Use Half-Star Ratings in macOS Catalina’s Music App

The macOS Catalina Music app, which replaces music functionality from iTunes, offers two ways of rating your music: you can either use stars or “loves.” The latter binary option suits people who only want to flag their favorites, but the five-level option for stars is for those who like more granular judgments of their content.

You can go further; you can use half-star ratings as well. To do so, open the Terminal app in Catalina (it’s in /Applications/Utilities), paste this, then press Return.

defaults write com.apple.Music allow-half-stars -bool TRUE

You can then apply half-star ratings by carefully clicking on the stars when visible. If you click on the left side of a star, that counts as a half star; if you click on the right side of a star, that gets recorded as a full star.

If you want to turn this off, run the following command in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.Music allow-half-stars -bool FALSE

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 104: Getting Ready for Catalina

Josh and Kirk celebrate the two-year anniversary of the podcast, and discuss getting ready to upgrade to Catalina, with tips on how to ensure that your upgrade will be smooth, and the most efficient way to upgrade your Mac.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Where the Catalina Music App Stores Album Artwork

When I updated my iMac to Catalina yesterday, I watched as the Music app slowly display album artwork. I have about 4,000 albums in my library – this is all local music, I don’t use Cloud Music Library on this Mac – and it took a couple of hours for the Music app to go through all the files and display the artwork.

But I couldn’t find where it was stored. In the past, there was an Album Artwork folder in the /Music/iTunes folder in the home folder. While that folder is still there – and isn’t needed any more – artwork is now stored in a different location.

But I couldn’t find it at first. I was looking for a folder around the same size; my Album Artwork folder was always around 4-5 GB. The new path for artwork is:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.APMArtworkAgent/Data/Documents

For me, this folder is less than 1 GB, which is why I couldn’t find it previously. Interestingly, this folder no longer contains files with the extension .itc, which only a few apps could read, but the files are now the original .png or .jpg files that I added to my music files (or that came with purchases from the iTunes Store).

macOS Catalina: Use Your Apple Watch to Enter Your Password and Authenticate

You have been able to use the Apple Watch to unlock your Mac for a couple of years. In the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences, you can check a box to allow this to occur. When you’re wearing your Apple Watch, and it’s unlocked, pressing a key on your keyboard or clicking your mouse tells the Mac to look for the Apple Watch to authenticate you. This was the single feature that got me back to using the Apple Watch a couple of years ago after having worn the device off and on.

Now, in Catalina, this goes one step further. If you have turned on the above setting, you can use your Apple Watch to enter your password when you need to authenticate to perform administrative tasks. For example, if you want to delete files in the system space, applications installed via the Mac App Store, or access secure preferences panes, you must enter this password.

Now, you’ll see a dialog like this:

Unlock with watch

Double-press the side button on your watch, and, boom! It’s done. This will save a lot of time when performing this type of operation, and it allows you to create a more secure password, because you won’t need to type it as often.

Note that on a Mac with Touch ID, this latter technology seems to overrule the use of the Apple Watch. Here’s what I see on my MacBook Pro:

Unlock with watch touch id

I guess this makes sense; it defaults to the closest method of authentication available to the device, and using Touch ID is even a bit quicker than using the watch.

Use Timed Lyrics in the iOS Music App to Sing Along to Your Favorite Songs

I’ve always liked having lyrics available when I listen to music. I don’t look at them often, but there are times when I want to know exactly what the words of a song are. Sometimes when I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row, and want to be precise. (I still haven’t memorized all the lyrics; but it’s more than ten minutes long.)

A nifty new feature in the iOS Music app is Timed Lyrics. When a song offers this, you see the lyrics, each line highlighted as it is sung.

You’ll probably see this in the Music app the first time you play a song that offers the feature, if you have your iOS device’s screen on with the Music app up front.

Timed lyrics1

Tap the Lyrics button at the bottom of the Music window and enjoy.

Timed lyrics2

How to Export an XML File in the Music App in macOS Catalina

iTunes was long able to create an XML file, which was a readable dump of its library file, so the apps could access information about your library. This file was also useful to have as a backup; if your iTunes Library file got corrupted, loading the XML file could allow you to recover your library.

In the macOS Catalina Music app, you can no longer have this file created automatically, but you can create it manually. This can be useful if you’re a DJ and want to use it with software that hasn’t been updated to use the iTunesLibrary framework, or if you just want to have a backup of your library.

To do this, choose File > Library > Export Library, name the file, and save it.

Xml file

Again, there’s no way to automate this, but if you do need the file to use with a DJ app, you can just dump it before your set.

macOS Catalina and DJs: Yes, It’s a Problem, but There’s a Workaround, and Developers Can Solve It

A number of publications have been reporting about issues the macOS Catalina and DJ software. One example is this article in The Verge, which points out that the XML file – a readable version of the Music library file – is no longer generated automatically. (And lots of other publications picked this up without checking.) However, this article incorrectly states that it is not possible to generate this file manually. In the Music app, choose File > Library > Export Library, name the file, and save it.

