iTunes 7: Cover Art Strangetude

by Scot Hacker

Like half the internet, I've been enjoying/dissecting iTunes 7. But I just stumbled on something odd I thought was worth re-posting here.

iTunes has been able to store and display cover art for a long time. At core, that's not new. But what struck me in iTunes 7 is how quickly it suddenly seemed able to write image data into an entire album's worth of tracks. I know Apple didn't make my disk faster, so something else must be going on. Then it occurred to me to have a look in ~/Music/iTunes/ . Sure enough, there's a new "Album Artwork" folder. And inside, a hierarchy of folders containing untyped .itc (I Tunes Cover?) files.

Well, that explains why writing cover data has gotten so fast, since audio files no longer need altering. All iTunes has to do is create a small data file once and reference it from the library for each file in the album. This is nice for speed and nice for not swelling audio collection file sizes, but sucks for portability between machines/platforms. Why isn't this a preference? Or an optional mechanism to "permanently store art inside music files" or similar?

Personally, I'd prefer to spend the disk space and the time to have cover art written into my files, not stored alongside them. From my perspective, iTunes just took away my ability to handle this aspect of my music collection correctly.

While we're on the topic, caveat tunezor: Reports are floating around on mailing lists of undesirable things happening when you select your entire library and ask iTunes to download cover art for every track. When matches are found, existing cover art you've spent years gathering may be replaced with art Apple thinks you should have, "including that from Music Store previous purchases." Original covers may be replaced with covers from compilations. I haven't experienced these problems myself, but would be interested in hearing from others who have. For now, I'm only downloading album artwork selectively, and only for albums for which I don't already have cover art.

98 Comments

Lukas Hamilton
2006-09-13 23:25:49
Why would there be problems, it won't overweight your song files your original art because they are obviously trying to save resources to allow it to work on overloaded PC's.


Personally I would like to spend my "spare" resources on inserting the cover-art in each song and ask me when it wants to replace, keep both, or original.


But most importantly is the fact that most of us nerds that frequent itunes have a have different preferences.

paul
2006-09-13 23:44:57
Have you been able to confirm that iTunes isn't writing the artwork into the audio file? It occured to me that the Artwork folder you found may be for Coverflow. I'm sure coverlow needs some kind of cache to whip through those albums so fast.
Scot Hacker
2006-09-13 23:54:04
Good question Paul. Just tested -- copied a file for which iTunes had downloaded artwork today to another Mac, and it did not have artwork.


You're probably right about Coverflow needing the speed, but it's definitely still screwing us on portability.

Marcello
2006-09-14 00:06:56
I didn't have the chance to make more accurate tests, but after running the "get all artwork" procedure on two different computer i have the feeling that i ended up with less artwork that i used to have, at least in the (completely useless) coverflow view.


I'm starting to wonder that:
a) itunes looks for covers just in your national itunes store, which means that if you're living in a technologically 3rd-world country like italy your chances of finding artwork for foreign albums are quite dim
b) itunes overwrite your artwork if it's unable to find the album in the itunes store


i'll do some more testing as soon as i have some time to spend on it.


regards
Marcello

Scot Hacker
2006-09-14 00:28:05
Marcello -


itunes overwrite your artwork if it's unable to find the album in the itunes store


I think that's definitely true. However, since there's both ID3-stored artwork and the new folder hierarchy, I wonder if you could get your old artwork back by removing all or certain folders from the "Album Artwork" folder. If you try this, please let us know here whether it worked.

richard Morris
2006-09-14 01:13:27
'For now, I'm only downloading album artwork selectively, and only for albums for which I don't already have cover art'


Is there a way of sorting on 'no cover art'? Can't see it in smart playlists.

Andy Armstrong
2006-09-14 02:26:34
Doesn't the fact that it's storing the artwork somewhere other than in the audio files suggest a solution to this:


When matches are found, existing cover art you've spent years gathering may be replaced with art Apple thinks you should have, "including that from Music Store previous purchases." Original covers may be replaced with covers from compilations.


If it overwrites something you want to keep presumably you can just trash the downloaded cover art to restore the original.

moose
2006-09-14 02:27:44
Well,
hmm, in fact iTunes gets ONLY artworks that are MISSING (and it says so in the dialog box asking you whether you want to automatically DL artworks, as well as in the iTunes prefs).
Also, Artworks are indeed stored locally as .itc files, and they DO NOT overwrite artworks that might have been added to the mp3 file itself. BUT if a file has an "embedded" artwork and iTune has found a Coverflow artwork on the iTMS, then Coverflow will show the iTMS artwork for the ALBUM... remember, coverflow works for ALBUMS, not single tracks...
So, it's a good/bad balance... also, how long before someone releases a small app to copy coverflow artworks into the mp3 ressources?
Javier Vizoso
2006-09-14 03:04:49
Hey..... if you Get Info of all the tracks in an album, you can copy & paste its artwork in a new Artwork box. Then every track will get the artwork embedded inside its .mp3 file. You can just copy and paste the artwork downloaded by iTunes 7 and "re-paste" it this way to use the artwork provided by Apple and insert it inside the files (thus cross-platform). You can check this using utilities like MPFreaker which lets you see which songs have artwork embedded. It works for me.
Kirk
2006-09-14 03:10:16
I'm pretty sure those are simply cache files used when you browse with the Cover Flow feature, not art that is added to music files. Check a music file's size before and after adding art using iTunes.
Mark Hunte
2006-09-14 03:22:48
I ran a script that checks for art work on itunes 7, it seems that iTunes looks for the Data in 3 places.
The file itself, the local folder and the Downloaded folder in the iTunes Artwork folder.


The caching is indeed part of cover flow which is how the original CoverFlow worked.


iTunes does not embed the artwork into the file unless you past or put it into the artwork info box manually.

Kirk
2006-09-14 03:23:23
Posting again, since when I first posted I hadn't seen the other comments...


Scot says he copied a file to another Mac, and it was sans artwork; I just tried with a few files for which I got art via iTunes, and they _do_ have art on the other Mac... But I know Scot's a smart guy, so I looked a bit more closely.


iTunes is indeed downloading the art when the files are added; if you have the download artwork pref checked, this will happen (I saw the network activity once the files were copied to iTunes). If not, which is probably Scot's case, then the art won't be downloaded.


Which raises an interesting question - is it better to have the art in the files, taking up space in each file, or simply have a single .itc file for all the songs in an album? This makes no difference on the iPod, which already "optimizes" artwork by only copying the art once for multiple occurences, but will it make a big difference on a computer?


I guess that, in any case, those files are being created either from the existing artwork or from artwork that's downloaded for Cover Flow to work, so you'll have them no matter what. Now, it might actually be worthwhile to try and remove art from files and save a few GB (if you have a lot of music) then have iTunes replace the art, if it's available.

bakaneki
2006-09-14 03:27:39
I'm not sure about what I'm going to say, but I don't think iTune removed any album arts from any song files. This new external-album-art feature suppliments rather than replaces the old internal-album-art method. So, you can continue to add album arts into all your songs. However, with this new feature, if there is a song that has no album art in it, then iTune will look for an external album art coming from the same album.
Mark Hunte
2006-09-14 04:22:26
I should have said, The way I double checked this was to quit iTunes and trash the cache artwork .itc files.
iTunes did not find any artwork for files that it downloaded the art work for.
It did find artwork for one I had Pasted the artwork into the info window. And I suspect any music purchased from apple will have the artwork embedded at source.
Zac
2006-09-14 07:50:26
While I have experienced a lot of weirdness with the Get Album Art feature in iTunes, I have yet to see it overwrite any existing cover art I had, and I have run it many times.
Adam Rice
2006-09-14 07:54:08
I've tried manually adding art, and as best as I can tell, it is *not* being added directly into the mp3 files.
Doug
2006-09-14 08:07:56
I wonder what this means for moving tracks from one library to another. I've long used two libraries, one at home which is my main library and one on my laptop, which is my portable/new stuff library. If I import tracks from one to another, will it bring the album art with it or will it drop out? I'm not home to test right now, or I would.
domo
2006-09-14 08:25:03
I definitely want artwork stored in the music files, because I archive them to DVD in case of disaster. (iTunes 7 makes this easier, by the way.) I checked some Apple Lossless files to see if manual methods of adding artwork (dropping on the artwork box; dropping or pasting into track info) resulted in changes to song files. I'm happy to report that, yes, they do: I dropped a 200k JPEG (Hmm. Maybe I should have re-compressed that.) onto a 1.9MB track, and -- yes -- its size increased to 2.1MB. Deleting the artwork cut its size back down again. So I'm happy.


I thought that perhaps the increase in speed could be due to a rearranged file layout, with the containers for tags at the end rather than the beginning -- this would mean the tags could be rewritten without having to copy the audio data. But no: checking the atoms (thanks, Perl and Audio::M4P::QuickTime) shows that this isn't the case. Besides, it'd be a stupid idea for stuff delivered as streams. Maybe QuickTime just got a whole lot quicker at rewriting files.

pau
2006-09-14 08:56:09
I can't speak to artwork that is automatically downloaded by iTunes, but for artwork that is manually pasted into the info box, iTunes 7 is most definitely still writing the artwork into the song file, just like it always did.


I did a series of tests this morning... adding and deleting artwork manually in iTunes 7, and then moving the songs to a computer still running iTunes 6. All the songs showed up exactly how they should, either with or without artwork, depending on if I added or deleted.

John Lockwood
2006-09-14 08:58:15
My experience is that iTunes does NOT get artwork from the country store of your account and instead appears to only be using the US store.


I have just upgraded to iTunes 7 and tested the new Get Album Artwork command. I have an iTunes store account on the UK iTMS store. The album I used for testing is ¨The Greatest Hits - Why Try Harder?¨ by Fatboy Slim [UK edition]. Despite the fact that the UK iTMS store shows the correct artwork (for the UK edition of the album) and despite the fact that the link from the album in my iTunes library goes to that correct album on the UK iTMS store and despite the fact my login is set to use the UK store, the Get Album Artwork command actually downloaded the US edition artwork and not the UK edition.


The URL for the correct UK edition is http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?id=155936130&s=143444


The URL for the INCORRECT US edition is http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?id=158138249&s=143441


Either it should download the correct artwork or it should let a user choose if there is more than one possibility.


Unfortunately this looks like yet another example of Americans forgetting the rest of the world exists.


Fortunately I had already laboriously searched for and manually applied correct UK artwork to all my other albums and iTunes correctly left them alone rather than replacing them with more incorrect US versions.


Many other similar utilities like Corripio let you specify which country to use for searching for Artwork, you would think Apple would do the same and automatically use the country of your iTMS account first (and others countries second if no result is found in your country store).

Scot Hacker
2006-09-14 10:04:27
So it's confirmed. Using the Get Info panel to add artwork still results in the art being added to the audio file as it always did, while using the Get Album Artwork command results in the artwork only being added externally, to "Album Art" folder. That's good to know, but look - it took us group of geeks a bunch of experimenting around to figure that out. No way in the world would the average person ever be able to see what's going on. Users are going to go happily along, downloading album art for months or years, and then one day they're going to move a bunch of tracks to another machine, or switch to Ubuntu, or whatever, and find that all of that painstakingly gathered artwork is nowhere to be found. Storing the metadata *only* outside of the files creates an inherently fragile situation.


And the inconsistency of behavior between the Info panel and the Get Album Art command is bizarre/confusing.


The added bummer is that for those of us who want to store metadata like album art inside the files, we just lost access to this otherwise very cool new feature in iTunes. Until iTunes gives us the option to store it inside of files (as does occur with the Info panel), we can't use the new "Get Album Art" functionality at all. Which is quite a bummer.


What's up with this, Apple?

DougAdams
2006-09-14 10:18:52
Artwork files are named using the Persistent Library ID and the track's ID from the XML file. This is how iTunes keeps track of artwork for different libraries
Andrew
2006-09-14 12:11:32
This folder based approach was also how the original CoverFlow application did things.
paul
2006-09-14 12:56:37
Scott, we can use the new feature, but we have to be a little tricky about it. I did another little test, and this works:


1. Allow iTunes to download the artwork for you.
2. Open the info box for that song and copy the artwork.
3. Delete the artwork
4. Re-paste the artwork


Doing this results in the artwork being embeded. It's a hassle, but at least we can use the feature.

Scot Hacker
2006-09-14 13:10:34
Paul, thanks for the tip. Dang, that *is* convoluted! Hardly a solution...
paul
2006-09-14 13:33:52
Ya, i Know. I'm hoping Apple is considering this a bug, and will maybe fix it in 7.01 to embed all artwork. But, until then, we can at least use the download feature.
Scot Hacker
2006-09-14 14:29:18
LOL - I just selected all songs in George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass." The cover art I got is for "The Essential George Gershwin." Nice chance to use the "Clear Downloaded Artwork" option (which works as advertised).
Alex Lamm
2006-09-15 03:22:56
Does anybody know, if there is a way to view those *.itc-Files with an external Image-Viewer (Mac or Windows)? Are those Files normal images like JPGs or PNGs?
El Rocco
2006-09-15 06:34:57
Is it just me or there's a sorting bug with the Album View?


I have 2 albums with the same name :
Led Zeppelin - III
Sebadoh - III


If I browse by Album View and sort by Album (which is the only way if you have a few compilations) the 2 aforementioned albums are split by each other according to the track number.


Since I don't have the full Led Zep album, it splits only 3 times but still... Shouldn't it sort automatically by album, then artist?


Here's a screenshot of the problem.

David Martin
2006-09-15 09:38:49
> Alex Lamm
GraphicConverter is able to get the JPEG part of the .itc file. Just drag the file on GraphicConverter's icon and it should ask you if you want to display the image part.
Sander
2006-09-15 15:38:22
@El Rocco: I noticed the same problem. I think it is triggered by the fact that iTunes now looks at the "Album Artist" tag for sorting. If you copy the artist fields these albums to the "Album Artist" fields, you should be all set...
Chinarut
2006-09-15 21:57:28
ok - good to find this thread here - I was wondering this myself when I realized the date stamps of the files I fetched album art for remained the same.


What I want to know is if anyone has figured out what format these .itc files are in? tried renaming the file to see if it was JPEG but no luck. I want to see what art got replaced and did not and be good to see what got downloaded.


Has anyone figured out if it is "safe" to delete the Album Art directory - it is just a cache?

Scot Hacker
2006-09-15 22:22:28
Chinaraut - It's not just a cache. It's the set of all the album art downloaded through iTunes "Get Cover Art" feature. It does NOT include art that's already embedded in your MP3 files - stuff you've added manually in the past. Deleting that folder would be the equivalent of selecting all songs in iTunes, then right-clicking and selecting "Clear Downloaded Cover Art." You'd lose all externally stored art, but keep all art already stored inside MP3 files.
neuwalker
2006-09-16 00:41:25
This post - and all comments - are very interesting.
I want to tell you, what happend to me. I tried to download Albom Art cover, and nothing happens. I searched to iT(M)S manuelly and they definitly sell the songs. So I start catching cover art manuelly (or using a dashboard widget, which look at amazon). I stored the cover art in the songs directly and I got the process bar when I stort the same cover to a lot of songs.
When I browse cover flow, it takes a some time for iTunes to show the cover art to that albums. First I see the graw empty cover, then the cover shows up. I if browser away, the found cover gets lost and I have to wait to again, when I come back.
What we all need is a command that syncs ID3-Tags and Art-Folder. Listen up, cocoa developers.
sjk
2006-09-16 12:00:43
GraphicConverter is able to get the JPEG part of the .itc file. Just drag the file on GraphicConverter's icon and it should ask you if you want to display the image part.

GC 5.9.1 dumps.itc file data forks in a dialog when I try opening them. Is there some preference to override that (I couldn't find one)?
Gerardo
2006-09-16 17:23:17
OK - well here's my thing. I originally had album covers on some of my cd's and then now that I have this download album cover it's in a much clearer and nicer format. Is there a way to delete this? I've even deleted the files/rebooted/etc where the pics were at and somehow I tunes still keeps finding them. How can I get rid of them so that Itunes can find it's own?
Jack
2006-09-16 18:41:12
I figured out how to get artwork that previously would not sync with the ipod to finnaly show. It is a lengthy and tedious process but for someone like me with only 100 songs that dont show artwork, this is useful. go into you itunes 7 library and for each song that will not show artwork on you ipod:
1. right click the song
2. click get info
3. change anything in any of the 5 tabs (i like changing the track number for the songs that are just singles)
4. then sync your ipod and the artwork will show


Hope this has been helpful and Apple, please work out these kinks so your deticated users will not have to suffer through this tedious process.

Andrew
2006-09-17 05:34:43
I have just done some experiments with adding and removing artwork manually while checking the file size.
The album was 103MB with no artwork.
Manually adding album art using the Get Info box
The album was 106.5MB
Deleting the album art by clearing the Get Info box
The album was 106.6MB
Re-adding the album art in the Get Info box
The album was 111.2MB


Checking the artwork tags on individual tracks shows only one copy of the album art ...

Andy Skogrand
2006-09-17 22:18:36
People seem to be forgetting that while some love embedded album art, other people don't. Personally, it kills me to have an mp3 fattened with attached album art. It makes my whole library bigger, and album art really does little for me. So, while I agree that Apple should make embedding an option, I don't believe it should be the standard, otherwise there will be another article bashing Apple for taking away the user's right to choose.
El Steve
2006-09-18 00:05:28
Ok, so I'm one who DOES NOT want the album art embedded in the music files. On a PC & ripping my CD's with Apples losless codec. When itunes gets the correct art, great. if i have to drag/drop my artwork is there any way to make sure it is NOT embedded within the music file, but instead put somewhere in the ...\album artwork directory??


thanks!!

Scot Hacker
2006-09-18 00:31:33
El Steve - If you use the Info panel, it's definitely going to be embedded in the file (that's always been the case - nothing to do with iTunes 7). But if you're using the lossless codec, your files are already huge, and the amount of data consumed by the cover art is is going to be very, very small in comparison.


Disk space is cheap. Metadata disassociated from the files it representes is frangile and non-portable. Why don't you want to store it inside the files?

El Steve
2006-09-18 00:46:05
Scot Hacker - I'm thinking that maybe someday,someway i may want to 'revive' (?) those files back to their original state off the CD & am concerned that the embedded data will preven that.


i.e., lend a cd to a friend, lose one, etc....


of course, if i can do that and have the embedded artwork, no problem - please advise how... ;)


thanks!

