If you listen to music online, it's very likely you're familiar with iTunes. This versatile media player and file sharing tool, launched in 2001, is almost synonymous with online media; between its popularity as a program for storing and playing music and video on desktop computers to its ease of use in a wide range of mobile devices, iTunes is a dominant tool in the e-media landscape.
iTunes is like most other complex tools: It works well right out of the box, but it can become a powerful, personalized media manager with a few simple modifications and adjustments.
You may feel content with listening to your music on iTunes using its stock settings. But if you want the best media experience you can manage -- and the most convenience iTunes can offer -- consider trying a few of the following iTunes modifications. Some involve adding new software to the program, while others are basic adjustments that can make a big difference in sound quality if done properly. But however you choose to tweak your setup, know that there are plenty of ways to get more than you ever imagined out of your playlists.
Remote Functions and Hotkeys
Few things make the workday more pleasant than a little bit of music in the background. But open a number of different programs -- including iTunes -- on your desktop at once, and it can be difficult to pause the music quickly when an important call comes in or the boss walks by. Happily, this first option provides a useful solution.
Applications such as iRemote (for Windows) and Sizzling Keys (for Mac OS) offer a quick and easy solution to this problem. Both applications give you the ability to designate key combinations, or hotkeys, to trigger commands such as pausing a song or skipping to a different track. The applications also offer minimal windows or toolbars that let you monitor your music without having to open the entire iTunes window. If music is an essential part of your workday -- but one that could cause trouble if not managed well -- then this is an upgrade made especially for you [source: Bertolino].
Manage the EQ Settings
Computer speakers were not made to produce concert-quality sound, but you can optimize your computer's sound quality for the types of music you like with this cost-free adjustment.
The acronym "EQ" stands for equalizer -- a series of adjustments that allow you to fine-tune individual sound frequency ranges. Think of an EQ as a detailed way to adjust volume: Rather than increasing or decreasing the total sound coming out of your speakers, you can adjust certain sounds -- such as the low, thumping bass -- to be louder in the total sonic mix.
Open iTunes and select "equalizer" from the "view" menu on the toolbar. You'll see a window featuring a row of sliders: Each slider controls a different frequency, from low to high, in the overall sound mix. A drop-down menu above the sliders lets you use preset mixes for various music genres. Play a few songs with these presets, and notice how the sound quality changes -- do the high tones gain more "sparkle"? Do the low bass frequencies have more "thump"? Note how these changes relate to the settings on the EQ [source: Tozzoli].
There's no perfect EQ setting for iTunes since every song is different, and every computer's speakers will project sound in a different manner. But a basic understanding of EQ settings will go a long way to helping you make your favorite songs sound as bright, punchy or powerful as possible on your computer's speakers.
Watch for Freebies
One of the biggest advantages of electronic media is access: Music aficionados who once had to wait for their local record stores to order special recordings or spent their spare time scouring record swaps for rare tracks can now find nearly any recording they wish, all with a few clicks of a mouse.
But that ease of access can get expensive, even with the ability to buy single tracks instead of entire albums. Add videos to the mix, and it's easy for a large iTunes library to eat up your discretionary spending money in a hurry.
But savvy media shoppers can score a wide range of deals if they know where to look. Many bands and artists have taken to releasing select free tracks as part of promotional efforts; if you have a handful of favorite artists, monitoring their Web sites or forums dedicated to their genres can net you a good bit of free music. The situation's even better in the case of video: Many TV shows offer episodes at no cost, and the Web is full of movie trailers just waiting to be downloaded [source: Medina].
Share Playlists with Friends
First, a note of caution: While it's natural to share the music you like with friends (in a sense, the music industry wouldn't exist if listeners didn't share their favorite songs and artists with each other), you need to be careful when sharing media files through iTunes. Trying to circumvent copyright protection not only makes it harder for musicians and other creators to make a reasonable living from their work, but it can also land you in legal trouble for violation of copyright law.
That being said, there are files that can be shared, and a number of iTunes applications that can help you share playlists with like-minded listeners.
