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Tech Tips: 15 Ways to Make iTunes Rock

Educating end users to help prevent most problems.

It’s hard to imagine that one could really tweak or improve iTunes in any particular fashion. I say that not because the software is perfect, rather, because it’s completely closed-source. Apple doesn’t have a list of extensions that you can just install into the application at a whim. If anything, iTunes is built for two purposes and two purposes alone: Buying stuff from Apple’s Store and transferring said stuff over to an Apple device of your choosing.


Yet, the more I looked into ways that one can extend the iTunes experience, the more I found that yes, Virginia, there are plenty of different tools, add-ons, and techniques you can employ to really make this music application shine. And before you start in the comments, yes, I know that there are better music players than iTunes. However, that’s not to say that iTunes itself is a poor program—with a little tender love and care, you can make it as welcome in your home as any other program you enjoy. Trust me.

Let’s get started!


Installing iTunes Sans Bloatware

The best place to start our journey toward iTunes awesomeness is, of course, at the point of installation. If you’ve ever used the application before, you’ll know that Apple—unfortunately—dumps a ton of crap on your system during the course of the iTunes install. This includes calls to startup programs that unnecessarily run behind-the-scenes on your system, a network service you likely don’t even need, browser plugins, et cetera.

Ed Bott over at ZDNet has written a fine how-to for getting past all the annoying junk and installing, quite simply, iTunes. Follow his advice for a bloat-free music application!


Punish Ping

For whatever reason, you might not want to jump on-board with Apple’s Ping service. Perhaps your musical tastes are so esoteric that you want to keep your perfectly formatted library all to yourself—no sharing with friends and strangers anything you happen to rock out to and/or enjoy. That’s fine. Apple isn’t twisting your arm to sign up for Ping.

Now, suppose you want to remove all the Ping options from your right-click context menu as well. There used to be a fancy little way to do it via a command prompt window. However, that’s since been replaced by an easier method: Click Edit, select Preferences, find the Parental Control tab, and check the box next to Ping.


Double Library Trouble

You ninja you; I would understand your desire to keep your less desirable music (say, the entire Spice Girls collection) out of the easily accessibility of iTunes’ shuffle feature. But there are many more reasons than that for why you might want to build separate iTunes libraries.

Here’s how: Just hold the shift key before you launch iTunes. It’s as simple as that. The software will prompt you to either pick a library or create one. If you do the latter, your two libraries will exist completely independently of each other—which can be a pain if you want to, say, add some MP3s to both. Secrecy has its price!


Pretty Up Your Collection

Apple’s iTunes is pretty good about trying to match album artwork to the various songs and albums you have scattered about your library. But it’s not perfect, nor can your esoteric musical tastes (previously including such random bands as The Beatles) always be found in the iTunes store—the source for said artwork.

To better figure out what you have to import manually, make a smart playlist (File > New Smart Playlist). Once the associated window pops up, select “Has Artwork” as the rule and “is false” as the conditional. Once you click “OK,” you’ll have a self-updating list of albums that require your artistic touch!


Share Your Library

If you’re running a fairly networked house, then odds are good that you’ll want to be able to access and modify a single iTunes library from any system you can get your grubby little hands on. No sense running multiple libraries across multiple computers with multiple duplicate files, right? As well, dialing into a single iTunes repository on a single system is great for file playback, but not so great for file editing.

Our friends at Lifehacker have written up a fairly comprehensive (trust us; it’s a lot of steps) guide to maintaining a single, editable library across all of your networked systems. Take that, duplicity!

“Share” Your Library

Here’s the deal–if you do happen to be in the situation where different computers on your network have different music files on them, it’s possible to grab the exact songs you want from any other networked iTunes application using a third-party piece of software. The app’s called Aethyr, and it’s an Adobe Air-based program that lets you “rip” music, as it were, from any other iTunes you can find on your network.

We suppose this would be considered the “Holy Grail” of applications for one on a college dorm room network, but what you’re thinking about is illegal and wrong. Shame on you.


Dump Your iTunes to the Web

This one’s a little esoteric, so hear us out. The Web app “Moof” allows you to upload your library file to its servers and it, in turn, gives you the opportunity to jam to your files no matter your physical location.


No, you don’t upload every MP3 (or whatnot) to the service. Nor do you have to pay any money to get access to the jams that Moof recognizes via your uploaded library file. Instead, this service uses the power of YouTube—specifically, videos featuring your songs found on YouTube—to give you an on-demand radio of sorts that, itself, is based on your iTunes library.

That’s a mouthful… and a clever workaround to having to carry your entire musical collection on a portable hard drive wherever you go.

For the most advanced tips of all, read on!

Remote Rock

I often find myself envious of Apple fans, as they get access to all sorts of neat little tricks within iTunes—remote speakers, controlling playback via their handheld iPhones and what-have-you, other cool stuff like that. Well, worry not Windows user, for a fun little application called Airfoilallows you to set up a portable rock station anywhere in your apartment, house, or dwelling.

So long as Airfoil is running on two networked computers, it’s super-easy to pump the sounds of one to the other. Because nothing’s more fun than DJ’ing a party from the comfort of your home office–or, for that matter, Rickrolling your friends unexpectedly. The program slaps noise into your broadcast after 10 minutes unless you buy the paid-for version… so if you’re really concerned about that, then try the freeware alternative Speakershare.


