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.

Share this article:Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+3Share on LinkedIn0





29 replies
  1. meandtheo says:

    i’ve added 2 secs of silence (generated on audacity and converted to aac format)
    after a couple of tracks… but when i burn the playlist, the 2 seconds turns into
    6! plus the 2 seconds itunes already adds at the end of each track, it ends up at
    8 seconds. what’s up with that? i tried it again with 1 sec of silence… and still
    ended up with 8 secs. can you tell me what’s going on?

    Reply
      • meandtheo says:

        i did come across this, about audio files of silence of varying lengths, made as a
        novelty & available to download (at
        http://duramecho.com/Misc/SilentCd/index.html ):

        "If you burn the tracks to a audio CD formatted to play in a normal old audio CD
        player then there are 2 restrictions imposed by the original CD spec:
        1. All tracks must be >=2 s long. Therefore the 1 s second track must be
        omitted. (I’ve included it in the download for completeness anyway though.)…"

        Reply
  2. dumbledad says:

    Thanks for this (and for promoting the link to the other versions). This is exactly what I was after. My son and I are off to see Purcell’s "Dido & Aeneas" paired with Handel’s "Acis & Galatea" (http://www.roh.org.uk/whatson/production.aspx?pid=7081 ) so I wanted to make a playlist with both pieces on, but clearly there needs to be a good pause between them. Voilà

    Reply
  3. Diana says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

    I’m a teacher and wanted to do a playlist for circuit training with silence in between each track, and this makes it SO much easier!

    Again, thanks. Brilliant.

    Reply
  4. Anya says:

    Thank you so much for these tracks! I am putting together a wedding iPod playlist and after the first song there clearly needs to be a pause and I didn’t want someone responsible for stopping the music at that moment. This solves the problem!

    Reply
  5. Jim Haskell says:

    I highlighted the files to download but could do so only by individually dragging to the desktop. Did not get a menu that allowed for copying or downloading to the DL folder. This resulted in files that ended in dot mp3 dot webloc. Was able open them in iTunes (10) but when I tried to use them, iTunes (and Toast 8) said unrecognizable url. What’s the trick to converting these “mp3” files to something that iTunes or Toast 8 will recognize.

    As all work with is classical music, I want to add the silence file to the beginning of tracks ripped from a CD into the library rather than playlists; hence providing dead time between the end and beginning of pieces. From here they go to the iPod.

    Thanks for any help

    Reply
  6. Aaron Meurer says:

    It’s actually a common misconception that Cage’s piece is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The piece really consists the sounds of the environment around the listener. Therefore, I recommend taking off your headphones when listening to it.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4′33″.

    Reply
  7. Ame says:

    THANK YOU! I’m making a wedding montage, and I needed a bit of silence between songs. I tried to do it on my own, and it was terrible! You have saved me heartache. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Andy says:

    This is so useful.

    I grew up listening to vinyl LPs. Each side would be 15-20 minutes, then you’d have to physically get up, turn the disc over, stretch your legs. I found this listening period to be optimul.

    CDs gave an illusion of ‘value for money’ by giving 74mins. But that’s like a 4 sided double-album. Who can listen to 74 mins non-stop? I can’t.

    Now, I can use your ‘silent’ tracks to split CDs up into 15-20 min LP sides. Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ back to it’s original state with a pause halfway through. And I can create ‘LPs’ out of CDs, downloads and playlists.

    Great idea, much appreciated.
    hope you’re having a festive holiday break
    Andy

    Reply
  9. S.S. says:

    YES! Thank you for this!! I always hate it when a beautiful track moves immediately to the next. Some recordings include a bit of silence, but not always. This is brilliant! It’ll have me having to hit the pause button. ;D

    Reply
  10. Shona says:

    Thank you SO much for these downloads, they saved me a lot of trouble. I am putting together songs for a fitness routine and there has to be gaps between each song . I am so grateful, you have no idea, thank you!

    Reply
  11. John Roscoe Lester says:

    I was listening to the tech night owl as usual and you were on …. Thank you!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU !! Thank YoUU for talking about how people feel about about all the Gray in ITUNES toolbar … That should also in the SAFARI toolbar also .. There is so much gray i thought this was a sign that mac was dieing … ( spooky) .. If some people still like the gray on everything ,thats ok … But at lease give your loyal customers a choice to gray or not gray and thanks for letting us know you are listening to us …….

    Reply
  12. Anne says:

    I asked at a Mac store 18 months ago for something like this-everything ran together. They were stymied and so was I. Thank you for your generosity in sharing this…

    Reply
  13. gille says:

    I downloaded your Silence zip yesterday and woke this morning with feelings of gratitude for this gift. I use it to extend the silence between tracks of meditation. So blessings from the SE coast of Southern Africa

    Reply
    • June Walker says:

      Thank you so much for posting this Silence again, I downloaded and it works this time, you are most generous.

      Reply
  14. Richard the Milk of Bristol says:

    Excellent, Thank you for this silence, I am preparing a CD of music to be used at remembrance parade on Sunday where there is need for a silent section between last post and reveille. I can now just run the CD and have all the cues in the right place without any issues. :-)

    Reply
  15. Alison L says:

    THANK YOU for these clips posted years ago. I am using them for a retirement presentation to speak in between excerpts of musical clips. Can’t imagine how it would have worked so well otherwise!! Grateful for you sharing them.

    Reply
  16. Rudy Dankwort says:

    Thank you a lot for this great idea. Took a bit of work but finally my playlists are ordered properly. For classical music, which I listen to exclusively, this is an absolute necessity.

    Reply
  17. ming says:

    Thank you very much! I am making a playlist for a book launch event and where some of the tracks I’ve assembled have a good interval of quiet after the music, many don’t – making for a jarring transition to the next piece of music… I think your tracks of (blissful) silence will let everything breathe together more happily!

    Reply
  18. sam fuentes says:

    i put 30 sec of silence between songs on my playlist but when i go to sync to ipod classic the 30 sec of silence between songs don’t transfer to ipod, how to fix this.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply