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What to Do when iTunes Changes the Tags of Your Music

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I get a lot of questions for my Ask the iTunes Guy column at Macworld. Some are about hardware, but most are about iTunes and some of its quirky behavior.

I got a question a couple of weeks ago that stumped me. A reader was finding that iTunes was arbitrarily changing the tags of some of the tracks in his Music library. He’d change the tags himself, using a customized tagging system, then, some time later, he’d go back and find that iTunes had reverted the tags to the way they were before. This was only happening to purchased tracks, and, after a lengthy back-and-forth, I came up with a hypothesis. I wrote the reader suggesting he change a setting in iTunes’ preferences.

I’ve been having a problem recently, where certain MP3 files, encoded with LAME 3.99 would skip after 30 seconds. I wrote an article about it this morning, and, after writing that article, I decided to try something radical. I deleted my iTunes library, and rebuilt it. To do this, you quit iTunes, delete the iTunes Library file, then import the iTunes Library.xml file. (Read Apple’s tech note for full instructions.)

This took a while, as iTunes needed to read my 70,000-track library. When it was finished, I found that most of my purchased music had the wrong tags. Hmm, I thought, this is exactly the problem that my reader mentioned. It turns out that, when you launch iTunes, the Show iTunes in the Cloud purchases setting, in the Store preferences, is checked by default.

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iTunes begins populating your library with your purchased tracks, grabbing their tags from the iTunes Store, with the original tags they contain on the store. When iTunes has finished importing your XML file, it retains the tags for those purchased tracks.

So, for my reader, he had this setting turned on – as most people do – and, most likely, each time he relaunched iTunes, it would check for purchases, and display his purchased music with the iTunes Store tags, not his own customized tags.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix. The original tags are still in the music files, and iTunes only writes the new tags to its library file. Create a smart playlist where Kind contains Purchased; this will find all your purchased tracks, which are the ones whose tags will have been changed.

Select all the tracks in that playlist, press Command-I, then change something. Find a tag you don’t use, and check it; you could use, for example, the BPM (beats per minute) tag, or the Comments tag. Click OK, and iTunes will change that tag, but also read the tags from your music files, reverting them to your customized tags.

This is actually quite disturbing, since you may spend a fair amount of time tagging your music, only to have iTunes change it. If you don’t need to download music from the cloud, and you customize your tags, I strongly suggest turning this setting off.

MP3s Played in iTunes Skip After 30 Seconds

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I’ve been having an odd problem in iTunes lately, and I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix it. I’ve also seen that this has been a problem for other users, as seen on Apple’s support forums. (Here’s one thread describing the problem.)

When I play certain MP3 files, they play for exactly 30 seconds, then skip. This happens to almost all MP3 files I’ve gotten lately, and the one thing they have in common is that they are encoded with LAME 3.99; older MP3s encoded with earlier versions of LAME don’t skip, and I have a handful of MP3s encoded with LAME 3.99 that don’t skip as well.

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These are all purchased MP3 files, from classical music sites; one of the files is shown in the screenshot above.

If I try and play these files on my other Mac, they don’t skip; if I send them to someone else, they don’t skip. So there seems to be something going on which is a combination of my main iTunes library, and the LAME 3.99 encoding.

Some Apple forum posters suggest dragging the files to the Finder, then re-adding them to iTunes; if I do that, the first file may play correctly, and sometimes a couple more on on album, but not all of them. And it’s not clear that this solves the problem completely anyway.

Has anyone seen this? Any suggestions to resolve the issue? I’m stumped by this one.

Update: I think I found a solution. Since this was only occurring on one of my Macs, I figured it was a combination of two problems: the MP3 files, and my iTunes library. So I rebuilt my iTunes library (I describe that here; interestingly, it also helped me find the solution to another issue), and, for now, the tracks are playing correctly.

TuneSpan 1.2 Adds Automation, AppleScripts and More

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One of the essential adjuncts to iTunes, TuneSpan, has been updated to version 1.2. I’ve written about how TuneSpan splits your iTunes library across multiple drives, and, if you have a large iTunes library, TuneSpan is a must-have tool.

The new version includes strong support for AppleScript, and you can download a number of AppleScripts from the TuneSpan website. TuneSpan 1.2 also includes automation, so you can set up the app to span certain types of content when you launch it.

