, so you’ll get random silence from time to time, and discover the sounds of the world around you in a new way.

Here’s one practical example. If you meditate, rather than using a meditation timer, create a playlist with as many copies of the one-minute Silence file as you want, followed by a piece of music. So if you meditate for 20 minutes, add the one-minute file to a playlist twenty times, then add a piece of soft music at the end to alert you that the time is up. Start this playlist when you meditate, and let it tell you when you’ve sat for twenty minutes. (Download a 20-minute Silence file, or roll your own, using the precise number of minutes you wish to use.)

Or you can use these silent MP3 files as ringtones or notification sounds on an iPhone or Android phone. Some phones don’t have a silent option, and if you choose one of these files as your notification sound, for example, you won’t hear any sound when you get notifications.