OS X Mavericks For Dummies (2014)
Part III. Do Unto Mavericks: Getting Things Done
Chapter 12. The Musical Mac
In This Chapter
Working with media
Playing with playlists
A long time ago, before the iPod and the iTunes Store were born, iTunes was a program you used to store and manage your MP3 music files. Over the ensuing years, it has grown into much more. Today, iTunes manages not only your music collection but also your video collection. And if you use devices such as an iPod, Apple TV, iPad, or iPhone, you manage the music or video on them by using iTunes, too.
So the anachronistically named iTunes is the program you use to manage audio and video files on your hard drive and to manage syncing files with your iPod, Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad devices.
Although entire books have been dedicated to iTunes alone, I share the most important stuff — the handful of things you really need to know — in this chapter.
iTunes is the Swiss Army knife of multimedia software. After all, what other program lets you play audio CDs; create (burn) your own audio or MP3 CDs; listen to MP3, AIFF, AAC, WAV, Audible.com, and several other types of files; view album cover art; enjoy pretty visual displays in time to the music; view and manage TV shows, movies, and other video files; manage iPods (or other MP3 players), Apple TVs, iPads, and/or iPhones; listen to Internet radio stations; and more? On top of all that, it’s your interface to the iTunes Store, the world’s leading (legitimate) source of downloadable music and video content. (Whew!)
To open iTunes, click its icon in the Dock or double-click its icon in the Applications folder. The iTunes window opens (see Figure 12-1).
Figure 12-1: Dissecting the iTunes interface.
The Sidebar is one of iTunes most useful navigation tools, but Apple hides it by default. If you don’t see yours, choose View⇒Show Sidebar or press +Option+S. The Column Browser, on the other hand, is optional. Choose View⇒Column Browser⇒Show/Hide Column Browser or press +B to toggle it on and off.
In a nutshell, whatever you select in the Sidebar on the left is reflected in the content pane on the right. In Figure 12-1, the Music library is selected. At the bottom of the window, you can see that there are 14,222 songs in my Music library, which would take 41 days to listen to from start to finish and uses 125.64GB of space on my hard drive.
Rather than try to explain what every item shown in Figure 12-1 does, I encourage you to click anything and everything you see in the main iTunes window. Experiment with the views, show and hide the Column Browser, click different items in the Sidebar, and see what happens.
I’d like you to take note of a few other items:
The iTunes main window shrinks to a much more manageable size when you click the MiniPlayer button, as shown in the top part of Figure 12-2. Click the same button on the MiniPlayer to switch back to the main window.
To switch between the bigger (top) and smaller (middle) MiniPlayer windows, click the thumbnail with the little white arrows in the lower-left corner of the bigger MiniPlayer and on the left side of the smaller MiniPlayer.
If you’re wondering why there are two tiny MiniPlayer windows in the middle of Figure 12-2, it’s because the one on the left appears only when you hover over (or click) the MiniPlayer. If you’re not hovering or clicking, you’ll see the one on the right.
The most recent versions of iTunes offer a way to open the MiniPlayer while leaving the main window onscreen: Choose Window⇒MiniPlayer or press +Option+3. To hide the MiniPlayer, choose Window⇒Mini Player (again) or press+Option+3 (again). Or choose Window⇒Switch To/Switch From MiniPlayer or use its shortcut + Option+M to toggle between the MiniPlayer and main window.
iTunes offers a ten-band graphic equalizer that can make your music (or video) sound significantly better. Just choose Window⇒Equalizer to invoke it onscreen. You can see the equalizer in the lower part of Figure 12-2.
Don’t miss the iTunes Visualizer, which offers a groovy light show that dances in time to the music, as shown in Figure 12-3. You turn it on by choosing View⇒Show Visualizer or pressing +T. If you like the default Visualizer, check out some of iTunes’ other built-in Visualizers such as Lathe, Jelly, or Stix, which are available in the Visualizer submenu. Search the web for “iTunes Visualizer” to find even more.
When you get sick of the Visualizer (as you surely will), just choose View⇒Hide Visualizer or press +T again to make it disappear.
