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ATPM 11.12
December 2005



How To



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How To

by Sylvester Roque,

Serving Up Some Tunes, Part 2

Last month we talked about setting up a music server. Connecting your Mac to your stereo was really just the beginning. This month, I thought it might be interesting to look at some ideas that might make your music server a little more convenient to use. I might not have come up with the best solutions, but so far they are working reasonably well for me.

If you’ve read this far you’ve either made the connections I described last month or you have a similar setup that works. With that chore behind, us we can move on to more interesting tasks.

Getting Off to a Good Start

As with any computer project on any platform, remember to back up your music regularly. We’re not going to do anything today that will harm your music, but ripping tunes from your CD collection to your iTunes library takes time. One hard drive failure or other disaster could wipe out all of that work in no time.

My own backup strategy is actually a two-step process. Music purchased from the iTunes Music Store gets burned to data DVDs shortly after purchase. The second part of my backup strategy involves copying the music in my iTunes folder to another hard drive. I often use Carbon Copy Cloner, but any utility that can make good copies of OS X files should work fine.

Another part of getting off to a good start involves knowing what iTunes can already do. I don’t expect you to read the entire help file, but at least take a look at the part listing the available keyboard shortcuts.

Locate Your Music

When setting up a music server, it’s important to choose the right location for your music files. My music is currently housed on an external hard drive. I did this because the hard drive in my iBook has been making interesting—and possibly soon to be fatal—noises for some time now. It’s also too small to house my entire music collection.

When I set this up the first time I made a mistake. I put my music on an external hard drive and then made an alias to that folder inside my home folder, in the same place where iTunes expects to find its music folder. This worked fine as long as the drive with my music was available. One day I forgot to turn on the external drive before launching iTunes, which refused to launch properly thereafter. The only fix was to delete the aliases and recreate the original folders inside my home folder.

Fortunately, Apple has provided a much more elegant solution to this problem. Launch iTunes and open its Preferences. In the Advanced section you can click Change and find your music library. If need be, you can always use the Reset button to restore the default location.

With this arrangement in place, iTunes will launch if the volume with your music is not available, this time merely complaining that it cannot locate the original file. Although you are given the option to locate the song file, it’s best to choose Cancel. Attempting to locate the file at this point will only fix the problem for that one song. It’s much easier to cancel the process, turn on the external drive, and wait for it to mount. Now it’s safe to click on the song you want to play. This workaround seems counterintuitive to me, but it has worked every time I’ve tried it.

Getting Things Organized

I currently have over 1,200 songs in my library. This isn’t my entire collection; it’s just what I have managed to rip thus far. As the collection grows larger, organization will be increasingly important.

One of my favorite organizational tools is built into iTunes. Its playlists feature is a good starting point for organizing music files. The downside to standard playlists is that you must update them manually. There are many times when it’s more convenient to use a Smart Playlist. The biggest difference between the two types is that Smart Playlists can be based on criteria that you specify in advance. Smart Playlists organize your iTunes library in much the same way that mail rules organize your e-mail. With Live Updating enabled, Smart Playlists will change automatically whenever songs meeting the search criteria are added to the library. One of my Smart Playlists, for example, automatically adds any new B.B. King tracks in my library into a separate playlist.

If none of the standard identification categories meets your needs, use the Comment field to add information that meets your organizational style or temporary need. For example, I have several songs in my library that need to be deleted and re-encoded. Rather than try to remember all of the songs or write them down I included the phrase “rip this again” in the comment field. If this field is visible in the iTunes window I can use the iTunes search function to locate songs that failed to encode properly the first time. If the Comment column is not visible in the iTunes window, choose View Options from the Edit menu and tick the Comment checkbox. Anything in the Comment field could also be the subject of a Smart Playlist.

A Few Nice Touches

One of the things that I am thinking about adding to my music server is remote control capability. A Web search will show you several remote control peripherals that not only control iTunes but other media applications as well. I haven’t bought one yet because I am looking for a remote that will allow me to enter a search string. In the meantime I’ll probably add a wireless keyboard, which I can use to search my library from the couch. When I finally get around to purchasing a new cell phone or PDA, I’m going to take a serious look at Salling Clicker.

Interesting Sites and Software

Since beginning this project, I have found a few interesting sites and some software that you might find useful, and I’ve only scratched the surface of iTunes-related Web sites. At the moment, I am finding VersionTracker, Mac OS X Hints, and Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes very helpful. The first two sites are not specifically devoted to iTunes but do offer their fair share of iTunes-related tips and content.

In addition to these interesting sites, I’ve run across some software that’s proving helpful.

  • Sizzling Keys solves one of my problems with using iTunes as a music server. If I am working in another program, I have to stop what I’m doing and bring iTunes to the front or go to the Dock any time I want to change anything. This program and preference pane combination lets you set global hot keys to control your tunes without having to bring iTunes to the front. The latest version requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later, but a version is also available for 10.2.

  • If you want to control music from one Mac while sitting at a different Mac, check out netTunes 2.2. There are other programs that can control iTunes remotely from another computer, but netTunes actually lets you use iTunes itself on the client Mac. netTunes must be installed on each Mac that you plan to use, and at least one of them must be designated as a server.

    The free trial allows the server to run for 30 minutes. At the end of that time, you must shut down the server and restart it. Although this is a simple matter of a few mouse clicks, I think I’ll just pay the $19.95 to license the program. You should have one license for each Mac that you intend to use as a server.

  • My final candidate for useful iTunes utility of the moment is iTunes Publisher. This program lets you export your library or playlists into a number of file formats: text, HTML, M3U playlists, and QuickTime Streaming Server playlists. Although it’s not currently under active development, so far the program has worked well. It offers much more control over what information gets exported than the iTunes Export Song List or Export Library commands provide. I’m hoping to store a tab-delimited list of my music library on a PDA, so the next time I go to a brick and mortar music store I won’t have to wonder if I already own the CD I’m thinking about purchasing.

  • My pick of the possibly-useful-possibly-just-fun music utilities is Clutter. This little utility will locate the artwork for the track that is currently playing in iTunes. You can then drag the artwork out of Clutter’s window and onto your desktop. Now, here’s the really cool part. The next time you click on the picture of that album, iTunes will launch and begin playing that album. This might be great for someone like me who picks music by reaching from a pile of CDs on the desk. Any Finder windows that you open will cover your music icons.

Closing Thoughts

I hope you find a few of these ideas helpful. There are tons of other alternatives available, but these are the ones that are working for me at the moment. That’s it for now: If I could afford to turn my music collection over to one of those music ripping services that are available, I would, but as that’s not in the budget at the moment I’ve got a lot of music ripping to do.

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