There are lots of other new features in TuneSpan 1.2. You can the $15 download TuneSpan from the Mac App Store.

iTunes Radio Adds More Talk Radio Stations

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Apple has added some more talk radio stations to iTunes Radio. In addition to the recently added NPR News and Culture station, they have added ESPN News and Sports.

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There are also five other NPR stations that show up when you do a search when creating a new station:

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It seems likely that more NPR stations will show up in the search in the near future. I would also expect that iTunes Radio may add a Talk genre to make it easier for users to find these stations, as the service evolves beyond simply a tool to try and get users to buy music from the iTunes Store.

Control iTunes Without Using iTunes

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iTunes lets you control your music playback from its window, but if you don’t want the full interface visible while you listen to music, there are other ways to tell the app what to do. In my latest Macworld article, I show you how you can control iTunes using built-in features as well as third-party apps, so that you can hide the iTunes window when you play your music.

Play a Random Album in iTunes

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You know that feeling when you want to play some music, but you don’t know what? You can shuffle through your music library, but I don’t do that often for two reasons. The first is that my library is made up of disparate types of music, much of it classical. All my classical music is set to not shuffle, so I wouldn’t have any of that come up if I just try shuffling. The second is that I often prefer listening to albums.

So wouldn’t it be great if you could have iTunes pick an album at random and play it for you? Well, iTunes can’t, but Doug Adams has done it. Doug’s Play Random Album AppleScript does just that. It grabs an album from your iTunes library, at random, tosses it in a playlist, and starts playing.

Here’s what I’m listening to now: a disc from the Minimal Piano Collection Volume X-XX box set (Amazon.com, Amazon UK):

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When that’s over, unless I have a desire to hear something specific, I’ll run the script again, maybe just once, maybe a few times, until I find something that I wouldn’t have thought of listening to. Because one advantage of using this script is that it can highlight music I haven’t listened to in a while; the last time I listened to this one was late 2012.

To make this even easier to access, I use LaunchBar to control much of what I do from the keyboard. I can access this AppleScript with an abbreviation – I use APR – and run it quickly.

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If I don’t like the album that comes up, I just invoke LaunchBar again, and run the script again.

By the way, if you’re a LaunchBar user, the above is a sneak peak at the new LaunchBar interface, which will soon be available in LaunchBar 6, due out this month.

The iTunes Guy Talks about Tags

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itunesguylarg-100001724-gallery.jpgA few weeks ago, I wrote two articles for Macworld about tagging media files in iTunes. The first was about how to tag, and the second about fixing poorly-tagged music files. In this week’s column, I address a number of questions about tags: fixing duplicate artists, adding Year tags, and correcting Genre tags.

Read this week’s Ask the iTunes Guy column.

Beats Me

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We’d been hearing rumors about it for the past couple of weeks, and Apple finally announced, yesterday, the acquisition of Beats Electronics for the sum of $3 billion. I’ve written about my thoughts about an Apple acquisition of Beats, and I remain perplexed by the deal. Beats is a profitable company, with sales of around $1.5 billion a year. Yet valuing the company at $3 billion seems excessive.

That there may be synergies between Apple and Beats is certainly possible. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I don’t see Beats’ headphones as fitting with Apple’s design aesthetic. However, they are very popular, among a certain demographic. As for the music subscription service, it’s clear that Apple wants to get into that game, and they appreciate Beats Music. But is all of that really worth $3 million?

In the end, is the Beats price tag realistic, or was it a reflection of other high-priced purchases recently in the tech sector? Remember, Google paid nearly $1 billion for Waze, and $3.2 billion for Nest. Yahoo paid more than $1 billion for Tumblr. Facebook spent $1 billion on Instagram, $2 billion on Oculus Rift, and the astounding sum of $19 billion for WhatsApp.

Granted, Apple is getting two top-level executives, but the $3 billion price tag still seems a bit high. I wonder how much of it is the real value of the company, and how much of this cost is driven by the fact that we are seeing many multibillion-dollar acquisitions and that Apple has boatloads of money to spend.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple does with Beats. I’m sure they will maintain the Beats brand for headphones, probably changing it just slightly to Beats by Apple. As for the music subscription service, that will certainly see the light as part of iTunes. We’ll have to wait a while for all this to happen, though, because, as Apple said, the deal won’t be completed until the end of Q4; that’s the end of September.