Review: New iTunes 11
iTunes 11 is a radical redesign of Apple’s music library software. How good is the software for DJs? And what changes are in iTunes 11 that will help or hinder DJs in preparing and playing better sets? In this new iTunes 11 review for DJs, we’ll find out. Today we’ll cover all the new views and features, and I’ll give some thoughts on whether it’s still a good option for DJs to use as a library management solution.
New iTunes 11 review
It’s changed radically. From the new logo, to the lack of a sidebar (want it back? Just go to View > Show Sidebar) to the new music player, everything seems simpler and more visual. It’s a bit scary at first, but after an hour, I liked it. I don’t use iTunes for anything but to organise my DJ music collection, so I quickly hit “Preferences” and turned off podcasts, videos and so on leaving just my music. Nonetheless if you do use iTunes for other things too, you can choose which library you’re viewing from the drop-down menu top-left of the main window.
Across the top of the main window section are five choices – songs, albums, artists, genres and playlists. Whichever of these views you’re in, though, clicking on a tune plays it, but hovering over any individual tune brings up a little arrow; click on this, and you get several other options. One of these is “Up Next” which is the queue of upcoming tunes (more later). You can also jump to the artist or the album from here, use Genius, or go and find the artist in the iTunes Store.
Search is vastly improved. It autosuggests as you type, searching across everything and gives you categorised results, but they’re in a dropdown window so your search doesn’t affect the view you’re currently using in the program. It’s very much like Spotlight in OS X, but much prettier.
The main views
This lists each file individually, and is closest to looking at the contents of a folder in your Finder or Explorer on your OS. However, you can still sort by artist, BPM, whatever, so really it could be thought of as just a “list view” mode. You can “Auto size all columns” which is a nice option. It’s basically business as usual here and the closest to iTunes 10 of the lot, especially if you’re a coward and slink off to urn the sidebar on again (as I did at first!).
“But I’m a DJ, I don’t buy or use albums!”
Yup, me too. But there’s more to Album view than that. If you think of “album” as actually meaning “release”, it makes more sense. Sure some songs come from SoundCloud, or are given to you, or whatever, but most I’d wager in your collection are from formal releases. And here’s where that gets recognised.
This view is all the cover art of your music. It’s a beautiful way of browsing your tracks, and will send you scurrying to obtain pictures for stuff that’s not got its own art. I personally think – maybe because I remember “real” record covers – that covers are a powerful way to memorise, sort and choose music for sets and listening.
Here’s what I like about it. Click on a release, and the window expands to shows you the track numbers and details of every track you own from that release. iTunes realises you probably don’t own them all, and the view is designed to make you feel good about that.
Now click on “in the store” and you’re taken to stuff in the iTunes store from the artist. This is a nice music discovery tool for when you’re browsing your collection, especially as the newer-look iTunes store has been optimised to show you recommended and popular tracks more neatly and usefully. (If you go a step deeper, though, there’s no “back” to where you were in iTunes, which isn’t so convenient.)
Here you get a list of all of your artists (with an arbitrary piece of cover art) down the left, and when you click on an artist, a list of their tracks in the main window organised by album. Again, you get easy access to the store.
This is like artists view, but with genres down the left. I really liked this view; it’s a nice way to make sense of your collection, and I feel categorising and re-categorising your genres is one of the most powerful ways of defining who you are as a DJ. For me, your genre choices are up to you and you shouldn’t take what someone else has decided for you, so consequently I spend a lot of my time deciding if a track is “Latin house” or “slo-mo disco” or “chillout” or whatever. Here, I can instantly see the categorisations I’ve made and the music within them in a more intuitive, visual way than ever before.
This is where you’ll spend a lot of your time as a DJ, crate-packing for gigs. Click here and a sidebar reappears, similar to the “old” iTunes. You can add, edit and rearrange your lists and their contents. You also get the chance to view your playlists as a grid, as a list or by artist.
