The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'itunes'


Today, I cancelled my iTunes Match subscription.

I subscribed to iTunes Match as soon as it became available in the UK, because the idea of being able to upload my music collection into The Cloud™ and access it without physically shlepping it around seemed very useful. Over the next few weeks, I embarked on the project of uploading the contents of my music collection (which, in its unabridged form, resides on a small Linux machine running mpd); manually copying it to a MacBook, dragging it into iTunes and waiting for it to sync up with the servers and verify or upload my music. Slowly but surely, a virtual copy of my music collection took shape in the cloud, accessible remotely wherever I have my iPhone and an internet connection. And then, towards the end, I hit the 25,000-song ceiling, and no more songs would go on.

iTunes Match, you see, has a limit of 25,000 songs per user, not counting purchases from iTunes. This is a hard limit; there are no premium tiers which will bump this up to something more generous for those outliers on the right-hand side of the music-collection bell curve, not at any price. Well, you could always repurchase part or all of your collection from the iTunes Store, freeing up slots for out-of-print rarities and CD-Rs bought at gigs and such, but that kinda sucks. It is not clear why Apple did not offer any sort of reasonable option for prolific music collectors; perhaps the various music rightsholders, long used to the role of the dog in the manger, decided that those people could pay extra and demanded extortionate prices, or just flat out refused to allow it, because they could. Perhaps Apple thought that having different usage tiers broke up the elegance of their iTunes offering, that 25,000 songs was more than enough for the typical user (whose music collection consists of about two dozen albums, among them Coldplay, Skrillex, a few albums of classic 90s alt-rock and the obligatory stylishly understated European indie wallpaper music), and that the tiny minority of power users who need more aren't really the kinds of clients they are interested in. Perhaps this is simply a cynical ploy by Apple and/or the RIAA to arm-twist the punters into repurchasing their record collections in another format (namely a digital file much like the one they already have, but with the option of accessing it on iTunes Match for free). But in any case, the upshot is that one is stuck with the 25,000-song hard limit.

For a while, I made do with the limit. My plans were downgraded from “get everything into iTunes Match” to “get most of it into iTunes Match”. I scanned my iTunes collection, performing triage, coldly relegating albums into a second tier: non-essential; not to be uploaded. The non-essential albums were deleted from my MacBook (there is no way to mark part of your iTunes collection as “yes, I might want to listen to this, but please don't waste any of my 25,000 iTunes Match slots on it”); should I wish to listen to them, I would have to do so at home, on the small Linux box in my living room. Initially, only a handful of albums got relegated, with the rest squeezing in at somewhere over 24,000 tracks. And all was, if not perfect, then acceptable for the time being.

Time went on and, as I bought CDs (some at gigs, some in record shops I visited, and some just because they had artwork and packaging the digital copy was not privy to), every now and then I'd run out of space in iTunes Match, and would do another sweep of my collection, finding more records to consign to the outer darkness. As the low-hanging fruit disappeared, subsequent sweeps became more difficult, until, at some time last year, I resigned myself to not having any new music in my iTunes Match collection, unless it had proved itself so good as to be worth killing something else for; Album Deathmatch.

And so, when the email from Apple came in, notifying me that the renewal date for iTunes Match had come around and I would be billed £21.99 for another year of a flawed service, the choice was clear. Enough was enough, and so I cancelled the renewal. As of now, Apple's systems will have undoubtedly deleted the obscure Australian indiepop tracks that iTunes uploaded some two years earlier.

I would have kept iTunes Match, had it had one of two changes: ideally, the option of a higher limit. Or, if the limit is, for some reason, not negotiable, the option of keeping tracks in one's iTunes whilst keeping (or taking) them out of iTunes Match. The “I like this, but not enough to want to get to it from my iPhone” option, if you will; a no-brainer when dealing with a scarce resource one has paid for.

So what comes next? Well, all the rival services, such as Amazon's and Google's ones, seem to also fall short with large numbers of tracks. I suspect that my next music locker will be a USB flash drive I carry with me; there are 256Gb flash drives on the market now, and while they're expensive, their price will inevitably drop. It's not implausible that, by the end of the year, they will cost less than £21.99.

