As the one year anniversary of iTunes Match approaches, many users are currently wondering if they are going to renew the $25 a year service. For some users iTunes Match works fine; for others it’s a disaster. I recently did some research for a Macworld article that will be published on November 14, the date that iTunes Match was introduced last year, and found that many users suffered from a number of problems. These involve poor matching, incorrect matching (often “clean” versions of songs instead of “explicit,” or live versions instead of studio versions), problems with tags disappearing, and especially problems with playlists not syncing correctly or getting mixed up.
So, if you’ve decided to throw in the towel on iTunes Match, you had better prepare. If you don’t have local copies of all your music, start downloading it now. Because if you don’t, when iTunes Match turns off for you, you won’t have access to any of that music, and you can’t get it back.
Posted: 11/8/2012 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X, iPod & iTunes Tags: Apple, digital music, iTunes | 15 Comments »
A few months ago, I pondered why there are so few albums with digital booklets on the iTunes Store. I had discovered at the time that Apple imposes their own page format, which is not that of CD booklets, adding an extra step in the production process for record labels.
Well I found out something else recently: why record labels don’t add digital booklets to older releases. The answer is interesting; it’s because they can’t. Apple won’t let them. If a label has uploaded an album to the iTunes Store and wants to add a digital booklet later, the only way they can do this is to delete the original, and create a new album listing with a new SKU. And if they do this, then purchasers will no longer be able to re-download music listed under the old SKU.
It’s kind of foolish; it should be drop-dead simple to add something to an album on the iTunes Store, but Apple’s system is so rigid that it’s impossible. So if you wonder why your favorite label hasn’t added digital booklets to older releases, you now know why.
Posted: 10/25/2012 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X, iPod & iTunes, music Tags: classical music, digital music, iTunes, iTunes Store, music | 6 Comments »
In case you don’t know the tricks to unwrapping CDs, here’s a video from the Proper Discord blog:
Posted: 8/22/2012 by kirk | Filed under: music Tags: classical music, digital music, music | 1 Comment »
I got an e-mail the other day from someone I’m in touch with regularly at a classical music label. He had bought some music from the iTunes Store, and found that a couple of the tracks were truncated. They were the correct length and size, but the music cut off before the ends of the tracks. In his case, these were tracks downloaded automatically. He had bought the music on his iPhone, and had iTunes on his PC set to automatically download his purchases.
I came across a similar problem yesterday. I bought some music from the iTunes Store, and one of the tracks cuts off after about 4:15 (the entire track is 12:59). Here’s how it looks:
This is similar to what my friend reported, but in my case these weren’t automatic downloads; these were regular downloads. Curiously, when I went to my Purchased list, the album in question doesn’t show up, even though the order is in my order history. I’ve contacted iTunes Store support to get another download, but I’m curious if other users have been seeing this problem. If so, post a comment below.
Update: My problem got fixed when a friendly iTunes Store representative put my purchases back in my download queue. (Interestingly, they don’t ask you to re-download from the Purchased list.) But I’ve heard from many other people who have had this problem, one of whom e-mailed me today saying that Apple is now asking for a lot of network information, such as his ISP and the type of connection he has (DSL, dial up (!!!), cable, etc.)
Update: since I first posted this article, I’ve heard from a number of people who are getting truncated downloads when they download tracks from iCloud. These are matched tracks, apparently, not tracks that were uploaded, and this seems to be happening fairly often. I downloaded 53 tracks yesterday, and 4 of them were truncated; that’s 7% of them, or 1 in 14. Re-downloading them results in good tracks, so this is clearly a server issue. If you have downloaded truncated tracks from iTunes Match, post something in the comments.
Update 2: Doug Adams wrote an AppleScript that can detect truncated tracks.
Posted: 7/30/2012 by kirk | Filed under: iPod & iTunes Tags: digital music, iTunes, iTunes Store | 20 Comments »
iTunes’ library contains a number of sub-libraries for the different files it contains: there’s Music, Movies, TV Shows, Books, and others. (There are also libraries for non-media content, such as apps, and ringtones, which are only meant to be used on an iPhone.) But one thing that’s missing is a Music Videos library. Music videos get mixed in with your Music library, under the genre, artist and album (if any) they are tagged with.
You can set any type of content to reside in a specific library. For audio content, you can choose Music, Podcast, iTunes U, Audiobook or Voice Memo. For video, you can choose Music Video, Movie, TV Show, Podcast or iTunes U. You can do this for any track by selecting it, pressing Command-I (or Control-I on Windows), then clicking on the Options tab. Choose the library where you want to store the file from the Media Kind menu.
I can understand the idea behind having music videos mixed in with music; they are often part of an album, or if they are pop songs, most iTunes users probably want to play them when they’re listening to music. But it would make more sense if they were in their own library, especially if you have a lot of them.
