The Null Device

The iTunes LP specification

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.

There are 8 comments on "The iTunes LP specification":

Posted by: Greg Sat Nov 28 00:39:00 2009

I'm quite interested in this development. A consortium of major labels have also announced a competing 'album of mp3s" format called 'CMX'. I can't see too much discussion other than a bit on Slashdot. It will provide an empirical test for those debates about singles and albums and mp3 and iTunes. I see that debate as: on the one hand, the album (45 minute collection of pop songs) is merely a byproduct of the limitations of the vinyl format, while on the other hand, some bands really worked the format and many great albums are better listened to in their entirety. These new formats recreate the album experience. I've been thinking a lot about mp3 when wearing my cd-mastering hat. Increasingly I wonder: 1. does anyone listen to music in the old way: sitting in a room facing a pair of hifi speakers? 2. if not, should we be "mastering for iPod" now? 3. if music is mostly heard through mp3-players and laptops in noisy environments, is it worth making it sound good through good speakers?

Posted by: acb Sat Nov 28 01:49:14 2009

The CMX thing sounds like the usual sort of bureaucratic reaction from the recording industry which brought us a whole wave of failed DRM initiatives. Chances are it was designed by a committee, is thoroughly lacking in technical elegance, and with Apple's format being an open standard, is bound for a well-deserved obscurity.

Posted by: Bowie Sun Nov 29 23:56:24 2009

I've often thought the "mastering" process could be a filter distributed with the content. CPUs are universally fast enough to do audio processing on-the-fly now, probably even in MP3 players. Why not provide ideal EQ/compression filters for your iPod, for you Hi-Fi, for your car?

Posted by: Greg Mon Nov 30 12:08:51 2009

That's an interesting suggestion Bowie. I'm guessing that what would be distributed with the audio would be *parameters" for filters, rather than the filters themselves. If so, some big-time standardization would be needed to get filters capable of being thus-parameterized installed on all players. Another problem: part of album-mastering is getting the songs on an album to sound consistent with each other (similarly loud, bassy, trebley or whatever), which I figure would still have to be done *prior* to distribution to consumers. ... Separate to the issue of how to master for different playback devices, is the problem (according to me) that some devices/file-formats are relatively lo-fi, and/or often used in noisy contexts (eg outdoors, on buses), so that the whole point of mastering - getting it to sound good - is moot, because it never will sound good. Or to put it less dramatically: the goodness addable through mastering is swamped by the badness of the playback situation.

Posted by: acb Tue Dec 1 00:06:57 2009

Shipping the audio in, say, 32-bit floats, with certain specifications (no clipping, perhaps envelopes marked up in the metadata) should provide enough resolution for the device in question to master it as it sees fit. Cheap boomboxes could just compress the hell out of it (as the sorts of people who buy cheap boomboxes would undoubtedly be used to); a bit further up the range, there'd be units with a single control which controls the amount of compression, and variously fancy compression algorithms.

If standard compression isn't enough, it would be possible to encode DSP filters in a portable bytecode that can be JIT-compiled to whatever it's running on (Native Instruments' Reaktor 5 seems to do something similar with its Core layer), and thus to ship the album with a compression circuit, marked up to be usable if the user's hardware has more than N MIPS available.

Posted by: Greg Tue Dec 1 20:34:28 2009

Youse are freaking me out! You see, to me, letting your mp3 player decide how to master your songs would be like letting your record player decide whether to skip the guitar solo between the last verse and the coda, or choose how loud the lead vocal should be in the mix. I have always seen mastering decisions as 'artistic' and under the band's, or at least their trusted engineer's, control 0 just as much as mix and arrangement decisions are made the musicians and engineers. I typically use three or four mastering effects on each song, and only of them (limiter) would I consider a feasible candidate for automaticity. Ok - *maybe* compression too. ... But maybe I am guilty of habitual thinking. I wonder if automatic mastering by the playback device is a future direction? I hope you guys don't mind if I ponder these ideas and turrn them into a blog post of my own?

Posted by: ianw Thu Dec 3 00:19:07 2009

Greg if you don't mind me adding what you have mentioned in past conversations (to underscore what you say above) - better mastering can be achieved by making some of the adjustments on individual tracks, ie. pre-mixdown. For this and many other reasons, any advent of in-player fakearoid-mastering (which I doubt would get much more sophisticated than the 'wide-stereo' buttons and jazz/classic/pop/etc EQ buttons we've had for a while now) would only further entrench the mastering profession, by broadening the specialist knowledge needed to prepare a piece of music for various 'uses' it will be put to. As well as (not instead of) what was once the usual range of speaker sizes, music is (one has to presume) being mastered these days for tiny-speaker (laptop) and crappy-headphone use, with special attention being paid to how a mix will sound after it has been made into a mp3 (120/160/VBR). PS I wonder if iTLP will encourage (or otherwise) attaching ('random'/DIY) pics to mp3s/comps (cF. mixtape covers in the 80s)

Posted by: ianw Sat Dec 12 04:29:51 2009

PS pls excuse my flippancy (above). Of course the possible future in-player 'mastering' would be quite sophisticated - it's just that the use they are bound to be put to may not be, so artists will feel the need to guard against this. And being (as a rule) incapable of owning a decent stereo let alone knowing how to master their music, they'll continue to pay thru the nose for the mysterious voodoo that is 'mastering', to do so.