iTunes Tip: Back-date the songs in your library

I’ve mentioned before that one of my standard library organization procedures is to back-date the “Date Added” field for all the songs in my iTunes library. That is, if I originally received an album for my birthday in 1999, I make sure the Date Added field in my library is my birthday, 1999. Same goes for every CD I’ve bought or mp3 I’ve downloaded.

Unfortunately, Apple for whatever reason, has decided that the Date Added field should not be user-modifiable. You can’t change it yourself, either manually or via AppleScript. And honestly, I’m tempted to think of that behavior as a bug/product defect. In this digital age, where at some point each and every iTunes user *will* have to rebuild or replace their library after some sort of data catastrophe, it seems like an obvious feature to be able to reconstruct one’s musical history chronologically. Why should users have to settle for the post-reconstruction dates for albums they’ve actually owned for years?

Well, there’s a bit of a workaround, but it is a tedious one. So make sure you regularly backup your iTunes Library file so that you don’t have to do it all over again in the event of a hard drive crash. I use my .mac/Mobile Me account to upload my library file to my iDisk every night at midnight.

How To

The secret is that iTunes relies on your computer’s system clock to assign the Date Added to songs in the library. So back-dating is as “simple” as changing your computer’s clock, dragging your music files into iTunes, then resetting the clock to the current time.

If you have hundreds of albums to do this with, the procedure can get quickly tiresome. Unfortunately, there is no way to automate it. Plus, if you are trying to fix songs that are already in your library, you have to remove them, change the system date, then re-add them. In those cases, make sure you note the play counts and star ratings, because you’ll have to re-enter those manually. Like I said, tedious.

But all that work is worth it when, in the span of five seconds, you conjure up a Smart Playlist called Best Music from High School:

Date added is in the range 8/15/1993 - 5/15/1997
My Rating is 5 Stars

That is truly awesome.


One warning though:

If you are using Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and you use iCal alarms, be sure to disable them in Preferences before setting your clock back. I found this out the hard way when I was suddenly flooded by couple hundred notifications for events that had already passed. It seems that iCal travels back in time with you, then when you return to the present, it feels the need to update you on all the stuff you missed.

New Hard Drive in the House

coolgear firewire sata enclosure housing a 500gb maxtor maxline pro
My new file storing powerhouse.

I like to keep my eye on on the price of hard disk storage. More storage more better is my philosophy. Not only can I never tell when I’ll need an extra gigabyte or two for projects, but I’m justifiably paranoid about data failure and have become something of fiend for backups as a result. So I’ve been watching with interest as the price of 500GB drives have fallen at a steady clip since the beginning of the year.

My interest was piqued recently when I noticed that a number of external 500GB drives have been hitting the ~$100 area lately, which is nearly too good a deal to pass up. My enthusiasm was tempered though, by the observation that all the drives I found were USB 2.0 only. USB is no slouch and a fine enough protocol, but real file transfers, particularly large ones, are best left to FireWire. Unfortunately, FireWire versions seem to cost $50-$90 more than their USB-only counterparts.

So I did what I’ve done for the last 5 drives I’ve purchased: I looked into do-it-yourself solutions. Assembling an external drive from an internal one plus an enclosure is a trivial task and it helps you get exactly what you want. In the past, that approach has helped me save some cash at the same time.

Unfortunately, the gap in price between internal and external drives doesn’t seem to be as great as it once was. Mail-in rebates can often bring the price of external drives to below that of internals. Realizing that I probably would be out of luck trying to save some dough, I set out to see how much I could get within the price range for an external 500GB hard drive with a FireWire connection ($160-190).

In the end, I think I did pretty well.

Continue reading

The $200 terabyte has arrived

western digital my book

A couple months ago, I wrote about the advantages of maintaining a large digital music library, specifically with regards to cost and storage as compared to maintaining a large physical music library. One of my points was that the decreasing prices of hard drives makes it increasingly easy to store, as well as backup large quantities of high-quality music.

I even went so far as to say that “before too long” we’d see the $200 terabyte, which is roughly enough storage for 80 continuous days of lossless quality music plus a complete backup of it all.

Well, that day has arrived. OfficeDepot currently is listing a Western Digital My Book 500GB for $99 after mail-in rebate.

At that price, you might as well get two and secure all your digital media.

Cue hard drive failure… Now

Like clockwork, each January means the end of Christmas decorations, the onset of the full desolation of winter, learning the motor-memory of writing a new year and, of course, a sudden, massive hard drive failure. Every year since 2001 it has happened to me, always to my external music drive and always in January.

It’s quite comical, if you have the right sense of humor.

Then it should not have been a surprise to me that, once again, right on schedule, my music drive crashed last night. I was politely updating my iPod, having devised a new experimental listening scheme for the new year. As it would take several minutes to copy the several thousand songs, I decided to have a quick shower.

When I returned, I found my desktop in an unusual state. iTunes was no longer running. Mail and Safari were quit as well. The three FireWire volumes that I normally have mounted (including the music one) were missing and LaunchBar’s command area was active, as if the computer had been restarted.

I had no idea what caused that state of affairs, and still don’t. But I sensed danger, so I decided to do my own restart, which went smoothly enough. Until it was time for the external drives to mount. Two of them did; one of them didn’t and I’ll let you guess which one.

Disk Utility was of no help, failing immediately. It could see the drive, but attempting repair resulted in a message similar to “The underlying task failed on exit.” Whatever the problem was, the drive’s directory looked like it was in bad shape. Fortunately there is a god whose name is DiskWarrior. This diagnostic deity has raised many drives from the dead and after a few minutes, he had raised one more, rescuing my music from binary oblivion.

From there, the iPod update went well, other than about 40 songs that did not make it back from Hades. However, having gotten accustomed to these failures, I’ve become the king of backups. Twice nightly, Synk, the handiest little backup program I know, copies my music volume and other important data to a dedicated backup disk. Some quick drags-and-drops and even those handfuls of missing files were replaced.

Though I still don’t have a clue what caused the malfunction, I gotta say that the experience really wasn’t that bad. Much better than past years. However, despite all my preparations, this is one New Year’s tradition I would rather not repeat.

And even though I didn’t have to make full use of mine, remember that lesson kids: Backup Backup Backup.

How to use iTunes 7 built-in back up

Another new feature of the newly-minted iTunes 7 is that the program now features a built-in back up system, similar to that originally found in iPhoto. The function allows you to copy either your entire library or just your iTunes Store purchases. However, you are limited to backing up to either CD or DVD, no external drives and no networks.

Select "Back up to disc…" from the file menu.

iTunes 7 backup menu

Continue reading