Many of these programs work in a similar manner: After installing the application, you connect with other friends through social media portals. The application lets you browse their playlists and shares your playlists with them. If you see that a listener has a playlist containing a handful of songs you like, you can select the remaining songs to browse and download, potentially adding new favorites to your own music library [source: Deusty].
In a sense, this type of playlist sharing is a natural extension of the word-of-mouth marketing that's been the base for music and media success for years. Now, instead of relying on face-to-face connections to spread the word, artists can leverage the power of social media to reach new fans around the globe [source: Bertolino].
Upgrade Your Archive
One of the beauties of iTunes is that it works like a brick-and-mortar library: In one program, you can organize and catalog your media files, then transfer them to mobile media players. But unlike a real-world library, iTunes may soon offer a unique feature: You can perform maintenance on your collection, keeping it up to date with the most current technology available.
The unprecedented speed with which the online world has evolved means that many early iTunes adopters may have media files that are several generations old. Songs that sounded fine on an older computer may not hit their full potential when the user upgrades to a new machine.
Apple hopes to address the issue of outdating as part of iTunes Match, a subscription-based service it plans to offer starting in late 2011. The service will allow users to access their iTunes libraries via cloud-based computing, giving them the ability to play any of their files on any compatible device, anywhere they have an Internet connection [source: Tsotsis].
In addition to making it easier and faster to access media, Apple says the service will identify older file formats in the user's library. The cloud-accessible "mirror" to the files will be in the 256Kbps, DRM-free iTunes Plus format. While some users have expressed concern that the format change may degrade sound quality on some files, it should be a major improvement for the oldest files in every long-time user's library [source: Foresman]. A subscription to iTunes Match is expected to cost around $25 per year.
Sync with Almost Any Device
Apple, PC, Blackberry, Android … the list of operating systems that drive today's computers and mobile devices is long and growing. While the variety means that users can fine-tune their selections to fit their needs, it does come with a drawback: Getting two devices, such as a laptop and a smartphone, to properly sync and share data can be difficult and frustrating.
iTunes users may know this problem well. Downloading playlists to take with you via phone or iPod can be frustrating if your devices aren't set up correctly, or have operating systems that don't communicate well. Thankfully, application developers have come up with a variety of platform-specific tools that can sync nearly any device with your iTunes-equipped computer.
The most important part of making this upgrade comes first: Be sure you identify the app that works with the operating system version that your mobile device uses. Do this, and you'll be listening to your favorite songs on your favorite device in no time [source: Herrman].
Use AppleScript to Modify iTunes
If you run iTunes on a Mac, and you're willing to do some slightly higher-level work in the name of optimizing your iTunes experience, congratulations: This next tip could open up whole new worlds of customization for you.
AppleScript is a programming language for the Mac operating system (MacOS). It provides tech-savvy users the ability to customize features throughout their computers and their Apple-designed programs and applications. iTunes is no exception to this feature, and a legion of enthusiasts has developed AppleScript modifications that allow you to customize nearly every facet of iTunes. Whether you want to adjust the time gap between songs on your playlists, would like to change the default tones and sound effects that indicate downloads are complete, or want a faster way to browse through your playlists, there are AppleScripts that can do the job [source: Adams].
Keep in mind that this is an advanced level of iTunes modification. If you're not careful, a misplaced piece of script could potentially crash the program. Anyone considering AppleScript tweaks would be well advised to learn the basics of the language before trying to modify anything. The rewards of customizing your software at this level can be great, but they do carry more risk than most of the other tips mentioned here.
Clean Out the Duplicates
While this optimization tip won't speed up your computer or give you one-of-a-kind functionality when working with your iTunes library, it will go a long way toward making your playlists more manageable and functional.