Clicking “Add to” cleverly slides back to the main window (with all these five choices above, as before), but this time the playlist you’re working on is in a column on the right, and you can drag and drop to it. It’s vastly superior to the old playlist building method, which nonetheless is still accessible to you – just click “all music”, for instance, in the Playlists window and drag and drop tunes from the list to your desired playlist.
The new player
The new player in iTunes will quickly become your friend. It is beautiful, accessed from everywhere easily, and thus makes it really simple and fun to keep the flow of tunes going as you sit in iTunes working. It also makes it simple to check up on anything that happens to pop up that grabs your attention.
To start with, you can play a tune immediately by clicking on it as mentioned above, or add it to the “Up Next” queue. There’s a little list icon in the new player, and clicking on this opens the list of what’s coming. Clicking a little clock on this list shows you what’s been played. Great for checking back on an afternoon’s music and pulling out the tunes that really moved you.
Just like everywhere else throughout the program, you can click a little arrow by any tune for Genius suggestions, further stuff by the artist or from the album, to add it to a playlist, or to browse related items in the store. Shuffle and repeat have sensibly been plut in the player, too. You can of course shrink the player as before, but these options are then all still available to you without necessarily opening iTunes again. Again, wonderful for background music when doing something else.
Of course, none of this is any good if you can’t get your playlists into your DJ software; that’s one of the main reasons for using iTunes for this stuff, after all (because all major DJ software lets you DJ from your iTunes playlists and smart playlists). Happily, all of that works exactly as it always has. Complete your work in iTunes, close it, open your DJ software, and there all your lovingly crafted playlists are, just as before.
Music library management software like iTunes separates enjoying your music from practising or playing it in DJ software, and puts the emphasis on programming rather than mixing – something I’ve always championed about this approach to your collection.
If you buy into this concept, then I still believe iTunes is your best choice. The new version is beautiful to look at, a lot of fun to use, and really engages you with your music by the clever way it lets you move around between playlists, listen lists, genres, the store (remember, you are getting crowdsourced recommendations from there, and there are two-minute preview of each – you can always go off and buy somewhere else if iTunes isn’t a store you’d normally get your music from).
If you like iCloud idea and so the subscription iTunes Match service, it’s even better. Anything you buy or listen to on any device not only can be made to download automatically, but you can also stream instantly without downloading.
There are still niggles I’d love to see cleared up. I want iTunes to recognise “key” ID3 tags, to save having to use the comments field for key information. This would play music more nicely with DJ software. However, you can still make key playlists – you just sort by comments, and use the “starts with” option on smart playlists.
(By the way, I strongly advocate adding the musical keys to your DJ music using Mixed in Key or something similar – the convenience of doing this is one of the huge advantage of digital over analogue and you should start doing so immediately if you don’t already.)
I’d also like to see the iTunes store offering full-length streaming. If Apple could crack this one, and maybe incorporate the iTunes store even more that it has done, with the ability to queue and sort iTunes Store files as well as your own, Spotify-like, you may find yourself struggling to get away from. I suspect this is where we’ll end up in the future.
Overall, the new iTunes is a joy to use for DJs. It still has what’s good about the old iTunes (smart, rule-based playlists; easy store access; unrivalled integration with all major DJ software) but is now more compelling, more visual, more streamlined, and more fun to use.
Organising and sorting playlists is faster and sleeker, and you find yourself moving fluidly from listening to discovery back to listening, all the while without the music stopping in the background. This is all very much to my taste, and after just a morning with the new software I’m convinced that it’s a major improvement on iTunes 10 for DJs. If you’re wondering whether to go ahead and upgrade, I’d say definitely do it.
• Struggling to get to grips with your digital music collection? We go into more depth about our method for organising your digital music in our How To Digital DJ Fast video course.
Have you grabbed iTunes 11 yet? What are your first impressions, or your likes and dislikes? Please share your thoughts in the comments.