Keyboard Shortcuts for AppleScripts: An iTunes Power Tip for Mac Users

Note: The behaviors described below are from Mac OS X 10.4.10. Previous versions of the OS might not behave as described. YMMV.

Keyboard shortcuts are the life-blood of the power user. Casual users know of the basic ones: Command-Q to quit, Command-W to close a window, Command-F to find, etc, but the power users have them all memorized for every program they use. For them, actions that would take 3-5 seconds of arduous mouse work can be accomplished in as little as half a second of keyboarding. That’s up to a 10x increase in productivity! Heck, many individuals, myself included, can go for minutes without even touching the mouse.

But even the most vaunted power user might not know this trick.

Mac OS X (both Panther and Tiger) has a little-promoted feature that lets you customize some of those keyboard shortcuts for menu items. Even some global commands can be changed to suit your tastes. Don’t like Command-P to Print? Change it. You can even make it an F-Key and return some functionality to your keyboard’s top row. In some cases, you can give shortcuts to menu items that don’t have one.

There are some caveats however:

  • When entering your new keyboard shortcut, you must make sure you type the Menu Item exactly as it appears in the Menu. Same spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Many menu commands end with an ellipsis, which you can type by pressing Option-; (semi-colon).
  • Also, if you choose a key combo that already exists, in most cases, the new one will replace the old one, leaving the original without a shortcut. Some programs will assign the duplicate shortcut, but it just won’t work.
  • Finally, there are apps that will not be affected by the changes you make. Photoshop, for one, uses its own internal shortcut customization scheme and won’t recognize anything you change in System Preferences.

So, having said all that, let’s apply it to iTunes.

The Macintosh version of iTunes, as you may well know, can extend its capabilities via AppleScripts, those little bundles of code that help with repetitive tasks, make organizing easier and add new features. A new Scripts Menu will appear in the Menu Bar when AppleScripts are installed script menu. If you’re reading an article on how to add a keyboard shortcut to them, you probably already know this. The beauty is that the system treats the Scripts Menu just like any other and you can add a keyboard shortcut to any script you have installed.

Identify Scripts

The Scripts Menu before

Start by opening iTunes. Click on the Scripts Menu and determine which scripts you want to add shortcuts to. Note their names as they appear in the drop-down. For this example, I’m selecting a Script called Embed Artwork. It copies album art downloaded from the iTunes Store into the individual music files; iTunes doesn’t do that by default, so I end up using it pretty frequently. I’ll also do Quick Convert, since I often use it to convert podcasts into audiobooks for faster listening.

Apply the Shortcuts

adding keyboard shortcuts to itunes

Open System Preferences. Select Keyboard & Mouse, then Keyboard Shortcuts. Click the + (plus) sign in the lower left, then select iTunes from the Applications pop-up. In the Menu Title field, enter the name of the script. In the Keyboard Shortcut field, press the key combo you wish to use. For Embed Artwork, I’m choosing Command-F1, Quick Convert gets Command-F2. A modifier key is required in iTunes. Stand-alone F-Keys, for whatever reason, will show up in the menu but they won’t do anything when pressed. When you’re satisfied, press Add to save.

Relaunch iTunes

The Scripts Menu after editing keyboard shortcuts

iTunes loads the keyboard shortcuts when it is launched, so quit and reopen it. When you click the Scripts Menu, you’ll see your new shortcuts displayed next to your script titles.

It is important to remember that configuring keyboard shortcuts, in general, is an inexact process. If something doesn’t work, find an alternative. I know I would love to use those F-Keys in iTunes. but for now, I’ll have to settle for the workaround. Still, these added functions will be a boon to anyone’s productivity.

Yeah, What They Said 5/30

Yeah, What They Said, pointers to interesting stories. Some people call it “link sharing.”

“Same great Pabst taste, without the beer.” PBR bottled water, available in China:

Pabst Blue Ribbon Bottled Water from Dave Nemetz on Vimeo.

Pi (π) played on a piano
Each digit 1-9 is assigned a note and 0 is a quarter rest.

Cumulative advantage
Some things remain popular because they are popular. As the popularity of something increases, the likelihood that its popularity will continue to increase becomes greater. “If all those people like it, it must be good.” The notion has been common sense for years, but now there’s scientific data pointing toward it.

Album Covers Separated at Birth
There are no new ideas. Pages and pages of album covers that are strikingly similar in concept and execution.

A tip calculator for iPod. It’s not free, but it looks cool. I used to have a tip calculator on an old cell phone and have been missing it for years, so this intrigues me.

Day Trip: Atlanta, Home of the Braves
I live in Atlanta, so I enjoyed this visitors’ travelogue about a day in the city, even though it’s mostly about baseball and other trivia. Did you know that the kazoo was invented in Macon? Oh, and no one calls it “Hotlanta” unless they’re being deliberately obtuse.

The Strokes have produced a music video short film for their single You Only Live Once. It’s very “sci-fi” and a good song to boot:

8 Ways to Improve the iPod (and could be done with a firmware update)

The iPod is supposed to be “iTunes to go” but as the little music player has advanced over the years, it still lags behind in some relatively basic features, features that have been a part of the desktop program for some time. iTunes’ capabilities seem to be constantly improved and refined; its portable counterpart’s behavior has remained relative unchanged, even as it has gained photo and video support.

Forget touchscreens and Bluetooth, FLAC and DivX; here, I present a list of the iPod’s more troublesome foibles, all of which could be overcome with a firmware update, making it an even better music player.

Toggle display of the Composer tag

This is something I’ve wanted since Apple added the Composer field to iTunes five years ago: A display of the composer when listening to classical music. The 5G iPods have more than enough screen real estate to accommodate an extra line of text. It makes no sense that after all this time and after adding a way to browse and select by composer, Apple still doesn’t allow a way to view it while playing. Classical music aficionados have to either do without or devise elaborate tagging systems to see who the composer of a piece is.

Of course, not everyone has need for composer display. There certainly are people who don’t appreciate Prokofiev. Also, the field is often populated with junk from Gracenote/CBBD. A simple toggle in the iPod settings would fix that. Those of us who want to see the composer can turn it on and those who don’t can leave it off.

no composer visible
At a glance, there’s no telling who the composer is. One hack, though, would be to embed the composer name in the album artwork.

Support for the Album Artist field

iTunes 7 introduced a new data field to the song info dialogue box: Album Artist. Apple says it’s for assigning a primary artist to an album with multiple artists. It signifies a way to separate the artists producing the work from the artists performing it.

It’s a great idea for classical works that have a featured soloist in addition to the orchestra or when one artist is a featured guest on someone else’s song, eg, William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins. In this case, William Shatner is the primary artist and would be to sole “Album Artist” while “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins” are the performing artists.

The tag works well in iTunes, keeping song listing nicely and tidily organized. The iPod, however, still separates “William Shatner” from “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins,” leading to a cluttered interface that is difficult to use. Most of my music listening is done via iPod, so Album Artist remains under-utilized.

Album Artist would be a very useful tag. It would even solve my dilemma for tagging remix/dj albums. But without iPod support, the tag is DOA.

two shatners
Despite having the same Album Artist, these listings are still displayed by regular Artist.

Full Support for Sort fields. (accomplished)

UPDATE 3/19/08: Firmware version 1.3 for the Fifth Generation iPod adds support adds support for Sort Album and Sort Composer.

Other options recently introduced into iTunes but not into the iPod are customizable Sort Fields, which let you control how iTunes alphabetizes your artist and album listings.

By default, the iPod is smart enough to ignore “A,” “An” and “The” at the beginning of artist names. The Chemical Brothers are sorted with the C’s, for example. Starting with iTunes 7.1, you can customize the Sort name for Artists, Albums, Songs, Album Artists, Composers and TV Shows.

If you want Fiona Apple to appear with the A’s rather than the F’s, just set the Sort Artist to “Apple, Fiona” and you’ll soon see Fiona next to Aphex Twin.

It’s pretty cool, but…… on the iPod, it only works with Artists. You can customize all the albums and composers in your library and Gustav Mahler will still be chillin’ with the G’s and The Colour and The Shape will still be sorted with the T’s.

the thes
The “thes” like to hang out together in album view.

Browsable playlists

Music libraries get larger every day it seems. And the iPod’s hard drive does its best to keep up. At 80 GB, the device can hold a month or so of continuous music. For myself and others with large libraries, it’s effortless to create Smart Playlists that contain hundreds or thousands of songs based on specific criteria. Navigating those playlists can be nearly impossible as they show naught but a long list of song titles.

In my library, creating a Smart Playlist of Ambient music from between 1990 to 2000 returns 305 songs from 44 albums by 11 artists. Viewing the playlist on my iPod is a jumble of songs. I would love the option to sort and browse the artists and albums in a playlist.

Perhaps, when you select a playlist, the iPod displays an entry at the top of the song list: “Browse this playlist.”

Full-screen album art

When in full screen mode, I want the iPod to display album art as large as it can, no margins, no scaling. Just like when browsing photos, I want the image to take up the entire screen. This, the iPod can already sort of do…… if you plug it into an iPod HiFi, Apple’s own speaker system. I would like it to be standard. For more, read this recent rant.

Bonus Wishlist

I’m not annoyed by these missing features, but if they were real, I’d find them useful:

iPod Party Shuffle

A more limited version of iTunes’ Party Shuffle. When you’re shuffling, this would let you see a handful of upcoming songs. You could skip ones you don’t want to hear.


