The desktop version of iTunes is a great application, with features that I’m still learning to use. In addition, there’s a world of add-ons and programs out there that make iTunes even better! I’ve just begun exploring these and wanted to share my comments about some of the best. Some of them are available for both the Mac and Windows PC; others are available for one platform only. Some are freeware and others commercial apps.
In this article I’ll focus on those that are most relevant to iPhone and iPod touch users. I’ll look at programs and add-ons that get missing cover art, automatically download lyrics, and more. In a future issue, I’ll discuss add-ons that help you create useful playlists and manage your iTunes libraries.
Automatically correct metadata and get missing cover art
“Metadata” refers to the details about a song, including its name, the artist that recorded it, the album it came from, etc. Cover art is—well—the art found on the cover of an album. Many users have thousands of tracks they’ve acquired from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, some of these don’t include cover art and are represented in iTunes with ugly generic icons. You can sometimes get cover art for these tunes by going to the iTunes Advanced menu and selecting the “Get Album Artwork” option. You’ll get a warning asking you, “Are you sure you want to get album artwork?” If you confirm the request, information about songs with missing artwork will be sent to iTunes which will search for the cover art and download it to your device if it is available.
Apple does not store this information or use it to check up on you. However, the fact that info about what you have on your device is being sent to Apple still deters quite a few people from using this built-in capability. Instead, they opt for an add-on that performs this same function. Some users also prefer add-ons because they sometimes do a better job of finding cover art. When iTunes searches for cover art, it relies on the metadata stored in the music file for details about the song. Music downloaded from some sources may have inaccurate or incomplete metadata. Fortunately, there are also add-ons to fix this situation.
In addition to the apps described above, you might also check out these album artwork applications.
- iGrabber (Free; Windows version only; softpedia.com—search on iGrabber)
- Album Cover Finder ($15; Mac and Windows versions; amphonicdesigns.com)
- Album Artwork Locator ($25; Mac and Windows versions; zeleksoftware.com/locator.htm)
Adding and viewing lyrics
With the desktop version of iTunes, if you select a song in your music library and then go to the “Get Info” option in the File menu, you are presented with a screen that lets you view the metadata associated with the song. There is a Lyrics tab in this screen, but clicking on it generally brings up an empty box because iTunes doesn’t include lyrics with the music it sells. You can manually type the lyrics into this box or use a software application to go out on the Internet, find the lyrics, and automatically copy them into the box. Once you’ve added lyrics, you can view them on your iPhone or iPod touch while a selection is playing—simply tap once on the album cover. Once the lyrics are added to the tune, they are automatically transferred to your iPhone when you sync the tune.
GimmeSomeTune and iTSfv, as mentioned bellow, will also download lyrics for your music. In addition, the following widgets, programs, and plug-ins will do the job.
Harmonic (Free, Mac version only; mindquirk.com/apps/harmonic): This is a dashboard widget that automatically downloads and shows lyrics for songs as they play. It also adds the lyrics to the metadata, making it available on your iPhone or iPod touch after you sync the song.
DeskTopLyrics (Free; Mac version only; corecode.at/desktoplyrics): This application simply displays the lyrics on your desktop as the song plays.
iTunes Lyric Importer (Free; Windows version only; senthilkumar.googlepages.com/ituneslyricsimporter): One of the few, free, automatic lyrics-finding programs for the Windows side of things. It gets the lyrics from LyricWiki.org. Helpful instructions for using this simple application can be found at tinyurl.com/lqtha2.
Soundcrank Plugin for iTunes (Free; Windows version only; soundcrank.com): This plug-in automatically downloads cover art and lyrics. To use the plug-in, you have to participate in the Soundcrank social media Web site.
[Editor's Note: As of August of 2009 music publishers had asked LyricWiki.org not to allow programmatic access to their contents. Therefore, those programs that accessed LyricWiki.org for lyrics may no longer work, though they may have found other sources by the time you read this.