Let iTunes Lull Yourself to Sleep

Pardon the German, but it’s been a real pain to try and find a working timer application that lets you use the power of iTunes to gently drift yourself off to slumber. The app Sweet Dreams does just that, reducing the volume of your system over a period of time that you specify until, ideally, you’ve finally succumbed to sleep.

Better still, this app will even shut off your system when the timer reaches the big fat zero—perfect for those that would like a gentle night’s sleep without the glare of a monitor pervading their room. So what’s this app’s major downfall? German. Still, with such few options to choose from, I’m willing to venture that you don’t need a few years’ language skills in your repertoire just to know what to do to enable a simple timer. Right? Gut.


The Simpler Timer

If you really, truly can’t stand the thought of having to comprehend German to make your system’s sounds expire at a given time, here’s an easier solution: ClickWhen. This app, written by Lifehackers’ own Adam Pash, is simple in its execution. Launch it, then select a spot on your display that you want to click in a given time period from this very moment—like, say, the “pause” button on your iTunes screen. Then input a time.

That’s it.

Once the timer runs out, your mouse will magically click itself on the point you previously selected. It’s as easy as that. Yes, this app seems silly, but it’s always a perfect way to, say, give yourself 30 minutes of rocking before you have to go leave the house to do something, or switch over to a brand new playlist once your party has hit the three-hour mark. And yes, you can even have the app perform double-clicks as well. Two functions for the price of none!


Sync Android to iTunes

How do I love thee, doubleTwist? Let me count the ways: one. You let me synchronize my Android phone with my iTunes library, which is almost a cats-and-puppies-as-friends kind of situation that, at first glance, should seem impossible.

But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. Grab the client application, grab the associated Android application, and you’re good to go. Soon, wireless synchronization of your songs will be within your grasp!

If you don’t want an entirely new song client, however, then your best bet is to stick with good ol’ iTunes and a little app called iTunes Sync. So long as you flip your Android phone over to disk drive mode, you’ll be able to pull it up directly within iTunes—but more importantly, you’ll be able to use iTunes to manage the playlists that synchronize to your Android phone as well.


Your iTunes Needs a Friend

Thus enters the application iTuner, a self-proclaimed “iTunes Companion” that, indeed, adds a ton of functionality within an easy-to-access button on your taskbar: “automated library maintenance, playlist exporting, playlist sychronization with MP3 players, global keyboard control, lyric discovery, and track and playback control. C#, WPF, MusicBrainz, iTunes APIs, and more,” reads the app’s official site.

I only listed that as I did because there’s just too much that iTuner does to say it in any way other than a simple data dump. From automatically nuking missing and duplicate tracks in your library, to deleting empty folders within your main “music” directory, to global hotkeys that you can use to control iTunes regardless of whatever program is in your foreground… the list of that-which-iTuner-can-do is long and extensive.

To be honest, it’s also an excellent replacement for the default iTunes Mini Player that now looks anemic by comparison.


Global Hotkeys Beckon

If the thought of global hotkeys mentioned in the above description for iTuner got you salivating, great! I’m not sure why this would be the case, but suppose you don’t really need or want the various features that said iTuner app provides—you just want hotkeys and vanilla iTunes. That’s it. Alright. Check out HKTunes, an open-source application that does just that: It adds global hotkeys to your system such that you can control iTunes without actually having to have the app running in the foreground.

Playing World of Warcraft and want to stop your jams to concentrate on a specific boss fight? Easy. Want to jump tracks back and forth while writing up an article about iTunes? Totally possible. Need to change the iTunes volume on the fly? Get a multimedia keyboard… or memorize your HKTunes hotkey combination!


Browse with Firefox and Rock with iTunes

Alright, Firefox users. Here’s one of the times when you get to do a little gloating over your Chrome-using compatriots. That’s because there’ s really no way to go about controlling what’s going on in iTunes via some kind of toolbar within Chrome. Firefox users get the awesome add-onFoxyTunes to do just that: You can see what’s playing, jump tracks back and forth, seek out specific parts of a song, and do all the sorts of things you’d expect to find on the iTunes Mini Player… right within your browser.

Seriously. If you’re a Firefox aficionado, there’s no reason why you would ever want to use the default iTunes Mini Player over this full-featured extension. And as a super-fun bonus, FoxyTunes even comes with both an alarm clock and a sleep timer—perfect for the times when you want to take a little nap to the sweet sounds of Nine Inch Nails or something while a huge download finishes. Mmm.


Who’s Listening to my iTunes?

Assuming you’ve enabled all the various music sharing mechanisms within iTunes, have you ever actually been curious to find out who’s connected to (and rocking out with) your system? While you can’t pull that much detail on the actual users attached to your iTunes via your network connection, you can at least see who has come into the jam session of your digital living room.

Head on over to Microsoft’s site and grab the application TCPView. Once you’ve done that, fire it up and scroll on through until you find the iTunes listings—and, yes, the program automatically updates when connections drop on and off. If you don’t recognize the IP address or local address, which means it’s not your system’s name or “localhost,” then you have a fan who’s listening to your iTunes as we speak. If you want to pull the person’s plug, right-click on the corresponding line and select “End Connection.”