Try this: Choose View⇒Full Screen or press +F while the Visualizer is running, and the Visualizer takes over your entire screen. Click anywhere on the screen to bring the iTunes window back.
Figure 12-2: The iTunes equalizer (bottom) and minimized main window (top).
Figure 12-3: The iTunes psychedelic light show is known as the iTunes Visualizer.
Working with Media
iTunes is, first and foremost, a media manager and player, so the next thing I examine is how to get your favorite media into iTunes. Of course, you can acquire media a number of ways, depending upon the type of media and where the files reside. For example, you can add song or video files you've downloaded from websites or received as enclosures in e-mail messages. Or you can add songs by ripping audio CDs. You can buy music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and apps for your iPhone/iPod/iPad at the iTunes Store (and, to be fair, from many other online vendors, including www.amazon.com and www.audible.com). You can subscribe to free podcasts at the iTunes Store (and from most podcasts' websites as well). And you can listen to all sorts of music on the Internet radio stations included with iTunes.
The iTunes Store and Internet radio require that you be connected to the Internet before you can use them.
In the following sections, you discover the various ways to add media — songs, movies, videos, and podcasts — to your iTunes Library, followed by a quick course in listening to iTunes Internet radio stations.
You can add songs from pretty much any source, and the way you add a song to iTunes depends on where that song comes from. Here are the most common ways people add their songs:
Add a song file such as an MP3 or AAC file from your hard drive. Either drag the document into the iTunes content pane or Library, as shown in Figure 12-4, or choose File⇒Add to Library (shortcut: +O) and choose the file in the Open File dialog. In either case, the file is added to your iTunes Music library.
Add songs from a store-bought or homemade audio CD. Launch iTunes and insert the CD. A dialog appears, asking whether you want to import the CD into your iTunes Library. Click the Yes button, and the songs on that CD are added to your iTunes Music library. If you don’t see a dialog when you insert an audio CD, you can import the songs on that CD anyway. Just select the CD in the Sidebar on the left, and click the Import button near the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window.
If your computer is connected to the Internet, iTunes magically looks up the song title, artist name, album name, song length, and genre for every song on the CD. Note that this works only for store-bought CDs containing somewhat popular music — and that iTunes might not be able to find information about a very obscure CD by an even more obscure band, even if the disc is store-bought. And in most cases, it can’t look up information for homemade (home-burned) audio CDs. Finally, it sometimes gets things wrong.
Figure 12-4: Drag and drop songs to the iTunes content pane or Library to add them to your Music library.
Buy your songs from the iTunes Store. Click the iTunes Store option in the Sidebar on the left. From the iTunes Store’s home page, you can either click a link or type a song title, album title, artist name, or keyword or phrase in the Search field, and then press Return or Enter to start the search. When you’ve found an item that interests you, you can double-click any song to listen to a 30-second preview of it or click the Buy Song or Buy Album button to purchase the song or album, as shown in Figure 12-5.
Buy your songs from other online vendors such as Amazon. Amazon (www.amazon.com) has a huge downloadable music store on the web. Its MP3 Downloads section has more than a million songs, with more being added every day. The prices at Amazon are often lower than the prices for the same music at the iTunes Store.
The first time you make a purchase from the iTunes Store, you have to create an Apple account, if you don’t already have one. To do so, just click the Sign In button and then click the Create New Account button in the Sign In dialog. After your account is established, future purchases require just one or two clicks.
Adding movies and videos
To add a video file such as an MOV or MP4 from your hard drive, either drag the file to the iTunes window or Library, as shown in Figure 12-4, earlier in this chapter, or choose File⇒Add to Library (shortcut: +O) and choose the file in the Open File dialog. In either case, the file is added to your iTunes Movie library.
Figure 12-5: At the iTunes Store, buying music is as easy as clicking the Buy Song or Buy Album button.
You can also buy movies, TV shows, and other video content from the iTunes Store. Shopping for video is almost the same as shopping for music. Here are the steps:
1. Click the iTunes Store in the Sidebar on the left.
2. Either click a link or type a movie title, music-video name, actor or director name, or other keyword or phrase in the Search field; then press Return or Enter to start the search.
