Getting the Most Out of iTunes

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.

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; 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; This application simply displays the lyrics on your desktop as the song plays.

iTunes Lyric Importer (Free; Windows version only; One of the few, free, automatic lyrics-finding programs for the Windows side of things. It gets the lyrics from Helpful instructions for using this simple application can be found at

Soundcrank Plugin for iTunes (Free; Windows version only; 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 not to allow programmatic access to their contents. Therefore, those programs that accessed 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.]

Use these desktop add-ons to automatically download cover art and lyrics
Fall 2009
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