Xml file

If necessary, a DJ can dump an XML file of their library before they begin a set and use it with existing software. Granted, it’s not as smooth a process, but it’s not rocket science.

DJs don’t use iTunes to play music, but they do use its powerful organizational tools to manage and find music, which is then played by specific apps for DJing. Those apps accessed the XML file simply to find the locations of files and play them; with the ability to dump an XML file, nothing much should change, other than the need to do this manually.

The Verge article says:

According to Apple, along with Catalina’s removal of iTunes, users are also losing XML file support as all native music playback on Macs moves over to the official Music app, which has a new library format. XML file support is a popular organizational feature for DJs who use it to sort tracks into playlists and utilize the “Share iTunes Library XML with other applications” option to seamlessly transmit data between apps.

I don’t know what “According to Apple” means; there’s no link, no any suggestion that this was an explicit statement. Because the library format is not new.

The big problem here is that developers, aware of this change since the initial beta release of macOS Catalina, have not done the necessary work to update their software. Apple provides an iTunesLibrary framework, available since iTunes 11, which allows developers to directly access the .itl file used to store information about the Music app’s library. Some developers of DJ apps have already made the transition. It’s not that hard to learn how to use this instead of using the XML file.

The Verge article frames this as Apple doing something bad, rather than a bunch of lazy developers not doing the essential work of supporting their apps.

After iTunes: macOS Catalina and the New Media Apps

macOS Catalina was released yesterday, and users are starting to discover this new operating system. It has plenty of interesting features, but there’s one big change for people who use their Macs to manage and play media. iTunes has been replaced by four apps, each of which manages a specific type of content:

  • Music: This app, which retains the core features of iTunes, manages both a local music library and a library in the cloud. It also gives users access to Apple Music, which offers streaming of more than 50 million tracks. The Music app can also store and play back music videos.
  • TV: video management features in iTunes, the TV app lets users manage a local movie and TV show library, as well as providing storage for home videos (these can be videos of your family, as well as rips of DVDs you own). In addition, it is the gateway to Apple’s large offering of movies that you can buy or rent from the iTunes Store and Apple TV+, Apple’s forthcoming streaming service, which will offer original content starting in late 2019.
  • Podcasts: Just as iTunes managed podcasts, allowing you to find, subscribe to, download, and listen to episodes of your favorite podcasts, the Podcasts app does this, and nothing more.
  • Books: The Books app, which has existed for a few years to manage ebooks, has expanded its reach, and now manages audiobooks, which had previously been the purview of iTunes.

In addition, the interfaces of these apps have been simplified, though there are two distinct styles of interface. The Music app is fairly minimalist, with all navigation done from the sidebar, whereas iTunes 12 required a combination of the sidebar, the Media Picker (a pop-up menu above the sidebar), and a series of tabs at the top-center of the window, to navigate different types of content. The Podcasts app presents a similar stripped-down look, but the TV and Books app do have tabs at the tops of their windows to allow you to navigate between local content and that from the iTunes Store.

For while the iTunes name is gone on the Mac desktop, the iTunes Store still exists, and is broken up into content-specific stores in each app (with the exception of the Podcasts app, which features a podcast directory, but doesn’t call it part of the iTunes Store). And the iTunes Store is not going anywhere soon, for two reasons. First, because Apple has a lot of content to sell you; and, second, because Windows users are not seeing this split into four apps. For them, iTunes continues to function as before, and Apple has not said whether they are bringing these new apps to that platform.

There are other changes: features that have been removed or replaced.

But one of the biggest changes is that the locations where media files are stored has changed. This is especially important for people with large libraries, notably with lots of podcasts and audiobooks. These latter types of content are stored on your startup disk, inside you home folder, and it’s not easy to move them to an external drive.

So, before you upgrade to macOS Catalina, if your media is important to you, read the articles linked above so you know what’s changed before you take the leap.

And stay tuned for info about my forthcoming book, Take Control of macOS Media Apps. It’s nearly finished and will be available soon.

New Book Coming Soon: Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Mac media 2macOS Catalina has been released today, and with it a new way of working with your medial files on Mac. iTunes has been split into four apps, Music, TV, Podcasts, and Books, and these new apps will require new strategies for working with your media library.

In this fully rewritten sequel to my best-selling Take Control of iTunes 12, I cover all four of these media apps, with close attention to the Music app. I look at how to manage your files, how to adapt to the new interface and options, how to create playlists, and I cover using the cloud and Apple Music.

I also look at watching videos in the TV app, finding, subscribing to, and listening to podcasts in the eponymous app, and storing and listening to your audiobooks in the Books app.

The book is undergoing its final polish, and will be available real soon. I’ll naturally post here when it’s released, but you can also check the Take Control Books website.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 103: Updates, Legit-Looking Lightning Cables, Malspam, and Touch ID

Josh and Kirk discuss the many updates to iOS 13, how legit-looking lightning cables that can hack your devices will soon be on sale, how malspam mostly tries to trick people with bogus links, a Touch ID issue, and much more.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.