Tuesday, May 01, 2007

itunes? I Guess…

So it begins.

I’ve taken the plunge into the itunes world. 4 hours, a lot of internet searching and forum reading, some handy downloads, some creative cursing at itunes, and I now have the album of music I wanted for about 10 bucks less than any store that didn’t stock it to begin with and I have it in DRM free crystal clear audio. Whew. It’s not easy, but it’s doable to get free to use MP3’s out of Apple’s restrictive yet cost effective way of getting music.

This all started because of Doc Walker. If you don’t know, they are a Canadian country band that came out with a most excellent self titled third album in 2007. After hearing the first single “Trying To Get Back To You,” I went to their website and was able to hear 2 more songs that I liked. Then the new single came out – “Driving With The Brakes On” and I knew I wanted this album. Well, Future Shop didn’t have it, and Amazon.com has it for 25 bucks and Amazon.ca has it for 17 plus tax and shipping. Ouch. There had to be a better way. Having just recently loaded itunes for a podcast downloader test run, I looked at the itunes store and there was the album for 9.99 Canadian! So I was in – time to do the research and give itunes a shot.

Installing itunes wasn’t bad. As long as you’re careful on answering questions at setup, it won’t commandeer your entire music library. After poking around inside a bit, my opinion is that it isn’t much of a media player. It’s designed as a music shopping experience first, usability second. It’s not bad, but it’s no WinAmp for ease of use. As for podcasts, it works well for that. Easy to find, sort, download, and play. However, overall it’s a bit bloated software – if you want to browse podcasts and get recommendations, its great. If you have the URL’s already and just want a small, efficient program to go get them, use Juice.

Now on to the actual music buying experience. Here we go – created an account, which was pretty easy. Email, name, password, address, credit card, and you’re ready in a couple minutes to start buying music. If you’ve bought anything online, like from Amazon for instance, then you know the drill. Then off I went to the album I wanted, and confirmed my purchase – 12 tracks for 9.99. Not bad. It charged my card and started downloading.

This is where it started to get interesting. I got my first bump in the road at track 4. There was a network error and the track stopped downloading. It skipped over and continued on downloading the other 11 tracks. When that was done, I went back to my Purchased list, and there was track 4 with a handy little “Retry” button. Clicked it, and the download appeared successful. Great, I thought, I’ve got the album, although that download error was highly disconcerting. But I checked my files on the hard drive, and it was there and proper size, so I wasn’t worried.

Then I played the tracks. They sounded great – excellent audio quality. Except for track 4. It was there in itunes, on my list, and confirmed purchased, and on my hard drive, but no luck playing it. Something got screwed up on the problematic download. Stupid DRM bites the consumer once again. So, I randomly cursed greedy studio execs while I hit the net and the forums. I also started to look for what program to use to get rid of the DRM. I knew I could burn to CD and rip it back again to do it, but that seemed unnecessary. I wanted to preserve the digital file I had.

Well, long story short, the download network error is quite common, but there is a simple solution. Copy / move the unplayable file somewhere else on the hard drive, and then tell itunes where it is, and it plays. No kidding. Don’t know why, but it works. Kudos to some dude in the forums for that one.

To remove the DRM, check out the Hymn Project and get the QTFairuse6-2.5 files. Run your newly downloaded, yet DRM infected, itunes files through their handy program, and they come out in usable M4A files. And they don’t even lose audio quality or the tag info. From there, you can use itunes again or a number of other programs to convert to MP3, or Ogg, or whatever you prefer.

So, it took a bit of work, but it was worth it. I couldn’t find the album in stores, and online was too much money for something I would probably just rip to my hard drive and then put on the shelf. I do really miss the liner notes, but I can live without it. I did notice some albums on itunes come with a Digital Liner notes package to look at, so hopefully that gains popularity and is included on more albums.

As for itunes, it’s not the best program, but it’s usable. Handy for podcasts, ok for the store, and not much else. As long as the QT Fairuse program works, then all is well. I’m not about to upload and share music I just downloaded, but I should be able to play music I bought and paid for on any computer I own, or CD player, or MP3 player that is NOT an ipod. And that’s what Fair Use is all about.

As a side note, the movies and TV shows that can be bought and downloaded via itunes are only available in the US, not Canada. So the Canada version of itunes is only good for music, music videos, and audiobooks. Still, albums at 9.99 and individual tracks at 99 cents is a good deal. Just get yourself a copy of QTFairuse and be prepared to do a little bit of work with your files and its actually worth it. Who knew?

Comments on "itunes? I Guess…"


Anonymous Marina said ... (May 01, 2007 1:44 PM) : 

Wow. What a saga!

I stopped used iTunes when I figured out that it wouldn't let me transfer music to my non-ipod mp3 player and shortly after that, I discovered RSS aggregatiors and now it's just as simple to use that as it is to use iTunes.

Still it's cool that the music is so bloody cheap. I may still try it but at the moment, I'm quite content buying the music I want at the store (haven't come across an album yet that isn't available)and using, of all things, WM11 to track everything. A windows program that works. Go figure.


Anonymous originallru said ... (May 01, 2007 3:14 PM) : 

Apple is starting to provide DRM free music, from certain music companies. I think EMI was one that I heard of recently.

Here's the Apple press release.

There was also a recent slashdot story about rumours that Apple is offering the same opportunities to other labels. Sounds a bit oddly worded, but if they go DRM free, all the better.

Looks like you're starting with ITunes at the right time... buy the DRM free tunes, and let them know what customers really want.


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (May 01, 2007 4:38 PM) : 

Marina: yeah, it's the price point that's attractive, but the whole non ipod issue is what kept me away from it for so long. With a little work though, the files are usable. And WM11? Who knew Microsoft would make something that works? :)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (May 01, 2007 4:40 PM) : 

originallru: Is the DRM free music available in Canada? I thought it was only Europe, but maybe I'll have to read that press release. I've heard about that, and it's about time they got rid of the DRM. If they want music sales to go up, stop restricting everything. Besides, whats the difference between buying a CD and ripping it, or buying DRM free music online? Hopefully the catch on soon.


Anonymous originallru said ... (May 01, 2007 7:25 PM) : 

If anything, the DRM-free version might only be in the US... that seems to be the direction Apple goes with its new stuff. Hopefully there won't be any restrictions on where it is available.

And yeah, I don't see much difference in ripping from CD or buying online either, and both are better for the record companies than someone downloading from a file sharing service. It seems these big companies have to be dragged kicking and screaming into new ways to make money.


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