3. When you find a video item that interests you, double-click it to see a preview or click the Buy Episode or Buy Video button to purchase the episode or video.
Podcasts are like radio or television shows, except that when you subscribe to them, you can listen to or watch them (using iTunes or your iPod, iPad, or iPhone) at any time you like. Thousands of podcasts are available, and many (or most) are free. To find podcasts, follow these steps:
1. Click the iTunes Store in the Sidebar on the left.
2. Click the Podcasts link on the store’s home page.
3. Click a link on the content pane or type a keyword or phrase in the Search field.
4. When you find a podcast that appeals to you, double-click it to listen to a preview, click the Get Episode button to download the current episode of that podcast, or click the Subscribe button to receive all future episodes of that podcast automatically.
Figure 12-6 shows all these things for the Mac Geek Gab audio podcast from The Mac Observer.
For more information on most podcasts, just point at the little i button on the right side of the description field, as shown in Figure 12-6. You don’t even have to click (though you can if you want to).
Figure 12-6: The Mac Geek Gab podcast from The Mac Observer.
Subscribing to a podcast is a cool deal. You can configure how often iTunes checks for new episodes (hourly, daily, weekly, or manually) and what to do when new episodes become available (download the most recent one, download all episodes, or do nothing) and how many episodes to keep in your iTunes Library (all, all unplayed, or a specific number between 2 and 10). To specify these settings, choose Podcasts in the Sidebar, click the name of the podcast you want to configure, and then click the Settings button near the bottom of the window.
Learning from iTunes U
Want to learn something for free? Click the iTunes U tab in the iTunes Store, and you can choose from tens of thousands of free audio and video courses, including a good number produced by colleges and universities that include Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, and hundreds more.
You download or subscribe to a course the same way you download or subscribe to a podcast. Check it out the next time you’re in the iTunes Store. It’s a great way to learn something new for free.
Listening to Internet radio
Streaming audio is delivered over the Internet in real time. Think of streaming audio as being “just like radio” but using the Internet rather than the airwaves as its delivery medium.
iTunes offers two ways to listen to streaming Internet radio stations: the old way and the new way. The old way is the same bunch of Internet radio stations that have been included with iTunes since time immemorial. The new way, introduced in iTunes 11, lets you create your own radio station by specifying one or more artists, songs, or genres you like. If you think that sounds suspiciously like Pandora Radio, you’re right. But this is Apple’s rendition of it, and it’s not too bad for a first effort. If hearing music you’re likely to enjoy appeals to you, give it a try.
The Old Way: Streaming Internet radio
To listen to streaming Internet radio, first click Music in the Sidebar and then click the Internet tab.
iTunes has hundreds of Internet radio stations built right in. They’re even organized into convenient categories such as Alt/Modern Rock, Blues, Country, Jazz, Public, Top 40/Pop, Urban, and many more.
To listen to one of the included Internet radio stations, click the disclosure triangle to the left of the category name to reveal the stations in that category, as shown for the Classic Rock category in Figure 12-7.
Figure 12-7: Listening to ABC Beatles, one of 410 streams in the Classic Rock category.
You can also find Internet radio stations on your own by surfing or searching the web — using Safari (or another web browser). When you find an Internet radio station you’d like to listen to using iTunes, here’s how to get it into iTunes:
1. Copy its address (its URL) by highlighting it and choosing Edit⇒Copy (shortcut: +C).
2. Switch to (or launch) iTunes.
3. Choose File⇒Open Stream (shortcut: +U).
4. Choose Edit⇒Paste (shortcut: +V).
5. Click OK.
The station appears in your iTunes Library.
Strangely, there’s no way to make an Internet radio station that you’ve added appear in iTunes’ Radio category. Apparently, only Apple is allowed to decide what is and is not “radio.” Harrumph.
The New Way: iTunes radio
To listen to new-style iTunes radio, first click Music in the Sidebar and then click the Radio tab, as shown in Figure 12-8.
Click any station to listen to it. What’s that you say? You only have Apple’s canned stations and don’t have any “My Stations” yet? Well, that’s easy enough to remedy . . .
To start your own station from the Radio tab, click the + button next to My Stations as shown in Figure 12-9.
Figure 12-8: Pre-made (by Apple) stations on top; your stations in the middle; and station info at the bottom.
Figure 12-9: Type the name of an artist, genre, or song, or click on a genre below to start a new station.
Or, to start your own station while you’re listening to music — iTunes Radio or any track in your Music Library — click the little angle bracket-in-a-circle to the right of the song name to reveal an extremely useful little pop-up menu, as shown in the margin and in Figure 12-10.
If you don’t see the angle bracket at the top of the window, hover your cursor over the Info area, and it will magically manifest itself.
But creating a station is only the beginning. You can help the station play more songs you like by telling it which songs you like or dislike by clicking the angle bracket while a track is playing on any iTunes Radio station, as shown in Figure 12-11.
You can also train your radio stations from the Radio tab, as you can see in Figure 12-11. Click the big + buttons to add songs or artists to play more of or to never play.
The more data you provide to a station, the more likely that station will play a song you like next. So if you hear a song you love or hate, be sure to inform iTunes. Remember the GIGO axiom (Garbage In – Garbage Out). The more songs you rate, the better your station gets at playing mostly music you enjoy.
Figure 12-10: Click the little angle bracket to start a new station from this artist or song.
Figure 12-11: Train your radio station to your tastes by telling it never to play this song or to play more songs like it.
Just do it.
Last but not least, to delete a station, press Delete or Backspace, or right-click and choose Delete Station.
All About Playlists
Playlists are a big deal in iTunes. Playlists let you manage otherwise-unmanageable amounts of media, such as the 14,000+ songs I have in my iTunes Library. Playlists let you create subsets of a large collection, so it’s easier to enjoy exactly the kind of music you want in iTunes or on your iPod. Two types of playlists exist:
Regular playlists contain the songs (or videos, podcasts, or radio stations) that you specify by dragging them to the playlist.
Smart playlists, on the other hand, select songs from your library based on criteria you specify. Furthermore, smart playlists are updated automatically if you add new items to your library that meet the criteria.
All playlists appear in the Sidebar on the left side of the iTunes window.
Creating a regular playlist
To create a regular playlist, follow these steps:
1. Either click the + button in the bottom-left corner of the iTunes window and choose New Playlist from its drop-down menu, or choose File⇒New Playlist (shortcut: +N).
A new playlist named “untitled playlist” appears in the Sidebar.
2. (Optional) As long as the playlist’s name, “untitled playlist,” is selected and ready to be edited, you probably want to rename it something meaningful by typing a new name for it.
If you decide not to name it now, you can double-click it and type a new name anytime.
3. To add a song to a playlist, click the song in your library and drag it to the playlist’s name, and when the playlist’s name becomes highlighted, release the mouse button.
The song is added to that playlist. Note that adding a song to a playlist doesn’t remove it from the library. Conversely, if you delete a song from a playlist, the song isn’t deleted from your library. And if you delete a playlist from the Sidebar, the songs it contains aren’t deleted from your library. In other words, think of songs in playlists as being aliases of songs in your library.
4. Select the playlist in your Sidebar and click Play to listen to the songs it contains.
If you don’t want to drag songs to your playlist one by one, there are two easy ways to do it in one fell swoop. To create a regular playlist that includes songs you’ve selected from your music library: First, -click the songs you want to include in the playlist. Then, either choose File⇒New Playlist from Selection, or click the + button and choose New Playlist from Selection in the pop-up menu.
Both ways can be seen in Figure 12-12.
You could also use the keyboard shortcut, +Shift+N, which is also visible in Figure 12-12.
You can also use that -click multiple songs technique to select and then drag a batch of songs onto an existing playlist.
Working with smart playlists
To create a smart playlist that builds a list based on criteria and updates itself automatically, follow these steps:
1. Either click the + button in the bottom-left corner of the iTunes window or choose File⇒New Smart Playlist (shortcut: +Option+N).
The Smart Playlist window appears, as shown in Figure 12-13.
2. Use the pop-up menus to select the criteria that will build your smart playlist and click the + button to add more criteria.