My listening preferences are different depending on whether I’m at work, in the car, at the gym, or moseying around the house. At the gym, I like to shuffle by song while at work I like to shuffle by album. When listening to ear buds, I like to use the bass booster EQ, but the bass response in my car is a little heavy, so I like to turn on the bass reducer.

It would be convenient to save different settings configurations for easy switching.

Grouping behavior that makes sense

“Grouping” is the red-headed stepchild of ID3 fields. No one *really* knows what it’s for or how to use it. Ostensibly, it’s for creating “groups” or subsets of related songs within an album. But it wasn’t until iTunes 7 that you could do anything with it (you can shuffle by Grouping).

It seems to me that an effective behavior for songs with the same Grouping to be “always keep these songs together.” For example, Mouse on Mars’ Varcharz has one song, One Day Not Today, that is broken into 12 tracks. Give all 12 tracks the same Grouping, “One Day Not Today” and the iPod would know to start at the first track and play through all of them sequentially, even when shuffling.


Hopefully, one day, these wishes will come true. I still love my iPod, but I’m looking for reasons to love it more.

Can anyone tell me why my iPod’s album art is a thumbnail?


CD and vinyl album covers generally come in the shape of a square. The iPod’s screen is a 4:3 rectangle. It makes sense that when displaying album art at full screen, the display would be limited to the short edge of the display, thus the white borders on the left and right sides.

So my question is, why, when I have album art that is not square, but closer to the aspect ratio of the iPod, does it still display with the white borders on the left and right?

Take a look at this image:

dismemberment plan small album art

It’s this rather kick-ass shot of the Dismemberment Plan that I’m using as the album art for the recording of a live show. Notice how it’s is in a widescreen ratio? Also notice how it has the same white borders as regular album art, plus some extra thick borders on the top and bottom?

Why does the iPod not scale the image so that I fills up as much of the screen as possible?

I know the iPod has the ability to do that. Just look at the same jpeg, but using the iPod’s Photo capability:

dismemberment plan large photo art

Full screen and lookin pretty cool. I much prefer it that way. So Apple, when you get a chance, please take care of this little over sight.

Until then, I’ll just had to settle for the thumbnail.

Find iTunes Album Art with this AppleScript

iTunes 7’s built-in artwork finder is a great little enhancement to the program. But it does have it’s limitations. It seems to require exacting ID3 tags or it won’t return a requested cover. And if a particular song/album isn’t sold by the iTunes Music Store, well, you can just forget it. Likewise if you’re not running iTunes 7.

Cue SlothRadio. is a streaming radio site and music blog who’s self-described mission to “just play great music.” I can’t vouch for that claim, but, in addition to that, the site does offer a nice cover finder. You can find high-quality art for music, movies, games and books just by typing into the search fields.

Results default from Amazon’s extensive catalog, but if that doesn’t turn up any results, you can do a Google Image Search with only one additional click.

The beautiful part, for Mac OS X users at least, comes in the form of an AppleScript from called, appropriately, Search SlothRadio for Artwork. Drop that sucker into your Library > iTunes > Scripts folder and whenever you need to search for an album cover, just select the songs in your iTunes Library then run the script from the Scripts menu.

Voila: Instant artwork to drag & drop, copy & paste or do whatever you want to with it.

There’s a slight bug though. The script uses Safari to perform the query. It will give you an error if there’s not already a browser window open. But other than that, it presents a nearly flawless way to retrieve album covers.

Flickr, Bootlegs, Live Recordings and iTunes Album Art

Tortoise at the Independent
Originally uploaded by Luiza.

Whereas my previous iPod, a 3rd generation model, could not display album art, my new one, of course can. So I spent a portion of my morning going through my library, searching for albums that were missing their covers. During the process, I ran into a couple live shows that, since they aren’t formally-released albums, obviously don’t have album covers.

Specifically, I had a Tortoise show in San Francisco from October 2005 and a Mouse on Mars show in Toronto from October 2004.

Most music clubs I’ve been to in recent years seem to have a laid-back “we-don’t-care” policy toward shooting photos of the acts that roll through, so it is not uncommon to see folks with digital cameras snapping away. Heck, I even saw someone with a video camera (or possibly 8mm) at a recent Ratatat show.

Even if a venue does prohibit recordings and photography, the rise of cell phone cameras and pocket point-and-shoots almost ensures that some clandestine pictures will escape.

Knowing this, I went over to Flickr, where a good portion of the world’s digital pictures eventually end up. I hoped to find, if not pics from the specific shows, something close enough for displaying on my iPod.

The mission was a success. A couple searches later, I found a really nice shot from the exact Tortoise show at The Independent shown above. I did not, however, track down anything from Mouse on Mars’ performance at Lee’s Palace. But I did get a nice one from the show in Montreal the day before and that’s close enough for rock and roll.

Those two shows now have some nice iTunes artwork.

Viva Flickr.