Get your iTunes library into shape

Despite all the crabby things I say about iTunes, I use it every day, and there’s a lot to like about it.

For example, iTunes offers some amazing ways to organize your music. You can rate it, you can build up albums, browse by cover art, and even create smart folders based on the year the tune was released or by the beats-per-minute of the song.

That’s great, provided that you have a team of data entry personnel getting all that metadata up to date, scanning for album art, and listening to your various mislabeled tracks to figure out what song it is and add the appropriate information in iTunes. But otherwise, you generally end up with some smart folders that track about half a dozen of your songs, and you kind of give up on the rest.

But hey, isn’t that what computers are for? Shouldn’t your Mac be able to handle all that tedious work for you? And for those tasks that it can’t do by itself (rating songs, for example, is an inherently personal task), can’t it make it easier for you to take care of it?

But if that were possible, wouldn’t Apple have built in into iTunes for you?

Apparently they didn’t (at least not all the way), so here’s a handful of utilities that will help you get your iTunes library into shape, and make the most of what you’ve got in there.

ID3 Tags

ID3 tags are all those funny little bits of information about your MP3 files. Things like artist, album, the name of the song, the track number, and even the beats-per-minute are stored in these extensive tags. So what’s a person to do to get them all updated?

Well, first you’ll want to check out iEatBrainz, a client for the MusicBrainz database. This program will analyze what your MP3 file sounds like and then suggest songs that it might be. It works remarkably well, and is just the thing for finding the information for that one track that’s just named “track1” that you love listening to, but don’t know the artist. (If you were alive during Napster’s heyday, you’ve got a lot of these files.)

For the rest of your files that are just missing proper tags, take a look at MP3 ID3X. This is a wonderful little utility that lets you batch tag your files, much faster and more powerfully than selecting more than one file in iTunes. Best of all, MP3 ID3X will let you tag files based on fragments of their file name, or based on the folder that they’re in. So if you have some untagged files in, say, a “Depeche Mode” folder, it can figure out that they should all have “Depeche Mode” as the artist. Nifty.

Cover Art and Ratings

What do cover art and ratings have in common? Well, these utilities all cover both.

iTunes can grab cover art from the iTunes store, which is awful nice, but there’s a lot of stuff that just can’t be found in the store. These utilities can grab album art from other sources, such as, or Google’s image search to help fill out your library.

Album Art Widget is a nicely put together Dashboard widget that grabs album art, and also lets you rate your songs while they play. If you want a little more power, you can install Yahoo Widget Manager (formerly Konfabulator) and pick up the iTunes Companion widget, which does everything Album Art does, and can also grab lyrics from the web and add them to your songs. Both of these widgets also let you control iTunes (play, pause, forward, back, etc.).

Another application, in the same vein, is Clutter. Clutter not only grabs album art, but also lets you clutter up your desktop with virtual CD covers, which you can use to play any of your songs. Not as tidy as iTunes’ new CoverFlow feature, but for some folks, it’s just the ticket.

But my favorite of all these utilities is the all-purpose iTunes helper, GimmeSomeTune. This program’s a bit hard to describe, since it does so much, but basically it adds a menu control which can control iTunes from anywhere (like the widgets), and pops up a little bezel-style window every time a new track plays, showing some info (user configurable) about the track. It can automatically grab album art, rate songs, and do all kinds of other things, plus it lets you bind keyboard commands to all of these controls.

Basically, it lets you control iTunes to the Nth degree, whether or not iTunes is open.

Taking it to the Next Level

So now you’ve got a nice customized iTunes controller, album art everywhere, and your metadata and ratings are all up to date. What’s next?

Well, first let’s get your tracks all set at the same volume. Yeah, iTunes has its “sound check” feature which kind of does that, but there’s a little program called iVolume which does a heck of a lot better. It’ll scan your library and set all your songs perfectly to the right volume, even taking into account album groupings (since albums tend to mixed at the same volume).

Then you might want to create a nice mix for, say, working out, and another for a mellow evening with the significant other. Say hello to a new beta app, Tangerine, which does an amazing trick: It tells you how peppy each of your songs is.


Well yeah. It tells you the beats-per-minute and beat intensity of all your tracks. So when you want a throbbing fast beat for working out, grab your high speed, high intensity music. For that romantic night, you’ll want something close to the opposite. (And then maybe a nice beat as a nightcap.)

Very cool trick, and it’s an amazingly effective way to put together a playlist.

Finally, if you want some more music, there’s a handful of ways to get recommendations. Check out Goombah, Mobster or TuneBounce, all of which promise to introduce you to more music that you’ll like.

So check out these utilities. Most are free, and those which cost money are quite inexpensive. Every one promises to make your iTunes experience richer and more satisfying.

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Written on October 22, 2006