The FezGuys
EFF and iTunes
[ No. 58 - August 2001 ]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's
Open Audio License (OAL)

An organization that deserves your support, the EFF has launched an elegant system to end-run lockstep litigators of online intellectual property. Designed to encourage songwriters to freely share some or all of their music, the OAL "allows artists to grant the public permission to copy, distribute, adapt, and publicly perform their works royalty-free as long as credit is given to the creator as the Original Author." While this "super-distribution" method may seem like financial suicide to established career musicians, the benefits to the independent and the unknown songwriter are obvious. The new "O" designation added to audio file names will clearly state that the song is free to do with as the listener will. The RIAA and its unhappy bedfellows will not be able to touch an "O" song, ever. The EFF has long felt "new intellectual property laws and technologies harm - nearly eliminate - the public's fair use rights, and make criminals of people doing perfectly legitimate things." Referencing musicians' works with phrases like "gift to humanity" and "touch the hearts and minds," the EFF are appealing to our better natures. Altruism aside, the OAL provides a clause called: "Agree Not to Limit Others' Use" which states: "Any new work that in whole or in part contains or is derived from a work (or part thereof) made available under this license, must itself be licensed as a whole under the terms of this license", thus assuring the propagation of the standard. This is similar to the successful GPL (GNU Public License) naming system used by programmers for protecting software released into the public domain.

The FezGuys feel the OAL provides a serviceable, standardized way to let the world know you want some or all of your music to be freely traded. It removes any confusion over whether an audio file is okay to share and also includes info for people to contact you and even *gasp* purchase or license your music. Simply stick the "O" designation in the credits info of your CD release and/or in the comment field of the ID3 tag on your MP3 files. The license and a simple tutorial are provided online at: <>


Since computers purchased within the last couple of years have storage space in the 10 to 20 gigabyte range it's now likely you can fit your entire music collection as MP3s on your desktop. But once it's there how do you organize it? If you're a Mac user here's a solid way to do that.

Last year Apple Computers introduced its version of the desktop music file organizer for the Macintosh. Coyly marketed as a "cool burn," the iTunes package will rip, encode, inventory, play, burn, access streaming audio, support various MP3 portable players - basically manage your entire library of MP3-encoded songs - for free. It's included in the OS when you buy a new Mac or as a free download from <>. A MacOS 9.0.4 (or later) or OS X 10.0.2 (or later) is required but there are ways around this (see below). Though targeted to consumers, Mac-based musicians and studio operators can use iTunes to perform any of the simpler functions ordinarily associated with your computer such as manipulating song orders, compiling songs on a CD or saving mixes for listening outside of the studio environment.

We assume Mac users are pretty savvy and don't need a lot of hand holding so we'll simply touch on ways that iTunes impressed us. Installation is fast and painless. We did pause for a moment at the Terms of Service, noting that Apple iTunes software (ahh, the paranoid nature of US law) isn't "intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities, life support machines or other equipment...which the failure of the software could lead to death, personal injury or severe physical or environmental damage." And don't you dare send it to Cuba or Sudan, either. We accept the terms, comfortable with our ability to live within these guidelines.

On first running, iTunes politely asks for permission to set itself as the default streaming MP3 player, automatically connecting to the Internet and scanning the hard drive to load your MP3 library. These standard Mac preference edits (as well as others) can be changed at any time.

View options and library managing tools within iTunes are intuitively configurable. There are multiple display modes: fullscreen, with the Visualizion plugin (see below); a resizable large window, with a library browser (windows can be modified to display song name, date added, bit rate, sample rate, title, etc); minimized window (playback controls only) or no window at all. Like your handy old multi-disk CD changer, the player can be set to continuous or random play.

Users can set start/stop times and volume levels for individual songs within the iTunes system, independent of the actual encoded file on your hard drive. Volume adjustment provides the ability to have consistent playback levels between songs. It's helpful to not be leaping for the volume knob every three minutes. Start/stop time manipulation is useful (for example) to remove ten minutes of silence preceding a hidden track. For the Careful Archivist (you know who you are), ID3 tags are easy to edit and modify, even in batches (very handy for adjusting several disparate tracks' volume levels simultaneously and/or putting information in widely separated but related tracks). To perform the above-mentioned edits use Command-I (which also features "previous" and "next" song buttons to scroll and edit without leaving the window). The iTunes search engine updates results while you type in the Search box, speeding up the process. We felt it would be nice to have an advanced library editing tool to remove files based on where they reside in your hard drive, making it easy to trim away duplicates. But searches can be performed on any View option and highlighted and deleted individually or in groups.

The iTunes ripper/encoder supports VBR encoding (see <> ). Users can select individual tracks, set the ripper to play songs while importing and even set the app to eject your disk when finished. The above-mentioned start/stop info and volume adjustments can be set prior to importing, helpful if you only require excerpts from within songs. The ripper will import to various MP3 settings or uncompressed audio (AIF) files. iTunes supports burning audio files only (not data) and only to selected CD burners. For those with an older Mac OS or an unsupported CD-R rewritable drive, do a search for "iTunes" on <>. There's a bunch of useful hacks and patches. Because much of the new Mac OS X is open source, expect new and interesting free and shareware tools for the system.

The iTunes MP3 streaming audio player comes with preset stations and any streaming MP3 station will play and can be saved. Within the system the typical Mac drag and drop environment makes it easy to add items to your playlist and mix local song files with favorite streaming radio shows.

Did we mention the pretty pictures? Like most other MP3 players, iTunes also sports a lovely bloatware feature "Music Visualizer." Seems you can't get an MP3 player these days without one. Who has time and patience to stare at these things? They're so...beautiful. Recommended for opium slaves and raver imagery everywhere.

iTunes Wrap-Up

What separates this app from hundreds of other MP3 file organizers? It's Mac-native, developed by folks who know the MacOS inside and out. It has a consistent user interface which works as expected, same as other MacOS applications. Windows users definitely have more choices for ripping, organizing, playing and burning custom CDs of digital music but, in our experience, none are any better. After using iTunes a bit, we hopped on our Windows machine to see how it felt to play with MusicMatch, the popular MP3 manager (available free for Windows and Mac at <> or as a "Plus" product for about twenty bucks). User-interface inconsistencies were immediately evident. Clashing with Windows standards, this app filled us with frustration even attempting simple tasks like resizing windows. In fact, the free player won't let you resize or minimize windows at all (except for the streaming window which minimizes to view ad banners only). Compared to Musicmatch, iTunes doesn't look goofy (we didn't feel the MM's bulbous purple and green design) or suffer overly from Creeping Featurism. To be fair, iTunes has its own little glitches but overall makes sense and works. The FezGuys can recommend iTunes for the Mac as a useful digital music organizer for your desktop. Did we mention the full-featured version is free?

Drop by an say hello: <>



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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