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iTunes Music Store Tips

The iTunes Music Store has already caused me to buy more music, and spending all the extra time in iTunes has helped me develop a number of tips for improving the listening and purchasing experience. For more information on the iTunes Music Store, see "iTunes Music Store Takes the Stage" and "Apple Changes the Face of Digital Music" in the last two issues of TidBITS.



Not So Obvious Navigation — Although iTunes doesn’t hide its navigation shortcuts while you’re in the Music Store, you may not have noticed them. Next to each artist name and album name in the search results is an arrow in a circle; click it to see all albums by that artist or on that album. Plus, many of the pieces of text – album, song, and artist names – throughout the iTunes Music Store are actually links, as in a Web browser, though they’re underlined only when you move your mouse cursor over them. And of course, just like in a Web browser, you can navigate using the back and forward arrows, with the home button, and by clicking the intermediate steps in the "breadcrumb" trail made for genre, artist, and album.

Avoid Duplicate Purchases — If you’re like me, you might not remember every song you already own while searching the iTunes Music Store. You can’t open either the Music Store playlist or your main Library playlist in a separate window to compare the two, but there’s a workaround thanks to iTunes’s Smart Playlists. Choose New Smart Playlist from the File menu, choose Time from the first pop-up menu, choose "is greater than" from the second pop-up menu, leave "0:00" in the text field, and make sure "Live updating" is checked. That tells iTunes to add every song whose time is longer than zero seconds to the playlist and to keep it up to date with new music that’s added. Then, when you want to compare what you already own against a search in the iTunes Music Store, double-click your new Smart Playlist to open it in a separate window and move it so you can switch back and forth between it and the iTunes Music Store in the main iTunes window easily. One final hint: If you name your "All Music" playlist with an Option-Space character at the start, it sorts above all other Smart Playlists.

Playing Multiple Previews — The 30-second preview clips that you can play in the iTunes Music Store are essential for verifying that you do indeed remember the song’s title properly, but they aren’t great for deciding whether or not you like a song that you haven’t heard before. In part, this is because they’re so annoying to play – you must double-click each one (or click once and press the spacebar), and iTunes won’t let you turn on Repeat All while in the Music Store. Luckily, iTunes’s shortcuts for navigating among songs work while the song is playing, so just press the right arrow key to play the next preview or the left arrow to play the previous song.

Alternatively, try this sample AppleScript script from Sal Soghoian, which plays all the clips showing in order. Unfortunately, the script has to use Apple’s GUI Scripting software because the iTunes Music Store apparently can’t be scripted in iTunes, and even then it’s clumsy. You must run the script manually, stopping in the middle of playing requires cancelling the script manually, and it won’t work properly when placed in the ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder and chosen from the scripts menu on iTunes’s menu bar. Feel free to improve it.

< Player.sit>


Use the Cart — As much as I like the ease of Apple’s 1-Click shopping, it makes me a little nervous, since many artists have multiple versions of the same song, and I want to make sure I’m getting the right one before I buy. Plus, I like being able to mark a bunch of songs that I might want to buy and then purchase them all at once. In the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog, you can switch from buying via 1-Click to buying via a shopping cart, which gives you time to reflect before buying. All the Buy Now buttons then change to Add Now, and clicking one adds its associated item to your shopping cart, which you can view by clicking the Shopping Cart playlist. When you’re ready to buy, click the Buy Now button for the entire shopping cart in the lower right corner of the iTunes window.

Dealing with a Modem — What if you have only a slow modem connection to the Internet? The iTunes Music Store will work for you, albeit slowly, since each song you buy will be approximately 3 MB to 5 MB, and that amount of data can take a long time to download. Even the 30 second previews are slow, though you can make listening to them easier by checking "Load complete preview before playing" in the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog. Using the shopping cart approach to buying will also help, since you can queue up a number of songs to download before you go to bed. If you have a laptop with an AirPort card in it, though, the best approach may be to add songs to your shopping cart and then, when you’re in a location with a wireless network and a fast Internet connection (an Apple Store, for instance), switch to the Shopping Cart playlist and click Buy Now to download everything you have ready. If you aren’t a laptop user, but you can use a Mac with a fast Internet connection somewhere else, remember that you can always click the Account button in the upper right of the iTunes window and sign in with your Apple ID, purchase music, copy the files to a CD or DVD, and then load them into your Mac at home.

Or Don’t Use the Cart — As much as I find the shopping cart a welcome option, it hasn’t worked for me. Others have also had trouble with it complaining about incomplete or incorrect billing information, even when there’s obviously nothing wrong. The workaround is to switch back to 1-Click purchasing, which doesn’t seem to share the same problems.

Can’t Download Music — If you’ve tried to purchase and download music unsuccessfully, it’s worth running Repair Permissions in the First Aid tab of Disk Utility. After that, make sure that the user you’re logged in as has write permissions on the Music folder, or, more specifically, the Music Folder that iTunes uses to store new music (check the Advanced tab in the iTunes Preferences dialog). You might even try changing that Music Folder to another folder into which you’re sure you can add files. If that doesn’t work, remember that you can contact iTunes Music Store Customer Service by choosing Music Store Customer Service from iTunes’s Help menu and following the appropriate link.

Quick Pause/Play — For me, one of the main problems with listening to music – either from the iTunes Music Store or my collection – while I’m working is scrambling to shut it off when the phone rings or I need quiet for some other reason. I’ve used a variety of techniques over the years, including Griffin’s PowerMate and a simple AppleScript script via QuicKeys, but the best approach may be Michael Kamprath’s Keyboard Maestro macro utility, which includes a special iTunes Control action that lets you control iTunes in a variety of ways from the keyboard even when iTunes isn’t the frontmost application. I simply assign Control-Escape to the Toggle Play/Pause action, and from then on it’s a quick slap with my left hand on those two keys to start or stop the music. Anyone can use this in Mac OS X, since the free Keyboard Maestro Lite, though limited, is more than sufficient for this task.


For those who want to try the AppleScript approach and access the script via another utility, the script is extremely simple.

tell application “iTunes”
if player state is not playing then
end if
end tell

Make Backups — As I noted in last week’s article, most of Apple’s digital rights management obstacles are essentially speed bumps – they don’t stop you from doing anything you want, but they will slow you down. The one time you could run into trouble is if you were to lose any of the three Macs you had authorized to play your purchased music; even if you had offsite backups of the original AAC files. The solution is either to restrict your number of authorized computers to two at most, so you can always reauthorize another one, or to convert your purchased music either to MP3 or to unprotected AAC so you can play them on any computer or appropriate audio device. To do this, just burn an audio CD (giving you a physical backup as well) and import the contents of that CD into iTunes again, or use one of the tools like Audio Hijack that can grab the digital sound stream before it’s converted to analog and sent out to the speakers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a tool appear that would batch convert these songs for backup purposes – it could probably even be done with an AppleScript script.

More Tips? I’m sure there are additional tips for the best ways of working with the iTunes Music Store. If you run across any, send them along to TidBITS Talk at <[email protected]>.

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