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Tag Archives: itunes

Can Subscription Music Curb Piracy?

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What happens when you make it easier to pay for content rather than to steal it?

Subscription music services put massive music libraries at your fingertips for only a few dollars per month. Now you can listen to the latest acts as well as trawl through your favourite artists’ back catalogues. You can even discover new artists based on your music tastes.

If you buy more than half a dozen CDs each year then a subscription music service could make a lot of sense. Services such as Rhapsody have been popular in the US for several years but they only started to take off in Australia last year. Hardware makers such as Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Blackberry and Microsoft’s Zune have all offered Australian subscription music services to run on their various gadgets. Apple has also launched iTunes Match but it’s not actually an all-you-can-eat subscription service. Instead it only lets you stream music you already own.

While hardware makers have been quick off the mark locally, we’ve also seen the rise of device-agnostic subscription music services such as Rdio and Songl. The highly respected Spotify is also expected to launch in Australia soon, which will shake things up. These services let you listen via computers, tablets, smartphones and multi-room audio systems such as Sonos.

What’s really interesting about these subscription services is not just that they grant access to millions of tracks, but that they make it so easy to play them. You can search for your favourite artist, choose an album or song and start listening in under 10 seconds. The sound quality is usually as good as if you’d rip it from CD yourself. That’s a very tempting proposition for people who tend to steal music by waiting for it to download from file-sharing services.

The growth of legitimate online music services proves that there is a market out there. Many people are prepared to pay for content if you don’t make them jump through too many hoops and treat them like a criminal when they’re trying to do the right thing.

Apple’s iTunes store is a great example of how people respond to a good service at a reasonable price. All of the movies and music on the iTunes store are available for free on file-sharing services if you go looking for them. Yet Apple has sold more than 10 billion songs. Apple’s success is not because people don’t know about the illegitimate alternatives. Its success is due to the fact that Apple makes paying for content easier than stealing it.

There will always be some people who steal content, regardless of how easy it is to do the right thing. And there will always be some people who “buy” content, regardless of how easy it is to “rent” it using subscription services. But as the NBN makes high-speed internet access ubiquitous, more and more people will embrace online subscription services — letting them enjoy what they want, where and when they want it.

For now subscription music services are more likely to complement people’s music libraries rather than replace them. But the day will come when owning content, whether you bought it or stole it, will seem like more trouble than it’s worth for most people.


How To Clean Up Your iTunes Library

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iTunes organises your music for you, but if things get messy you can fix it by hand.

When you rip a music CD to your computer using iTunes, it automatically downloads all the details for every track and uses this to sort your music according to artist and album. After this you can drag around the columns in iTunes to control how your music is listed.

Occasionally songs aren’t sorted correctly — perhaps listed out of order or broken into multiple albums. This often happens when you’ve imported songs from another source apart from the iTunes store or a physical CD, because the track data isn’t automatically updated when you import tracks into iTunes this way. Thankfully it’s easy to fix this problem.

The first step is to select one of your new tracks in iTunes and press the Control and “I” buttons (or Apple and “I” buttons if you’re using a Mac). “I” is for “Info”, and this keyboard shortcut opens a window listing lots of information about that file. Switch from the Summary tab to the Info tab and you’ll see all the data regarding that track, album and artist.

The key information to enter here is the song name, album name, artist name and track number. If you don’t have the CD case, websites such as allmusic.com are a good source of such information.

Entering this data should give iTunes enough information to sort your songs correctly. Thankfully you don’t need to edit each track one at a time. You can select every track in an album at once and use the Info keyboard shortcut to edit the album and artist for every track at once. Now you can go back and individually edit each song’s name and track number, using the Next button to easily skip to the next song.

Once your albums are sorted correctly, go iTunes’ Advanced menu and choose Get Album Artwork to see if iTunes can find the album covers online. If not, you can manually add an image using the Artwork tab in a track’s Info menu.

Sometimes iTunes gets confused even when you do rip your music from a CD, particularly if it’s a compilation such as a movie soundtrack. If iTunes breaks up compilation albums according to the artist, try ticking the Part of a Compilation option on the Info tab. Problems can also arise when different band members are credited as the artist on different tracks of an album, but entering the band name as the album artist can override this.

If these changes don’t fix your problems, check the Sorting tab to see if they’re being overridden. For example, tracks by the “The Beatles” might have the Sort Artist set to “Beatles”, so it appears under B rather than T. These Sort details do not affect how track details are displayed, only how iTunes sorts them. It’s a handy trick to ensure iTunes doesn’t mix up tracks from multiple albums with the same name, such as “The Essentials”.


Music To Your Ears?

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Fifteen years ago, if you wanted music for your computer, it was a pretty simple affair. You went out, and you bought a CD from a shop — or  perhaps via mail order if you were a serious distance from the nearest CD store.

CDs are all but dead in the market today; while it’s still possible to find music stores, they’re a dying breed, and the range they offer pales in comparison to the offerings that can be found online. Apple’s iTunes still dominates the local scene in terms of outright sales,  and while we’re stuck paying slightly higher rates for individual tracks than, say, American consumers  –an unfortunate legacy of the kinds of deals that Apple struck with the major name labels, although Apple clearly isn’t suffering for charging a little extra anyway.

But you’re not limited to iTunes, especially if you’re not fussed about music ownership anyway. No, I’m not advocating music piracy — far  from it. Recent months have seen a number of online music subscription services emerge in the local market, offering access to potentially millions of tracks for a single set fee. You don’t keep the tracks you’re listening to, but then you’re not charged by volume; instead simply a monthly fee for access, rather like PayTV. Sony has a service labelled as Qriocity, Microsoft has Zune Music Pass and Blackberry has the not terribly inventively named Blackberry Music locally; it’s expected that online service provider Rdio will launch in Australia sometime in the new year.

It might seem counterintuitive to pay for music on your computer (or smartphone, or tablet — most of these services will work across multiple devices, because you’re typically signing into a service rather than downloading a file) that you don’t get to keep, but the subscription model has some definite upsides. There’s the obvious appeal of having access to millions of tracks; while there may be thousands you don’t care for, that kind of wide spread virtually assures you of being able to find something you’ll like. Many of them will offer initial short trial periods, so you can ensure that you’re happy with what’s on offer. Access to lots of music is also a great way to widen your musical horizon, and most services will suggest similar artists to those you’re already listening to. That can have social aspects as well; the recently launched Blackberry Music does limit the number of tracks you can access on your smartphone, but cleverly allows you to “share” your collection with other Blackberry Music listeners. If you’ve got lots of friends, in other words, your collection could be massive — and you’ll also get an insight into their tastes along the way.


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