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
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
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.
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: