Ask the iTunes Guy

Kirk McEl­hearn an­swers your iTunes ques­tions

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Some of the ques­tions I get about iTunes is­sues are rel­a­tively easy to solve, but oth­ers re­quire a lot of time and ex­plo­ration. In this month’s col­umn, I look at a sin­gle ques­tion about an iTunes li­brary that seems to have gone back in time. There are im­por­tant lessons to learn from a prob­lem like this.

Plus, do you find it an­noy­ing that when you get in your car, start it up, and mu­sic starts play­ing from your iPhone?

It’s not the iPhone’s fault. Some songs in your iTunes li­brary are louder than oth­ers. It’s not iTunes’ fault. And if you down­load pub­lic do­main au­dio­books and want to move them to iTunes’ Au­dio­books li­brary, well that’s eas­ily done.

My iTunes li­brary has gone crazy

Q i launched iTunes re­cently, and the app dis­played a dia­log say­ing that it was “im­port­ing iTunes li­brary. xml.” When this fin­ished, I no­ticed a num­ber of anom­alies with my li­brary. some mu­sic i had ripped re­cently was no longer there, and some pod­casts i had lis­tened to and re­moved a long time ago were now show­ing up. I found old playlists that I had deleted long ago, and my new­est playlists were miss­ing. What’s go­ing on?

A The above is an ab­bre­vi­ated sum­mary of a very long email a reader sent me, which led to a fair amount of cor­re­spon­dence over a few days un­til we fig­ured out his prob­lem. It’s an in­ter­est­ing is­sue, and one that I’m go­ing to present in depth to dis­cuss some pre­cau­tions you can take to en­sure the in­tegrity of your iTunes li­brary.

What in­trigued me was the fact that iTunes re­built the user’s li­brary, which sug­gested that the iTunes Li­brary.itl file might be cor­rupted. But the ‘new’ li­brary turned out to be quite old. It was in fact nearly two years old, which gave a clue as to what hap­pened.

When iTunes 12.2 was re­leased in late June 2015, it added a new pref­er­ence which changed the way the app stored some of its li­brary files. This new op­tion, in the Ad­vanced pane of iTunes’ pref­er­ences, al­lows you to share the iTunes Li­brary XML file with other ap­pli­ca­tions. iTunes pre­vi­ously had cre­ated two main li­brary files:

iTunes Li­brary.itl iTunes Li­brary.xml

The for­mer is the file that con­tains in­for­ma­tion about your li­brary: the tracks and other items it con­tains, their play counts and rat­ings, and your playlists. The XML file was cre­ated so other ap­pli­ca­tions (in­clud­ing Ap­ple’s own apps) could read that li­brary to ac­cess your media files. But with iTunes 12.2, Ap­ple turned off the au­to­matic cre­ation of this file, since its apps (iMovie, for ex­am­ple) could now read the iTunes Li­brary.itl file to im­port mu­sic into projects.

This XML file was use­ful for more than just Ap­ple and third-party apps; you could use it to re­build your iTunes

li­brary in case of prob­lems. This tech­nique has saved my iTunes li­brary at times, and it’s one I rec­om­mend to peo­ple hav­ing in­ex­pli­ca­ble prob­lems with their iTunes li­braries.

In the case of my cor­re­spon­dent, the iTunes Li­brary.itl file was cor­rupt, and iTunes did the log­i­cal thing, im­port­ing the iTunes Li­brary.xml file that it found to cre­ate a new li­brary. How­ever, since iTunes no longer cre­ates or up­dates the XML file, it was out of date; by nearly two years. The file iTunes loaded was the last one cre­ated be­fore Ap­ple in­tro­duced the set­ting to cre­ate the XML file. In other words, when Ap­ple changed this behaviour – hav­ing iTunes cre­ate the XML file only when users specif­i­cally told it to – it froze that file in time.

iTunes up­dates the iTunes li­brary.xml file when­ever it makes any changes to its main li­brary file. The XML file can be seen as a sort of backup of the iTunes Li­brary.itl file, even though that’s not what it’s meant for. If my cor­re­spon­dent had checked that op­tion in the iTunes pref­er­ences, then his li­brary would have been re­built us­ing a re­cent XML file.

My cor­re­spon­dent had a Pre­vi­ous Li­braries folder in his iTunes folder, and was able to load a more re­cent li­brary. But if he had backed up these files reg­u­larly, it would have been a lot eas­ier. macOS in­cludes Time Ma­chine, an au­to­matic backup sys­tem that au­to­mat­i­cally stores copies of your files to an ex­ter­nal or net­work drive. To pro­tect your iTunes li­brary and your other files, it’s a good idea to use Time Ma­chine. This is bet­ter than just copy­ing your files or cloning your drive, since it stores mul­ti­ple ver­sions of your files. If the iTunes Li­brary file in your backup is cor­rupt, then you’re out of luck, but with Time Ma­chine, you can go back in time and choose dif­fer­ent ver­sions un­til you find one that works.

I also strongly rec­om­mend check­ing the op­tion men­tioned above to have iTunes cre­ate that XML file. It doesn’t cost you any­thing, and it can save your iTunes li­brary if some­thing goes wrong.

So make these two changes to en­sure the in­tegrity of your iTunes li­brary.


Q As soon as I start my car, the first song on my iPhone starts play­ing. I know a lot of peo­ple have this prob­lem, so how can I fix this?

A I hap­pen to have re­cently bought a car with Blue­tooth for the first time. I no­ticed that the same thing was hap­pen­ing; when­ever I got in the car and started it, mu­sic would start play­ing. It’s not the first song, how­ever, it’s what­ever was play­ing last time I used the Mu­sic app, or an­other app that plays au­dio (such as a pod­cast app).

I checked with the car man­u­fac­turer, and a spokesper­son ex­plained that this was a fea­ture, not a bug, and that I needed to turn off au­dio in the car each time I exit it to pre­vent it from play­ing mu­sic the next time I start it. In some cars, you can’t ac­tu­ally turn off au­dio, so you would need to switch to the ra­dio to not play mu­sic from your iPhone. Some car au­dio sys­tems may have an auto-play op­tion that you can de­ac­ti­vate, but mine doesn’t. This is cer­tainly an an­noy­ance, but it’s not the iPhone’s fault.


QI pur­chased two al­bums from the iTunes Store: The Vel­vet un­der­ground & nico and The es­sen­tial Lou Reed. Each con­tains the song I’m Wait­ing for the Man. If I look at the meta­data for each song, the vol­ume is dif­fer­ent; the Vel­vet Un­der­ground ver­sion shows a vol­ume of -4.9 dB, and the Lou Reed al­bum’s ver­sion shows -9.2 dB. The sec­ond song is much louder than the other. Is it pos­si­ble to down­load ver­sions of these songs where the vol­ume is the same?

A If you se­lect a file in iTunes, press Cmd + I, then click the File tab, you can see a bunch of meta­data about that file. You can see the type of file, its size, its bit rate, and more. One el­e­ment in that win­dow is vol­ume; this is the amount of vol­ume ad­just­ment that iTunes makes if you turn on Sound Check (iTunes: Pref­er­ences > Play­back).

As this cor­re­spon­dent noted, two ver­sions of the same song have dif­fer­ent vol­ume ad­just­ments; this means that one of them (the sec­ond ver­sion, with the higher neg­a­tive vol­ume ad­just­ment) is louder than the first. They are the same song, but they were mas­tered at

dif­fer­ent times; the newer song was mas­tered at a louder vol­ume than the older one.

Au­dio­philes talk of the ‘loud­ness wars’, which be­gan in the 1990s as pro­duc­ers and mas­ter­ing en­gi­neers re­al­ized that if their songs were louder they’d stand out more. Be­cause of this, many re­cent record­ings are mas­tered that a level that elim­i­nates much of the dy­namic range (us­ing au­dio com­pres­sion), so the mu­sic is more or less uni­formly loud. In this case, the qui­eter ver­sion of the song was re­mas­tered in 2003, and the louder ver­sion in 2012.

These vol­ume num­bers that iTunes dis­plays don’t mat­ter at all in nor­mal play­back, but only af­fect the use of Sound Check. You will no­tice that the songs with higher neg­a­tive deci­bel ad­just­ments are louder, and those with

pos­i­tive ad­just­ments are softer, but for most lis­ten­ing this isn’t a prob­lem. But if you do make playlists mix­ing a lot of songs mas­tered at dif­fer­ent times, with large dif­fer­ences in vol­ume, you might want to use Sound Check to nor­mal­ize these vol­umes.


QI’ve down­loaded a num­ber of pub­lic do­main au­dio­books. When i add them to iTunes, they show as mu­sic files. How can I get them into the Au­dio­books li­brary?

AiTunes as­sumes that all au­dio files you add to your li­brary are mu­sic files. In some cases, they are not, as you point out. You may down­load au­dio­books or pod­casts, or you may even want to change some pod­casts to au­dio­books to be able to lis­ten to them more eas­ily. To do this, se­lect one or more files, press Cmd + I, then click the Op­tions tab. Click the Media Kind menu, then choose Audiobook. Click OK.

If you have au­dio­books in mul­ti­ple files, you may want to join them into longer files to make them eas­ier to man­age and lis­ten to. I rec­om­mend Doug Adams’ Join To­gether (, which can do this for you.

This op­tions tells iTunes to cre­ate an XML file from its li­brary file

Here are two tracks show­ing one with a neg­a­tive vol­ume ad­just­ment and the other with a pos­i­tive ad­just­ment

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