With iTunes, Airplay, and AppleTV, Apple actually has a wide range of software and devices that can turn your little Mac into a streaming media powerhouse. There are even more if you turn to the third party developer community. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are shouting “XMBC!” right now, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen, but I’ve always been sort of a zen kinda Mac user, here. It seems that whenever I find a tool I really like, it gets discontinued or bought up by a bigger fish. Thats why I like using Apple’s built-in tools whenever possible; they’re free, they’re included, and there’s less of a chance they’re going anywhere.
iTunes is going to be your central hub in all of this. There’s simply no way around it, iTunes is the biggest and best, and will work with the rest of your Apple ecosystem. And for this guide, we’re going to be using iTunes 11. Apple finally rewrote the app from the ground up, and it performs a lot better than it has in years, even on PCs. (Yes, I know, installing iTunes on Windows can be a little, lets say, aggravating, and it installs all this crapware you don’t want. But as a Windows user, aren’t you used to that by now?)
You’re going to need media, of course. This could be music, movies, or TV shows. In the next few posts, we I’m going to cover my favorite ways to manage my music, movies and shows, and finally how I stream them throughout my house.
Ripping music off of CDs is legal and easy, and its built right into iTunes. Simply insert a music CD, and on the top-right of the iTunes interface, click Import CD. Apple will automatically gather track info and artwork for you. If you only want to import certain tracks, deselect the others before importing by un-clicking their checkboxes.
If you plan on ripping a whole bunch of CDs, this can be easily automated. Just go to the iTunes preferences and select what you’d like iTunes to do when a CD is imported.
iTunes can ignore the CD, start playing, ask you if you’d like to import it, automatically import it, or my favorite, import it and then eject it. With the latter, all you have to do is put a CD in, let it do its thing while you get other work done, then pop a new one in when it spits out.
iTunes can handle music in many formats, and rip CDs in many formats. This is where I can really get myself into trouble: to some music purists, music formats are more sacred than Red Sox/Yankees. I once worked with a guy who would use a green magic marker to color the outer edges of all of his CDs because he swore it sounded better. He didn’t talk to me for a month when I told him my new Sony MiniDisc player “sounded just fine”.
Knowing there’s no way I can win here, all I can do is give you One Guy’s Opinion. AIFF is the format CDs are mastered in. They run about 10MB per minute. Apple Lossless sounds just as good (according to Apple) at about half that size. If you have hard drive space to burn, and you’re fine fitting, like, one Pink Floyd album on your iPod, then go with one of these formats, and you won’t be disappointed.
You can also import your music at a high quality, and later create low-quality versions for synching to your portable player. Because I’m primarily focusing on streaming around your house, and you’ll likely be doing that from a desktop Mac with a large drive, that’s the method I prefer.
But if you listen to 99% of your music through your iPhone with $39 headphones, and you want to carry around as much as you can, just go with Apple’s own ‘iTunes Plus” setting of 192 kbps AAC right from the start. Your music will be 10% of the size, and sound just as good. Also, you can stop reading, because I’m not going to be talking much about iPhones.
Metadata is all that other information that goes with your music; the artists, titles, lyrics, and cover art. If you’re as OCD as I am, you can’t stand seeing missing information in your song list.
Manually entering this information is easy, if terribly slow. Just right-click a song and choose get info, then fill in the information. You can tab between each field, and there’s a nice feature where it will try to auto-complete info based on other items already in your library.
For the album artwork, you can go to a page like Amazon, find the album, and copy-paste or drag it into the box in the Artwork tab, but don’t bother – fill in the rest of the info like artist and song, then use iTunes’ Get Album Artwork feature to fix your entire library. Be prepared to wait a while.
There is some hope, if you want to automate the tedious process of fixing your metadata, and you don’t mind dropping a few bucks. The gold standard is TuneUp.
This amazing app runs as a sidebar next to iTunes. Drag in a bunch of tracks, and it will analyze them and find the right info, let you verify before making changes, and then update the metadata with a click, including album artwork. It can even let you know about concerts in your area for artists in your library.
Tune Up is $50, or $40 a year. Personally, I think the year subscription is enough; once I fix the hundreds of tracks in my library, I’m not going to have to do it again next year. They also run 50% off sales all the time, if you are patient.
If you’d rather save the money, and you don’t mind doing one track at a time, there’s always Shazam…
Now, there are some people who want to insert lyrics into all of their songs, and there are a few apps which can help, like Strophes and Musixmatch, but they have terrible reviews on the app store, so I’m not going to link them here. Also, as obsessive as I am, I don’t save lyrics into my tracks. Why? Because the lyrics metadata is not an official tag, so it won’t sync if I re-download my music from iTunes Match or play it with a non-Apple app. Not worth the effort to me.
Congratulations, now you have a clean, organized, informative, and great-sounding library. Next time I will show you how to do the same for your TV shows, so you can obsessively watch Walking Dead reruns over and over till next fall…
ALSO CHECK OUT:
- HOW TO: Master Streaming Media With iTunes [ part 2 ]
- HOW TO: Master Streaming Media With iTunes [ part 3 ]
- HOW TO: Master Streaming Media With iTunes [ part 4 – final ]
This post was written by Alex Kaloostian who is an IT trainer and consultant in the Boston area. He specializes in Mac servers, video editing, and the technologies that keep them going. In his spare time, he likes cooking, comics, and neglecting his WoW account since he had two kids. He works for www.fmctraining.com and his personal blog can be found at www.alexkaloostian.com.
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