Members can now instantly import their favorite Magnatune albums into iTunes.
It's instant, because what gets imported into your iTunes library is a link to the streaming version of the entire album. That way, you don't have to download and store gigs of music onto each computer you want to listen from. And, if you use multiple computers to listen to Magnatune, you'll have your favorite music available from either the web site, or iTunes, and always up to date.
Here's how it works. The "m3u" playlist format has always been oddly handled by iTunes. Unlike most programs, that play and then discard the mp3s pointed to by m3u playlists, iTunes always imported the streaming mp3s right into your library, and mixed the streaming (remote) mp3s with your on-disk (local) mp3s. That's a neat feature, if you could make it work right.
We're doing a few unusual things, that I want to explain:
1) instead of downloading the music to iTunes, we're giving you streams. This is so that the export is instantaneous, there is no downloading step. If you're connected to the Internet, you'll be able to listen to the albums as you normally would, it just happens that iTunes will get them off the 'net as you play them.
2) the entire album is imported as one mp3. We did this, so that you could import dozens of favorite albums, and not clog up your library with tons of songs. My favorites list is 189 albums long, and I don't really want over 2000 songs added to my system. If there is an album I want as separate songs, I can still download the album.
3) if you want local files, and to download the music, you can still do so, with the "personal podcast" feature. That will put the music on your hard disk, and your ipod. This new instant-iTunes-import is in addition to that.
4) if you add albums to your favorites, you can re-import the entire favorites from Magnatune. iTunes is smart enough (with streams) to determine the duplicates and only add the newly-marked-as-favorite albums.
When you go to play your favorite albums on Magnatune, there now an "iTunes import" link.
this is what the page looks like:
after you click on that link, this is what your iTunes Library will look like:
I put red arrows on the graphic above, to point out an interesting aspect of how iTunes works.
iTunes doesn't have any way for us to specify artist name, album name, or duration, in the m3u file. However, after you have played the mp3 for at least one second, iTunes reads that info in, and incorporates it into the library.
The first red arrow on the graphic above shows the album length of an album I've previously played. Until you play the album, iTunes simply display "continuous" where the album duration should be, and leaves artist name/album name blank. Once you've played an album, everything looks right.
We *could* have worked around this odd way that iTunes worked, by writing directly to the iTunes library. However, there are different ways to do this on Windows and Mac, this would have entailed your downloading and installing software from me, and there would be the risk that we had a bug in our software and screwed up your iTunes library. Instead, I preferred to stay simple and safe, and use a standard m3u file format.
iTunes visually differentiates local vs remote mp3 files with a little streaming graphic so that a playlist with local mp3s and remote Magnatune albums looks like this:
One other side-effect of using the m3u file format, is that the "iTunes import" link will play your favorite albums in both WinAmp and Windows Media Player. However, neither of those programs makes it easy to save the playlists in your permanent library (please post a comment to this blog entry if you believe otherwise).
This feature is available for both streaming and download memberships.