How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 10: Album Artwork

(This is one of a series of articles looking at elements of iTunes that I think need fixing. I’ll choose one element for each article, and offer a solution. See all articles in this series. If you have any particular gripes about what needs to be fixed in iTunes, drop me a line.)

If you’re familiar with the artwork for an album, there is a permanent connection between music and artwork. Remember, if you’re old enough, the LP album sleeves you used to peruse when listening to music. Or the CD inserts you used to check out. You probably chose your music visually, looking for a specific album not by the name on the spine, but by the artwork on the cover.

The same is the case with digital music. Adding artwork to music makes it much easier to find it in your iTunes library, without having to search for it. You may browse all the albums you have by an artist, looking for a specific album. You’re unlikely to actually read the names, but you can instantly zero in on the cover of the album you’re looking for.

iTunes stores and displays album artwork for music (and other types of media), in several ways. There are a number of different views in iTunes, some of which (Albums view) only show artwork, and others (Artists or Genres views) show artwork with other information.

But when you’re playing music, the artwork isn’t very visible. It shows as a tiny thumbnail in the iTunes LCD (that’s the top section of the window):

Itunes lcd

And it displays in the MiniPlayer, at the same size. If you click the thumbnail in the MiniPlayer, that window expands to become what I call the Artwork Player. It shows the album artwork, and, if you haver your cursor over the window, gives you access to controls.

Artwork player

But iTunes used to have another artwork pane; it was at the bottom left of the iTunes window, at the bottom of the sidebar. Not only did this always display the artwork of the currently playing track, but it had arrow buttons that allowed you to cycle through artwork, if you had stored more than one graphic for certain tracks or albums. I was never interested in storing multiple graphics, but many people do this. The problem with iTunes now is that, while you can still store multiple graphics, you can’t view them.

iTunes should return to offering some kind of artwork viewer other than the expanded MiniPlayer (or Artwork Player). It should also provide a way to view multiple graphics that are added as artwork; or not allow users to add multiple graphics.

22 thoughts on “How I Would Fix iTunes, Part 10: Album Artwork

  1. The multiple artwork feature was handy for those “Complete Album Collection” boxed sets which have been imported as one massive multi-disc album. I’d also love to see this feature on iOS.

  2. The multiple artwork feature was handy for those “Complete Album Collection” boxed sets which have been imported as one massive multi-disc album. I’d also love to see this feature on iOS.

  3. Ignoring for a second the annoying ack of liner notes available for so many new & old releases (not as much an iTunes issue as a record label issue I presume), it would be nice if:

    1) The ‘Get Album Artwork’ command could present a dialogue with possible choices to avoid iTunes continually selecting incorrect artwork.

    2) One could manually add artwork to tracks in the same fashion as the ‘Get Album Artwork’ command, avoiding the library bloat of embedding the same image across multiple tracks in an album.

    3) The auto-upscale to PNG bug was fixed!

    • Good point about the bloat. On average, artwork is multiplied 8-10 times (assuming you apply it to full albums). That adds up.

      This said, I’d really prefer it be embedded, because that way, if you move the tracks, the artwork moves with them.

  4. Ignoring for a second the annoying ack of liner notes available for so many new & old releases (not as much an iTunes issue as a record label issue I presume), it would be nice if:

    1) The ‘Get Album Artwork’ command could present a dialogue with possible choices to avoid iTunes continually selecting incorrect artwork.

    2) One could manually add artwork to tracks in the same fashion as the ‘Get Album Artwork’ command, avoiding the library bloat of embedding the same image across multiple tracks in an album.

    3) The auto-upscale to PNG bug was fixed!

    • Good point about the bloat. On average, artwork is multiplied 8-10 times (assuming you apply it to full albums). That adds up.

      This said, I’d really prefer it be embedded, because that way, if you move the tracks, the artwork moves with them.

  5. By extension, it would be nice if the other media formats could accommodate multiple “cover art” as well. DVD’s of TV series have different box art for each set of episodes and different seasons can also have different “cover art” (Not to mention, different titles that can’t be used without being listed as a separate show.). For that matter, it would be nice if the series could have cover art while each individual episode could display its poster frame (which would allow you to visually identify the episode).

    Fixing the bugs in regards to album artwork would be a boon too. Ever try selecting existing artwork in the Windows version of iTunes?

    P.S. While I’m at it, how about a true decimal system for episode numbers. OVA’s (additional episodes included in DVD sets) often fit chronologically between broadcast episodes and are usually given .5 numbers to make them fit. Like an episode 8.5 that happens between episodes 8 and 9; or an episode 0 “prequel” to the regular series of episodes. Neither of which are possible in iTunes.

    • Why oh why did the Itunes designers do away with the large “flip through” cover display? The cover art has always been an integral part of the music lovers experience. And of course we miss the liner notes! Shame on all of these tonedeaf designers!

  6. By extension, it would be nice if the other media formats could accommodate multiple “cover art” as well. DVD’s of TV series have different box art for each set of episodes and different seasons can also have different “cover art” (Not to mention, different titles that can’t be used without being listed as a separate show.). For that matter, it would be nice if the series could have cover art while each individual episode could display its poster frame (which would allow you to visually identify the episode).

    Fixing the bugs in regards to album artwork would be a boon too. Ever try selecting existing artwork in the Windows version of iTunes?

    P.S. While I’m at it, how about a true decimal system for episode numbers. OVA’s (additional episodes included in DVD sets) often fit chronologically between broadcast episodes and are usually given .5 numbers to make them fit. Like an episode 8.5 that happens between episodes 8 and 9; or an episode 0 “prequel” to the regular series of episodes. Neither of which are possible in iTunes.

    • Why oh why did the Itunes designers do away with the large “flip through” cover display? The cover art has always been an integral part of the music lovers experience. And of course we miss the liner notes! Shame on all of these tonedeaf designers!

  7. This is not optimum, but of course you can view the art at full scale by command-clicking in the tiny thumbnail in the iTunes LCD.

  8. This is not optimum, but of course you can view the art at full scale by command-clicking in the tiny thumbnail in the iTunes LCD.

  9. I always use Album Art Exchange for artwork when I ripped my own disks. Even so, the cache in my iTunes Folder is gigantically huge. So, I haven’t use iTunes to locate any covers because I don’t want it to disturb any of the Album Art Exchange.

  10. I always use Album Art Exchange for artwork when I ripped my own disks. Even so, the cache in my iTunes Folder is gigantically huge. So, I haven’t use iTunes to locate any covers because I don’t want it to disturb any of the Album Art Exchange.

  11. I listen to a lot less music now as a direct result of the loss of coverflow.
    The loss of that feature in itunes 11 effectively killed the usability for me.

    Apple have time and again shown a complete disregard for the serious music fan, failing to address to their legitimate concerns.
    1. The ease with which itunes files could become corrupt causing the loss of untold hours of curation (hence my fastiduous backing up of files after a bad experience myself)
    2. The loss of cover flow
    3. The loss of other beloved functions (multiple images, itunes DJ, etc)
    4. The recent debacle of itunes 12.2
    5. Prevention of syncing other devices to itunes (e.g. the Palm pre – remember that? A lot of the functionality that was way ahead of its time now appears on the ‘innovative’ iOS)

    Apple seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to render the hours and hours of their users’ valuable time spent using their (non-compatible) systems (e.g. downloading high definition album covers) meaningless.

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. itunes 12 is far worse than itunes 7. It’s like XP to Vista, Windows 7 to 8 (to be fair I personally don’t mind 8.1). How can these behemoths get the user experience sooo wrong?!?

  12. I listen to a lot less music now as a direct result of the loss of coverflow.
    The loss of that feature in itunes 11 effectively killed the usability for me.

    Apple have time and again shown a complete disregard for the serious music fan, failing to address to their legitimate concerns.
    1. The ease with which itunes files could become corrupt causing the loss of untold hours of curation (hence my fastiduous backing up of files after a bad experience myself)
    2. The loss of cover flow
    3. The loss of other beloved functions (multiple images, itunes DJ, etc)
    4. The recent debacle of itunes 12.2
    5. Prevention of syncing other devices to itunes (e.g. the Palm pre – remember that? A lot of the functionality that was way ahead of its time now appears on the ‘innovative’ iOS)

    Apple seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to render the hours and hours of their users’ valuable time spent using their (non-compatible) systems (e.g. downloading high definition album covers) meaningless.

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. itunes 12 is far worse than itunes 7. It’s like XP to Vista, Windows 7 to 8 (to be fair I personally don’t mind 8.1). How can these behemoths get the user experience sooo wrong?!?

  13. One big complaint I have is the confusion between Album Art that iTunes downloads and stores in its own extremely convoluted directory structure and that which is embedded in the music file itself. Many people do not really understand the difference and iTunes does not make this clear. It could almost be accused of deliberately making this unclear.

    The former is fundamentally a good idea, to keep a single copy of the artwork for the album, rather than it being duplicated in every track, but there are problems with this approach. The way they’ve done it means it is totally locked down to iTunes being able to find the artwork and store it. I believe ultimately it is supplied by GraceNote, but when it cannot be found that way, tough. They do NOT allow you to use your own supplied artwork within this system. The only alternative is to embed the artwork, which then means you have a mix of Apple artwork for some and embedded artwork for some other files. IOW, a mess.

    I know storage is relatively cheap these days, but I still object to the duplication that occurs with embedded artwork, yet Apple’s solution is fraught with danger that it’ll be lost when moving files and I used to have a problem when storing the music on a network volume which when not mounted would cause iTunes to throw away links to the artwork of anything that had been displayed, before you realised and the only solution was to add it all again manually. Anyway…

    Both solutions however have the same drawback. A box set might have one image for the box and another for each individual disk in the set and neither system allows for that. Indeed, iTunes cannot even display such flexibility.

    The fundamental problem has always been that the MP3 and subsequent file formats have been designed around the single track, with grouping by Album and Artist something of an afterthought. It should be possible to group tracks in an album file with Album specific data held only the once, yet also with the ability to internally subdivide the file into ‘Disks’, each with their own specific data. But it was designed wrong at the start, not really thought through at all and now we’re paying the price.

    My first request for iTunes to improve its artwork capability would be for it to provide a way to ‘inject’ any desired artwork into its own Artwork structure so one could keep it out of ALL music files. Sure, you could ignore this and embed everything if you want, as you can do right now. But we should be allowed to use our own artwork within the iTunes Artwork system.

  14. One big complaint I have is the confusion between Album Art that iTunes downloads and stores in its own extremely convoluted directory structure and that which is embedded in the music file itself. Many people do not really understand the difference and iTunes does not make this clear. It could almost be accused of deliberately making this unclear.

    The former is fundamentally a good idea, to keep a single copy of the artwork for the album, rather than it being duplicated in every track, but there are problems with this approach. The way they’ve done it means it is totally locked down to iTunes being able to find the artwork and store it. I believe ultimately it is supplied by GraceNote, but when it cannot be found that way, tough. They do NOT allow you to use your own supplied artwork within this system. The only alternative is to embed the artwork, which then means you have a mix of Apple artwork for some and embedded artwork for some other files. IOW, a mess.

    I know storage is relatively cheap these days, but I still object to the duplication that occurs with embedded artwork, yet Apple’s solution is fraught with danger that it’ll be lost when moving files and I used to have a problem when storing the music on a network volume which when not mounted would cause iTunes to throw away links to the artwork of anything that had been displayed, before you realised and the only solution was to add it all again manually. Anyway…

    Both solutions however have the same drawback. A box set might have one image for the box and another for each individual disk in the set and neither system allows for that. Indeed, iTunes cannot even display such flexibility.

    The fundamental problem has always been that the MP3 and subsequent file formats have been designed around the single track, with grouping by Album and Artist something of an afterthought. It should be possible to group tracks in an album file with Album specific data held only the once, yet also with the ability to internally subdivide the file into ‘Disks’, each with their own specific data. But it was designed wrong at the start, not really thought through at all and now we’re paying the price.

    My first request for iTunes to improve its artwork capability would be for it to provide a way to ‘inject’ any desired artwork into its own Artwork structure so one could keep it out of ALL music files. Sure, you could ignore this and embed everything if you want, as you can do right now. But we should be allowed to use our own artwork within the iTunes Artwork system.

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