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Apple have just released the specifications for the iTunes LP format, a way of encoding extra content to wrap around music albums, and it looks very elegant. As mentioned before, an iTunes LP is a directory containing the original media and graphic files, as well as XML metadata, HTML/CSS for presentation, and code in JavaScript for the navigation. The JavaScript code uses a framework named TuneKit, which, in characteristic Apple fashion, is elegantly Model-View-Controller; rather than littering DOM objects with event handlers, an author defines controller classes which deal with the relevant events.

Apple say that they will start accepting automated submissions of iTunes LP content to the iTunes Store in the first quarter of 2010. Of course, as the format is open, there is nothing preventing people from rolling their own and selling them from other sites.

I wonder how long until there are open-source iTunes LP players for platforms such as Linux.

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The advent of the MP3 has changed the music-listening experience, as many musicians and old-timers will tell you; no longer do you sit on the floor by the Dansette meditating on the 12" square of lovingly designed artwork in your hands as the artists take you on a journey in the order they intended; no, you're free to listen to music a track at a time. Which, of course, has its upsides (for one, since the invention of the CD, the recording industry has been raking it in by requiring artists wanting that one good song to pay for the other 75 minutes of hastily cobbled together filler), but, on the other hand, the experience of the-album-as-totality is no longer there (and a folder of MP3s played in sequence isn't quite the same).

But now, Apple has launched a standard format for encapsulating the other bits of an album. Named "iTunes LP", it includes clickable artwork, lyrics and other media. An "iTunes LP" is downloaded with the AAC files when you buy an album from, you guessed it, iTunes.

A chap by the name of Jay Robinson has dissected this format, finding that it's basically a ZIP file containing HTML, CSS, JavaScript and other resources. There doesn't seem to be any DRM or code signing in use, so it's not unlikely that the .itlp format will break free of iTunes; that we may soon see artists rolling their own, and third-party software playing .itlp files. It'll be interesting to see what comes of this.

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Major recording label EMI has confirmed that it will sell its entire music catalogue in high-quality, DRM-free formats. In a joint announcement in London with Apple's Steve Jobs, EMI's CEO announced that the "premium" versions will be available on iTunes from May for 99p a track, with upgrades from previous downloads available for 15p; standard-quality, DRM-encumbered tracks will remain available for 79p. It is anticipated that the DRM-free downloads will become available on other services (presumably in MP3 or FLAC formats). Doing this, EMI becomes the first major label to join a slew of indie labels selling MP3s through services like EMusic.

Apple boss Steve Jobs shared the platform with Mr Nicoli and said: "This is the next big step forward in the digital music revolution - the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music."
He added: "The right thing to do is to tear down walls that precluded interoperability by going DRM-free and that starts here today."
Other record companies would soon follow EMI's lead, predicted Mr Jobs.
Reports of Edgar Bronfman Jr. throwing a chair through the Warner Music boardroom window have not been confirmed.

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Apple's iTunes has been offering "celebrity playlists", of celebrities favourite songs (well, those licensed for DRM-encumbered iTunes sale, anyway). Not surprisingly, many of them are naff:

The liner notes to wild-eyed rawker Andrew W.K.'s playlist sport a delightful exclamation-point-to-sentence ratio of 1.27-to-1. And I can't think of a better summation of Avril Lavigne than her exegesis of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic": "I love how this song was written with all the different examples Alanis uses of things being ironic."

No surprises either that the hip-hop blingerati's playlists are shamelessly commercial:

Missy Elliott, on the other hand, reveals little. Her liner notes, like her playlist itself, are pure hippity-hop boilerplate: "From ol' skool to new skool, these are some of the hottest songs on the sickest beats ever. Holla!!!" For the most part, iTunes celebrity playlists are unlikely to make anyone holla back. The worst of the bunch are those celebrity playlists padded with the celebrity's own songs, epitomized by the queen of the craven playlist, Beyonce Knowles. Eight of the 14 songs on Beyonce's playlist are performed by her thin-voiced sister, Solange, by her former bandmates in Destiny's Child, or by Beyonce herself.

(Pity that Apple don't publish summaries of the playlists in HTML; I wouldn't mind seeing the Sleater-Kinney and Thievery Corporation playlists mentioned in the piece.)

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