I have a number of music DVDs that I have ripped, along with some music videos that I’ve gotten with iTunes Store purchases, and I have them as Movies, because it’s just more logical. But they’re not movies; they may actually be TV shows (technically), or simply videos of concerts, operas or other performances. I put many of them as TV Shows, because they have multiple discs, such as the Barenboim on Beethoven set in the screen shot below. Organizing this with each disc as its own movie wouldn’t make sense. The same would be the case for, say, a long opera that is on two discs, or the Grateful Dead’s Closing of Winterland, which is on three discs.
I would like to see a Music Videos library, and give users the options, somewhere in iTunes’ preferences, to either store music videos there or in their Music library. For those who have a lot of videos, it makes sense.
(Note: you can create a Music Videos genre if you wish, and still keep these files in your Music library. Instead of being sorted with the albums they come from, or the artists on them, they’d be in their own genre and easier to spot. But having a separate library is still one step easier.)
Posted: 7/24/2012 by kirk | Filed under: Apple & Mac OS X Tags: digital music, DVDs, iTunes, music | 6 Comments »
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 40,000 songs on an iPod, 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:
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.
Addendum: a comment mentions another source for silent tracks. I’ll make a clickable link to that source here. You can try both and see which interpretation you prefer. This other source does have more choices as to length.
(Updated from an article originally published in 2005.)
Posted: 7/9/2012 by kirk | Filed under: iPod & iTunes Tags: digital music, iTunes, music | 22 Comments »
I get a lot of new CDs, and I rip them to my iTunes library immediately. (Well, sometimes they can pile up…) When I do, I tag them appropriately, and I always add album art. Ideally, I look for 600×600 pixel graphics, as this seems to be a good compromise between quality and size. Album art of this size displays well on my iPhone and iPod touch, and looks okay on my iPad and my TV (when I use my Apple TV). This size is what iTunes offers, and what some other sites, such as eMusic provide.
In addition, as a reviewer for MusicWeb International, I get a lot of CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays for review. When I send my reviews to the site’s editor, I have to attach a cover graphic.
Unfortunately, there are times when I go to a record label’s web site and find only small album art; generally around 200-300 pixels, much too small to use on anything other than a web page. (MusicWeb International uses 300×300 pixel graphics; in many cases I can’t find album art that big.) Displaying a cover graphic this size on an iPad, for example, looks horrendous; even an iPhone makes it look pretty bad.
I was prompted to write this post because, today, I ripped this CD of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard sonatas. I received this for a MusicWeb review, and the label (Bis, which I discuss below) only provides a 150×150 pixel image, the one you see here. I had to spend a lot of time to find something better, as I need at least 300×300 pixels for my review.
There are many record labels that obstinately refuse to provide album art for download. Not only for download by passers-by, but even when you purchase music from them digitally. I can only be stunned by this refusal to provide these graphics. I assume that labels that don’t provide album art do so because they figure that only people who have illegally downloaded their music will want it. But what about people like me who rip CDs they have bought? It’s much easier – and better quality – to get cover art from a record label than to scan it myself.
There are some exceptions. Hyperion Records provides 700×700 pixel album art for all its releases; just go to their site, click on an album graphic to go to a disc’s page, then click on the graphic that displays on the left sidebar. This will expand to provide a large image on the page, which you can then download.
On the other extreme, a label I appreciate very much, Bis Records, only provides graphics at 150×150 pixels, a horrendously small size. Even on their download site, eclassical, you can’t access album art. You can download a PDF of the album booklet, and extract the first page to get the album art, but this isn’t something that everyone knows how to do. (By the way, I don’t mean to pick on Bis, who releases wonderful music. It was just their CD that irked me today.)
And even the Grateful Dead, whose music I listen to regularly, and whose discs I buy often, makes it really hard to get album art. While you can get zoomed graphics in their music store, these graphics display in a way that prevents easy downloading. You have to know HTML to find the actual URL from a web page’s source to grab the files.
What’s the big deal? What do these labels think they’re protecting? Interestingly, if you look at music you can download illegally, it often has very large album art, well scanned and ready for use. But if you buy CDs legally, you have to work hard to get the same graphics.
Record labels need to wake up. Every hindrance to legal purchases is just going to hurt them more. If there really is one record label that thinks that there is some valid reason for not providing album art, I would love to hear it.
Posted: 6/11/2012 by kirk | Filed under: iPod & iTunes, music Tags: classical music, digital music, iTunes | 11 Comments »
Tomorrow sees the release of a set of Beethoven’s complete* piano sonatas by Korean pianist HJ Lim. While it’s going to be released in a week on 8 CDs from EMI, this set is curiously released on the iTunes Store at the astoundingly low price of $9.99. (The CD release is currently priced at around $94 on Amazon.)
