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

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).

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.

Apple and TuneIn Join Forces to Bring 100,000+ Radio Stations to Apple Devices

Apple has concluded a deal with TuneIn, the internet radio service, to ” offer listeners access to TuneIn’s more than 100,000 global radio stations on all Siri-enabled devices and Apple Music. This collaboration comes on the heels of Apple’s release of iOS 13, which introduces a new radio experience to Apple devices – including iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, CarPlay and HomePod.”

It’s not clear how this is going to work; you’ll be able to launch radio stations via Siri, but will these radio stations show up in the Radio tab of iTunes and the new Music app on macOS Catalina? This would explain why the new Music app no longer supports internet radio stations, which have been part of iTunes for a long time.

And it’s not clear whether these radio stations will be available to people who don’t subscribe to Apple Music, but it’s good to see that internet radio will not be forgotten in the new, split-up iTunes.

My Personal Apple Music Radio Station Is Broken

Update: I heard from Apple that this was caused by a bug on their servers, and it has been resolved.


One of my favorite ways to listen to music is my personal Apple Music radio station. Apple added this feature, which it initially called “Personal DJ,” about two years ago. (See this article.)

To create it, just ask Siri, on any device, to “Play some music.” A new station is created using whatever image you have attached to your Apple Music profile (if any). (Read this article to learn how to set up an Apple Music profile.)

Personal radio station

I often go back to this station because it generally plays a good cross section of my music. It includes purchases, music I’ve added to my iCloud Music Library, music that I’ve loved, and other music that I’ve played recently or a lot. So if I’m in the car, and I don’t want to spend time deciding what to listen to, I put this on, and skip what I don’t want to hear, but am never really disappointed.

But since yesterday, it’s been broken. It only plays two songs: I Must Have That Man, by Adelaide Hall, and Bengali Blue, by Bobo Stenson and Lennart Åberg. Until just a few minutes ago, when I was about to start writing this article, it only played the first song, and since then, a second song has been added. Sometimes the first song only plays a second or two then stops; sometimes it plays, then the second song plays, then the first one comes back again for a few seconds. And this has happened to other people; I found a number of people posting on Apple’s forums, and on Reddit, who had similar issues: sometimes with a single song, sometimes with two or three.

Feel free to try it out: you can share links to your personal Apple Music Radio station.

But I don’t know how this can be fixed. Some algorithm has gone all William Gibson, and the only way to correct this would be for someone with the keys to the kingdom to reset something in the Apple Music database. It’s unlikely that any first- or second-level Apple Care technician would be able to do that. So I can’t use this personal radio station any more, unless somehow the algorithm figures out that there’s an issue.

Because you cannot delete Apple Music radio stations. Not this one, not any that you create based on songs, albums, artists, or genres. This has long been an annoying, but in most cases, you just shrug it off and move on. They pile up in your Recently Played list, but you can ignore them, because you can just create others with other songs, artists, or genres. But this radio station is special.

If I could delete it, then I could recreate it, and that might fix the logjam – or, the broken record – and it would work as it should again. So, for now, I will no longer have one of the best features of Apple Music at my disposal. This makes me sad.

Internet Radio Stations Are Demoted in the Post-iTunes World

I’ve been writing lately about changes to iTunes, and how the apps that replace iTunes are missing certain features that were in the app for a long time. I discussed the demise of the column browser, which dates back to iTunes 1.0, and which has always been one of the best ways to navigate a large library. I’ve also mentioned other changes, such as in this article, where I pointed out that Songs view no longer allows you to display album artwork. Again, this was a useful navigational feature that allowed you to scan a list of music and see artwork to identify it more easily.

Another feature that dates back to version 1.0 and that is going away is internet radio. These are radio stations that stream and that you can listen to from the Library section in the iTunes sidebar.

Internet radio

There are about twenty genres of internet radio stations, and you can browse the list and find a wide range of eclectic styles of music, news and talk radio, and more. iTunes currently lists about 4,000 such stations.

You’ll be able to launch a specific internet radio station in the new Music app by choosing File > Open Stream URL, but you won’t have the library to search for internet radio stations any more. I assume that these weren’t widely used – admit it, most of you didn’t even know that this existed – and all these stations stream from their websites anyway, so you can still listen to them, just in a different way.

How to Manage Audiobooks in a Post-iTunes World

With the split of iTunes into four apps, the way audiobooks are managed is different. If you have audiobooks from Audible or from the iTunes Store – technically the Books Store – you have no choice: they can only be stored in the books app. But if you have a collection of audiobooks that you have ripped, or downloaded without DRM, then you have two options for managing audiobooks in a post-iTunes world.

You can move your audiobooks to the Books app, which offers a number of features for playback that are more appropriate for listening to spoken word. For example, you click buttons to skip ahead or back by 15 seconds, set a sleep timer, and more. However, these files are stored on your startup disk, and you may simply not have enough space on this disk, so if you have a large audiobooks library and want all your audiobooks in the Books app, I recommend only adding those to the app when you want to listen to them. At other times, store them on an external disk. (Audiobooks will be stored in a folder in the Library folder of your home folder: ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService.)

Or you can keep your audiobooks in your Music library. If you rip audiobook CDs, their files can stay in your Music library, and you can listen to them in the Music app, sync them to an iOS device, and even put them in your iCloud Music Library, if the bit rate is 96 kbps or above. This allows you to store the audiobook files on an external drive, if you don’t have enough space on your Mac’s startup drive.

Note that when you now go to rip new audiobooks, you must do this in the Music app; there is no such option in the Books app. But you can move these audiobook files to the Books app, and each file name shows up as an individual chapter, allowing you to navigate in your audiobooks more easily.

If you do want to keep them in the Music app, you no longer have to change the media kind to Audiobook for them to show up in the Audiobooks library, because that will be gone. You just leave them as music files, and they will show up in your Music library. It’s a good idea to set the genre to something like Spoken Word so you can find them easily.

So, if you do have a large audiobook library, make plans before upgrading to macOS Catalina.