Most programs that let you grab lyrics require that the song be currently playing. What if you want to get them all at once? You can simply leave your playlist running. However, if you have a lot of songs, that could take months. An option for Mac users is to download the free Needle Drop Applescript from Doug's Applescripts. It lets you specify how long each song plays. You can specify, say, 10 seconds, and have iTunes quickly go through your playlist, adding lyrics as it goes. dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/scripts02.php?page=1#needledrop]
This popular add-on is sold in Apple retail stores and on Apple’s Web site; it’s also available from the developer’s Web site. Once installed, the TuneUp window appears next to your iTunes window on your Mac or PC. To fill in or correct metadata stored on an MP3 music file, drag it from iTunes to the TuneUp window. It then takes an “audio fingerprint” of the song to identify it and then fills in missing, or corrects inaccurate metadata information. This includes artist, song title, album title, release year, and genre. If the same artist is listed in different ways, it will standardize the label and spelling. TuneUp will also search your entire music collection for music files that are missing album covers. However, before you do this, you must first perform a metadata cleanup so the info stored in the music file is accurate. TuneUp can also recognize greatest hits compilations so that the tracks on these can be matched with their original albums. TuneUp is available in free and commercial versions. The free version limits you to 100 cleanups and 50 album covers; the commercial version is unlimited. Both versions give you unlimited access to the software’s other features. The Tuniverse feature is similar to Genius in iTunes. It locates music on the Web similar to your tracks, finds related YouTube videos, and provides artist bios from Wikipedia. It will give you song recommendations. The Concerts feature alerts you to upcoming concerts by artists in your library. The commercial version is called TuneUp Gold and is available in Apple Stores ($29.95, boxed) and as a download from the TuneUp media Web site ($29.95 for a lifetime subscription; $19.95 for a one year subscription).
TuneUp Free and commercial versions available for Mac and Windows; tuneupmedia.com.
Similar to TuneUp, SongGenie (above left) creates an acoustic fingerprint of your tracks to identify them and fill in missing or incorrect metadata information. It works with most standard music file formats (MP3, M4P, MP4A, etc.) and gets its metadata information from the MusicIP database. The same company also offers CoverScout (above right), which uses the corrected metadata to find album covers. It also lets you edit and print the cover images.
SongGenie and CoverScout SongGenie: $30, CoverScout: $40; Mac only; equinux.com;
GimmeSomeTune runs in the background when iTunes is open. It automatically fetches missing cover art and lyrics and adds them to your library of music. You simply start playing a song, and the software does the fetching. You can also have the application display a song’s lyrics in a separate window. If the program can’t find the lyrics, it lets you quickly do a Google search for them. This add-on also supports Last.fm and can function as an iTunes controller. You can download this add-on for free. If you like it, you’re invited to make a donation—a lot of people like it!
GimmeSomeTune Free (donation requested); Mac version only; eternalstorms.at/index2.html;
This application has nearly 300,000 downloads on VersionTracker alone, and many more on other sites, so it certainly must be one of the more widely used for retrieving album art. You control it using the Script menu in iTunes. Simply select one or more songs in iTunes, select Fetch Art from the script menu, and it searches Amazon.com for the album art. As with other add-ons, Fetch Art only works well if the music’s metadata is accurate, so use one of the add-ons mentioned above before you use it.
Free; Mac version only; fetchartblog.blogspot.com;
While much of the discussion above is related to cleaning up the metadata associated with MP3 files, similar utilities exist for cleaning up MP4 metadata, which is very useful if you have a lot of music videos, TV shows, and movies in iTunes. In particular, iTunes tends to classify music videos as movies and leaves out metadata such as the artist and album. MetaX can fix this as well as do a host of other things. For example, it lets you grab a frame from the video to serve as the poster, and automatically searches for posters online.
The name of this program stands for iTunes Store File Validator, and its principal use is to standardize all the metadata in your tracks according to the iTunes file standard. It has many other features, including automatic genre tagging from Last.fm, exporting iTunes Store artwork, and downloading lyrics from LyricsWiki. It also gives an automatic rating according to how often a track is played, creates statistics for your music library, and more. Like many open source applications, iTSfv has a lot of features, but they’re not always easy to find. In addition to the apps described above, you might also check out these album artwork applications. • iGrabber (Free; Windows version only; softpedia.com—search on iGrabber) • Album Cover Finder ($15; Mac and Windows versions; amphonicdesigns.com) • Album Artwork Locator ($25; Mac and Windows versions; zeleksoftware.com/locator.htm)
iTSfv Free; Windows only; itsfv.sourceforge.net;