As you add songs, videos and other media to your iTunes library, it can be all too easy to end up with duplicate files. Maybe you built a playlist for Monday morning workouts, and inadvertently built the same playlist months later for Friday workouts. The two identical playlists, with different names, could cause a little confusion when you're in a hurry and searching for the right songs to download to your iPod. It's not a major problem, but why put up with this kind of small hassle when it's easy to clean the duplicates out of your media library?
iTunes does include a "find duplicates" function, but it can be a bit clunky to use: You have to go through each file to determine whether it goes in the library or the trash bin. Applications such as Dupin (for Mac) not only identify the duplicate files, but also allow you to select how they manage them; you can program the applications to keep the most recently played version, for example [sources: Herrman, Adams].
iTunes already downloads album cover art to help you identify songs in your playlists. But why not take it one step further, and take control of what art appears where during your iTunes experience?
Several applications, such as DockArt and CD Art Display, let you control the art shown on your screen when a certain song is playing. You may want to have the iTunes icon in the Mac application dock change to the album cover. Maybe you want to change the skin on your iTunes interface. However you want to change the visual experience you have when using iTunes, there are programs available to do just that [source: Herrman].
If you're interested in truly customizing your iTunes experience, you may want to consider creating your own skins for the program. The technical knowledge and tools needed to do this are beyond the scope of this article, but the Web is filled with resources, such as forums and how-to sites, that can guide you through the basics of creating iTunes skins. Now, if you have the interest and willingness to do the work yourself, the visual appeal of your iTunes experience can better complement the audio and video experience.
Keep iTunes Updated
This final tip is deceptively simple. In fact, it's very likely one of the easiest on this list, while also being one that can greatly enhance your long-term iTunes experience.
Apple, like most other major software and hardware manufacturers, regularly releases updates for its applications. Some are meant to fix small errors or improve functionality in a way few people will notice. Others, typically released at wider intervals, upgrade software into essentially new versions of the programs; applications run better, take on a new look or gain completely new features.
iTunes is no exception to this practice. In fact, it's not a bad idea to visit Apple's iTunes Web site when you first get a new computer, so that you can make sure the machine is running the most current version of iTunes (it may have been updated after the computer was built, but before you bought it). The update process is very simple, often requiring only one or two clicks to complete. The results, however, can be dramatic. Your playlists may become easier to navigate, and the user interface may become easier and more intuitive to use. If you don't plan to make any modifications or upgrades to iTunes, this is still one basic maintenance step that's well worth your time [source: Apple].
For more great media articles, check out the links on the next page.
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- Adams, Doug. "Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes." 2011. (July 11, 2011) http://dougscripts.com/itunes/index.php
- Adams, Doug. "Doug's Apps for iTunes." 2011. (July 11, 2011) http://dougscripts.com/apps/dupinapp.php
- Apple. "Download iTunes Now." 2011. (June 27, 2011) http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/
- Bertolino, Mike. "Getting the Most Out of iTunes." Hack College. Jan. 15, 2009. (June 27, 2011) http://www.hackcollege.com/blog/2009/1/15/getting-the-most-out-of-itunes.html
- Deusty. "Mojo Frequently Asked Questions." 2010. (July 6, 2011) http://deusty.com/support/mojo_faq.php
- Foresman, Chris. "What you need to know about iTunes Match: Your questions answered." Ars Technica. June 2011. (July 7, 2011) http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/06/what-you-need-to-know-about-itunes-match-your-questions-answered.ars
- Herrman, John. "Dealzmodo Hack: Making iTunes Work For You." Gizmodo. March 5, 2009. (June 27, 2011) http://gizmodo.com/5164471/dealzmodo-hack-making-itunes-work-for-you
- Medina, Victor. "How to get the most out of iTunes." Helium. Sept. 5, 2008. (June 27, 2011) http://www.helium.com/items/1171900-ipod-itunes
- Tozzoli, Rich. "Perfect iTunes EQ Settings." March 19, 2011. MethodShop.com. (June 27, 2011) http://www.methodshop.com/gadgets/tutorials/ituneseq/index.shtml
- Tsotsis, Alexia. " One More Thing: 'iTunes Match' Will Upgrade Your Ripped Music For $24.99 A Year." Tech Crunch. June 6, 2011. (June 27, 2011) http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/06/one-more-thing-itunes-match-will-upgrade-your-ripped-music-for-24-99-a-year/