3. Click OK when you’re done.
The playlist appears alongside your other playlists in the Sidebar. You can tell it’s a smart playlist by the gear on its icon. To modify the criteria of a smart playlist after it’s been created, hold down the Option key and double-click the smart playlist to reopen the Smart Playlist window and change the smart playlist’s criteria.
Figure 12-12: How to create a playlist from songs you’ve selected in your Music library.
Figure 12-13: The Smart Playlist window lets you specify the criteria for your smart playlist.
Burning a playlist to CD
Another use for playlists is for burning audio CDs you can listen to on almost any audio CD player. The only trick is to make sure the total playing time of the songs in the playlist is less than the capacity of the blank CD you’re using, which is usually 74 to 80 minutes. Don’t forget to account for the gap between tracks, which is two seconds by default. When you have all the songs you want on your CD on the playlist, choose File⇒Burn Playlist to Disc. The Burn Settings dialog appears.
Note that although the default type of disc iTunes burns is an audio CD, it can also burn two other types — MP3 CDs or data CDs (and DVDs):
MP3 CD is a special format that can be played in many CD audio players and set-top DVD players. The cool thing about an MP3 CD is that rather than holding a mere 74 to 80 minutes of music, it can hold more than 100 songs! The uncool thing about MP3 CDs is that many older audio CD players won’t play them.
A data CD or DVD is nothing more than a disc formatted to be read and mounted by any computer, Mac or Windows.
If you click the Burn button now, you’ll get an audio CD. To burn an MP3 CD or Data CD or DVD, click the appropriate radio button in the Burn Settings dialog.
When you’re satisfied, click the Burn button. In a few minutes, you have an audio CD that contains all the songs on the playlist — and plays the songs in the order in which they appeared on the playlist (unless, of course, you elected to burn a data CD or DVD).
Looking at the Genius playlist
I’d like to draw your attention to one more relatively new playlist: The Genius.
Who is the Genius?
The Genius is actually more of a “what”: an iTunes feature that lets you find new music — in your iTunes Library or the iTunes Store — that’s related to a song of your choosing. Or, as the Genius splash screen you see when you turn the Genius on puts it: “Genius makes playlists and mixes from songs in your library that go great together. And the Genius selects music from the iTunes Store that you don’t already have.” To get started, choose Store⇒Turn On Genius, if you haven’t done so already. When you’ve finished reading, the Genius splash screen appears; click the Turn On Genius button in the bottom-right corner.
Turning Genius on sends information about your iTunes Library to Apple. There’s a Learn More button on the What Is Genius screen if you want to (d’oh!) learn more about it.
To use Genius, you must (for some unknown reason) have an iTunes Store account, even though the information the Genius sends to Apple about your iTunes Library is stored anonymously. And even though no purchase is required, I think it’s a dumb requirement — but that’s the way it works; take it or leave it.
Assuming you take it, sign in to your iTunes Store account if you have one or create one if you don’t. After agreeing to the Genius Terms of Service, the Genius gathers info about your iTunes Library, sends the info to Apple, and then (finally) delivers your results. When all this is done, you can create Genius playlists and peruse Genius suggestions.
How? Glad you asked! Click the angle bracket for any song in your Library and choose either Create Genius Playlist or Genius Suggestions. After a bit of cogitation, iTunes presents you with either a Genius playlist or suggestions based on the song you clicked; both are shown in Figure 12-14.
If you’re not a fan of 1970’s British space rock music, let me assure you that most of the songs in the Genius playlist pretty much do “go great together.”
Figure 12-14: The Genius suggests songs that go nicely with the song the suggestions are based on.
That being said, my tech editor, Dennis R. Cohen, says it’s not so hot with classical music or comedy. And I’ve noticed it works better with big names than lesser-known indie artists.
Even so, it’s free. So if you don’t have issues with all the legal mumbo jumbo, the iTunes Store account, or sending information about your iTunes Library to Apple, give the Genius a try.
One last thing: If you’re new to iTunes, may I suggest exploring the excellent iTunes Tutorials, which you’ll find in the Help menu along with other excellent Help resources.