Scot Hacker
2006-09-18 08:47:43
El Steve - If you lose the MP3 files and re-rip the CD, you're going to wipe out the artwork regardless where/how it's stored. iTunes 7 will attempt to re-import artwork while a disc is being ripped. As of now, the newly added art will be stored external to the files. Hopefully either Apple or a third party will soon give us a way to have that happen *both* externally and inside ID3v2 data space.
El Steve
2006-09-18 11:08:31
..true enough, however, I'm looking at it from the angle if i lose the original CD.
If the artwork is embedded within the song (and i've used Apples losless codec), can i convert that .m4a file back to .wav to burn a new CD?
this is my first experience with iTuens and i hafta say overall it's pretty cool!
Scot Hacker
2006-09-18 11:27:47
Steve, I'm confused. First you say you want to know what happens if you re-rip the CD to restore the files, then you want to know what happens if you lose the CD...


.wav does not allow storing of artwork inside files. And there's no point converting .m4a to .wav since the audio has already been compressed, so that would be a wasted conversion.

Gerardo
2006-09-19 20:43:38
Thanks Jack for your help - that really worked. Another question for everyone out there. Why doesn't the Ipod update the album artwork even though it's updated in Itunes? Is there a way to resync the album artwork? Thanks!
Juan
2006-09-19 21:18:09
I saw the Album Artwork folder a few days ago but didn't pay much attention to it.
I decided to delete the folder because I had never seen it before and suspected that it had been downloaded from iTS, and the few downloaded album art that I had were deleted...bummer!
I have a few hundred CDs in my library, for which most of them I've manually added the album art to the embedded file by using either Amazon.com or the Widget tool, which as worked great.
This introduction of "automatically get your album art" introduced by iTunes 7 is a great idea, but it needs to have better options. Like some said, to use that external folder to keep the album art or embed it in the file itself. I prefer the latter, since it minimizes errors and compatibility issues, as well as keeps all my CDs' album art the way I want it.
In addition, I also noticed, that the external Album Artwork folder is used to cache the album artwork when viewing in cover mode (3rd option, whatever the name is).
I like the idea, but won't be using it for now. I'll "cheat" the system, and will download the album art from the iTS, then Get Info, go to Artwork, Copy, select the full album, Get Info (again) and paste it there. Only way to make it embedded in the file.
Works for me.
Scot Hacker
2006-09-19 21:51:25
Juan, I mostly agree, but with one caveat: The album art downloaded from iTMS is of much higher quality than the little ones you get from Amazon, etc. Which means that *most* embedded artwork doesn't scale nicely - gets all pixelated. So what I really want is to use the iTMS art for "cached" display, but to also store that larger art inside the files, for portability. For now, I'm using the iTMS art and going on the hope/belief that Apple or someone will make it possible to retroactively copy that art back into the files as well.
Kieran
2006-09-20 12:48:00
Hey,


I stumbled upon your discussion using Google and had some additional info - thought perhaps you guys could help me or perhaps learn from my experiences. I too, am disappointed that the artwork which iTunes "fetched" for me is not showing up on my iPod.


My friend just bought the latest 5G iPod. He has been getting his iPod to sync the ITC album art this way:


1. rip a CD or import the files to iTunes 7
2. get album artwork (have iTunes get ITC)
3. manually sync his iPod


...and the artwork shows up on his iPod.


I have a brand new (but 4G 60GB iPod) and despite all the covers showing in iTunes, none have sync'ed to my iPod.


Can you help me out...or does this info help?

Kieran Roy
2006-09-20 13:04:38
Another follow up...


I just did the following for an album which appears to have iTunes fetched ITC artwork in iTunes but no artwork on my iPod:


1. "Get Info" for all the tracks on an album
2. Changed grouping from blank to "x"
3. Synched iPod


As a result, the iPod files were replaced and the artwork was brought over.


However, clicking on the iPod under devices in iTunes revealed that my "other" file size usage had increased by 3.6MB. That's a pretty big increase for the artwork file. Multiply this by my 700 albums and we're talking 2+ GB being eaten up. That's almost 10% of the music file size.


I could do this all in one batch by selecting my entire library, adding a bogus grouping tag and re-synching (the transfer would take some time) and I would have artwork. However, it would eat a lot of disk space.


Thoughts? Better ideas?