iTunes, iTunes, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

I originally started using iTunes on Windows many years ago when I started ripping my CDs. I didn’t use it because I had an iPod, I used it because I liked how it let me view my music by artist, album, or song. I enjoyed using iTunes despite its defects.

The UI that I liked has been gone for a long time, but the defects of iTunes remain.

The main defect of iTunes is it fails at the simple task of keeping track of what music I have. If I add music to my library in some way other than the iTunes store or ripping CDs in iTunes then iTunes doesn’t notice the new music. This might involve purchasing MP3s from Amazon, ripping CDs with a different program, or ripping CDs on a different computer and then copying the files to my machine. With any of these (legal, I might add) ways of acquiring music iTunes fails to notice the new music. I have to explicitly use the “Add Folder to Library…” option to get iTunes to find the new music.

But that’s not the worst of it. What is really a problem is when music gets deleted or moved. iTunes then has references to songs that no longer exist, and I’m not aware of any practical way to remove these references. The articles I’ve found on this subject suggest manually deleting these dangling references, but on a collection with over 10,000 songs (29.7 days) this really doesn’t work. iTunes has hundreds (maybe thousands?) of references to non-existent songs, and I have no idea where they come from.

What’s worse is that iTunes seems to create dangling references out of thin air. I don’t know how else to explain some of the seemingly random references to music files that we haven’t had for years, references to AAC versions of MP3s, and other anomalies.

Windows Media Player gets it right

If I add music to my collection WMP notices. If I remove music from my collection WMP figures it out. WMP always has an accurate list of my music. Period.

If I haven’t run WMP for a while then the first thing it does when launched is to update its list of my music. So that it always has an accurate list of my music.

Another user is running iTunes

And really? iTunes seems to have missed out on the multi-user part of the computer revolution:

iTunesSinglePlayerGame

Why should I care if my daughter has iTunes open? And how am I supposed to shut it down if she has a password? There is no reason why two users shouldn’t be able to run iTunes separately. As you might expect, Windows Media Player, and every other music program I have tried, can be run by two users simultaneously without difficulty.

This problem literally means that we sometimes cannot play music without waiting for our daughter to come home, or forcibly rebooting the computer while she is logged on. To call this ‘lame’ is to harm the reputation of other things which I have called lame.

Stuck with iTunes for now

We bought a couple of iPods, and one of them is stubbornly continuing to work, so I can’t just uninstall iTunes – tempting as it is.

Any solutions out there?

Does anybody else hit this problem? Are we doing something weird that is triggering this bad behavior? Maybe iTunes really doesn’t like being used from multiple accounts with most of the music in the Public Music folder. I don’t know.

What I really want (given that Apple shows no interest in fixing this) is an iTunes add-on that will go through and remove all references to non-existent songs. If I could run that occasionally then the problem would be tolerable.

Any pointers? Anybody written iTunes plugins of this type? Surely I can’t be the only one who has a large collection of music that iTunes can’t seem to handle correctly.

Solution found

With a good dose of luck I found a solution. I picked up a coworkers MacWorld magazine and turned to Ask the iTunes Guy. That led me to Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes which has a solution for the problem on Macs. I contacted Doug and he sent me to ottodestruct.com which contains some very simple JavaScript scripts including FindDeadTracks and RemoveDeadTracks.

So, problem solved.

Bad software, hacked around

To be clear, I still think that this is a serious and inexcusable bug in iTunes. It’s been around for many years and Apple’s lack of interest in fixing it (it’s really not that hard) suggests a serious lack of attention to quality, especially since the bug happens both on Macintosh and Windows.

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About brucedawson

I'm a programmer, working for Google, focusing on optimization and reliability. Nothing's more fun than making code run 10x faster. Unless it's eliminating large numbers of bugs. I also unicycle. And play (ice) hockey. And juggle.
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9 Responses to iTunes, iTunes, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

  1. billco says:

    The only reason I even bother with iTunes is because of my iPhone. I don’t even use it for playing music, I just drag over the few albums I want synced to my device. Sadly, I don’t know of any decent software that can gracefully handle large collections. My poor-man’s solution is a giant folder, a simple PHP script that lets me browse, search and index that giant folder, and spits out playlist files I’ve associated with Winamp (yes, Winamp). The nice thing is since everything goes over HTTP, I can SSH or VPN in from anywhere and stream a tune over the internet – very handy when visiting fellow musicians.

    A often recommended media player is Foobar2000. Everyone who isn’t me has praised Foobar for its modularity and spartan, functional design. I see it as a no-frills Winamp with a fast, lightweight media library. It’s very “geek friendly” so you’ll find lots of unique plugins for exotic codecs or 3rd party tag databases. I haven’t really given it a chance yet, I’m very much set in my decade-old ways, but you might like it.

    • Riley L says:

      I am one of those Foobar2k users.

      Like you I was a long time Winamp user, it actually took 3 attempts to switch over to Foobar2k, I just couldn’t do it. The standard usage model was quite a lot different.

      That being said the beauty of Foobar is that you have full control. Bruce mentioned that his daughter uses iTunes as well but I don’t think I would ever recommend Foobar to a child. “With great power comes great responsibility” etc.

      As for how I handle my Music with Foobar, Well like you I do not. I make sure that my Music is correctly maintained at the lowest level (The FileSystem).

      D:\Music\Arcade Fire\The Suburbs [2010]4 – Rococo.flac
      *\Music\%Artist%\%Album% [%year%]\%tracknum% – %tracktitle%.*

      Then in Foobar I literally can just rebuild a playlist by reimporting everything and there’s really no loss of anything. There is also a built in way to Delete both Duplicates and Dead-Items in Foobar but I have not found the need to utilize it.

  2. Zuil Serip says:

    You should definitely take a look at MediaMonkey. It handles enormous music collections with aplomb and can sync with iCritters.

    It’s best features, however, come from its (admittedly poorly documented) addons that give you tremendous power to batch organize your music – both adding metadata – e.g., lyrics, genres, album art, etc. – and ensuring consistent organization – e.g., across directories, detecting duplicates, capitalization, etc.

  3. Mark says:

    I don’t use iTunes, and I have an old iPod. I use Foobar for general music listening / browsing and some free software to move music to my iPod — no iTunes, no hassle. It works better than iTunes for me, but I only move a small amount (~1GB) at a time, so I can’t really vouch for it on a large scale.

    I can’t remember the name of the program, but several similar programs exist and they’re all free. Took me a couple of tries to find one I liked, but I’ve stuck with it since.

  4. Toni says:

    I’ve always been an amarok fan (for the 1.4 version, I will keep my opinion about the horrendous 2.x version for myself) and found a nice alternative in clementine, It handles enormous music collections easily and in theory it can sync with ipods and such. I have to admit I haven’t been able to sync my iphone with it tho

  5. nsantorello says:

    @Toni Thanks for the pointer to Clementine! I loved amarok before the 2.x days, so it’s nice to go back to that!

  6. brucedawson says:

    Apparently the issue of dead tracks in iTunes is a known issue. The best suggestion that MacWorld has is to purchase a $1.99 app to fix these bugs in iTunes. http://www.macworld.com/7688

    I’d be tempted to do so, but it appears to be for Macintosh only.

    Score so far: Microsoft: 1, Macintosh: 0

  7. Pingback: iTunes, Fixed | Random ASCII

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