I stuck an asterisk in the first paragraph next to the word “complete,” because it is important to point out that this set only contains 30 of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, leaving out sonatas 19 and 20. In the notes to this set, Lim says:
When it came to the sonatinas Op.49 Nos. 1 & 2, educational pieces that were composed to train pupils and published against the composer’s wish and well before the Sonata Op.2 No.1 in F minor which he wanted to be published as his first ever sonata and indeed, here, the Beethovenian signature is strongly impregnated, I chose to respect the latter’s intention by separating them from the main cycle.
This is an interesting choice, as every other pianist does perform these two sonatas, even though they are short works, only two movements each.
In any case, Lim takes an interesting approach to the works. Instead of them being on each CD in more or less chronological order, she has grouped them by “theme,” with groupings such as “Heroic Ideals,” “Nature,” “Assertion of an inflexible personality,” and “Destiny.” (With the download, however, the sonatas are not grouped at all, so listeners will need to consult the liner notes to spot the groupings.) There is much hubris in Lim’s approach, and this is apparent in the notes, where the first few paragraphs mention “the Creator,” “Prometheus,” and “Napoleon.” Lim seems to be one for bombast. Writing about the Op. 106 sonata, the Hammerklavier, she says:
While the aesthetic laws of music are a microcosmic interpretation inspired by the secret laws of the universe, and a musical idea carries a certain universality, the first explosive chords of the first movement could be described as the Big Bang, the creation of the world, the trigger of all sonata movements human conscience…
Posted: 5/21/2012 by kirk | Filed under: music Tags: classical music, digital music | 18 Comments »
Lim also plays fast; very fast. She justifies this by the tempo indications of the Hammerklavier, saying that “thanks to these tempo indications given by the composer himself, we can also place the other sonatas, using these works as a reference with their clear tempo markings.” Her tempi are noticeably faster than most pianists, and this gives the music a bit of a virtuosic sound, especially in movements with very fast runs like the scherzo of Sonata no. 10. Whether each listener appreciates these tempi is up to them, but she plays these works in 8 hours and 55 minutes, or about 40 minutes faster than Ronald Brautigam in his set on Bis (the fastest set I have), 1 hour and 40 minutes faster than Paul Lewis’s set on Harmonia Mundi, and 2 hours and 14 minutes faster than Daniel Barenboim’s first set on EMI. (Some of these differences may or may not be due to the inclusion of repeats; I haven’t compared them to that level. Note that I am not including the “missing” sonatas 20 and 21 in the timings of the other sets.)
What I find most disturbing about this set is the sound of the piano. It is a Yamaha CFX, and it sounds like Lin is playing on icicles. This harsh, thin, almost artificial sound, combined with the speed of the playing, makes this set sound very cold and distant. While the technique is there, I hear little emotion, as it seems that the goal here is to be flashy and flamboyant, rather than reflective. Even if the tempi are more “authentic” than what other pianists play, perhaps the tradition of playing more slowly comes from a desire to give the listener more time to appreciate the music. Whether or not it is right or wrong to play this fast is the decades-old debate of “authentic” performance. While playing on a fortepiano, which has less resonance, may justify that speed, playing on a modern piano, in my opinion, does not. (This explains, perhaps, why Ronald Brautigam, who plays on fortepianos, plays these sonatas faster than many other pianists.)
EMI’s approach of selling this set by download so cheaply is interesting. I’m sure that, because of the price, this set will sell well, at least on the iTunes Store. As to whether it’s a set that will last remains to be seen. HJ Lim is a very talented musician, but I would like to hear something more than just flashy playing.
Update: It’s around 2 pm French time, and this set is already #3 on the US iTunes Store. I have to, however, criticize EMI Classics from posting a 5-star review there, especially after EMI, in a post to a classical music newsgroup, stated that the did not post any “fake” reviews of this set on Amazon. I guess using the name EMIClassics for their iTunes review is transparent, but it’s still pretty lame.
Update 2: Just when this article went live on the TechHive web site the set was #1 on the classical charts on the iTunes Store. But it has not broken in to the top 200 overall album sales chart. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is, however, #155 on that chart.
Update 3: Someone I know is reporting that at least two of the files – the final movements of sonatas 21 and 26 – are truncated. I got my files before release directly from EMI, so I don’t have this issue. Is anyone else seeing this problem?
Update 4: One day after release, this set is now #62 in the overall albums chart on the iTunes Store. I wonder if it can move higher, getting into the top ten; that would be a real coup for EMI.
Update 5: It’s six hours later, and the set is #52 in the overall chart. My guess is that if it were highlighted on the main Music page, it would be even higher. I’m going to wager that it reaches the top ten, which would be the first time I can remember a classical album reaching that level on the iTunes Store.
Update 6: Well, it looks like this set peaked around #52, and has been dropping since. On May 25, it’s #95 in the overall chart. Still, this is very impressive for a classical album.