Music — iPod, iTune, Therefore iAM

iPod, iTune, Therefore iAM

by Lisa Parsons

I got an iPod for Christmas, and I haven’t had this much fun since the year I got the Gnip-Gnop.

A couple years ago I did the Napster thing, until it became illegal and kind of a pain. I checked out RealPlayer Rhapsody, an early online music store, but it was awkward. When I started seeing iTunes and iPod references everywhere, I thought, “Big whoop. Web music stores are more trouble than they’re worth. Call me when someone invents a way to buy songs one at a time and put them on CDs with no fuss, no muss.”

Someone should have called me.

iTunes is exactly what I always (at least since the invention of the Internet, or since I was old enough to imagine having a magic wand that would accomplish my bidding with a minimum of effort) wanted. Two weeks after the recent U2-meets-iPod advertising blitz prompted me to visit to see if just maybe they could offer me anything, I became the happy owner of an iTunes Music Store account.

You do not — I repeat, not — need an iPod to use iTunes. You don’t need any kind of MP3 player. You can visit iTunes, fork over your credit card number, and buy songs at 99 cents apiece — whole albums for $9.99 — and burn them onto CDs that you can play like every other CD you own. You can also, of course, play the songs on an MP3 player — like an iPod — and right on your PC.


How not to use iTunes

The iTunes website is simple, easy and professional. It’s a place, in short, you don’t mind forking over your credit card number to.

But proper use of iTunes requires a certain degree of vigilance. Herewith is my cautionary tale:

In an early flurry of excitement, I purchased a dozen Christmas tunes. “Whee!” I thought as I lined up my mix: The Waitresses, Take 6, Barenaked Ladies, etc., and three songs by The Wiggles for my child. So enraptured was I by the musical bounty at my feet, I forgot the details. Full of my DJ self, I oh-so-carefully included a track called “Peace and Joy to Everyone,” by The Wiggles, between the other two Wiggles tunes. “Peace and Joy to Everyone,” mind you, is a seven-second track consisting of nine spoken words lovingly enunciated by Murray Wiggle. Artistically unquestionable. A brilliant stroke of disc-jockeying genius, putting that track where I did.

Until I had to pay for it.

Satisfied that I’d sculpted my Christmas iTunes mix into just the right finished product, I clicked: Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy, Buy (once per song). And as I clicked “Peace and Joy to Everyone,” my face melted into dismay in perfect tandem with the progress of the download status bar. “My god,” I thought. “I just paid 99 cents for nine spoken words.” (“By Murray Wiggle, no less.”) They are mine forever now. And every time I hear them, instead of feeling peace and joy, I just feel like an idiot. It’s like the opposite of the folks buying Manhattan island for 24 cents.

Caveat clicker.


All hail the Pod people

Of course iTunes is only as nice as its nicest song; it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got the tune you’re looking for. (Though you could console yourself by picking up “Peace and Joy to Everyone.”)

And iTunes does not have every song ever created. “One Thing,” the recent release by newish band Finger Eleven, is not there. Ani DiFranco’s “Little Plastic Castle” is not there, though many other Ani tunes are. Linkin Park’s latest album is only partially represented.

But iTunes’ library is huge, and contains not only music but also comedy albums and audiobooks, and the loot you find will keep you so busy you won’t care about what it lacks. So you can’t get “Little Plastic Castle” — you can still get about a bajillion other songs you love.

Now that you’ve acquired all those songs, what do you do with them? Burn them to a CD and play them on your stereo. Play them on your PC, by means of a well-placed click on the iTunes software you downloaded when you bought the songs. And/or download them to a portable MP3 player.

There are lots of MP3 players, yes. But this one, this, the iPod … is so simple, so sleek, so futuristic and uncluttered and smooth and unbuttony…

This baby has feng shui.

I have seen other MP3 players. They are clumsy and ugly by comparison. (Note to lawyers: this is not a scientific survey; I have not tried every MP3 player on the market.)

iPod’s greatness comprises three notable features: (1) it is very slim; (2) it has essentially no buttons or protuberances, yet it works easily, and (3) it keeps its room clean. That last is crucial. Anytime you’ve got 5,000 of something in one place — and an iPod can hold 5,000 songs — organization is key.

The way the iPod works, you simply plug it into your computer and it sucks all the songs off your hard drive and indexes them for you in all the right ways. While you get a pedicure or something. You return to your iPod, unplug it, and there are all your songs, indexed by artist, by genre and by album. Automatically. Ten songs or 10 hundred. It’s as if you grabbed all your clean laundry out of the dryer, threw the entire heap into your closet and opened the closet door five minutes later to find everything neatly hung up and ordered by season, size and color.

You can then go in and add your own organizational touches, creating “playlists” of songs grouped however you like.

As for the iPod’s slimness and lack of buttons, these are beneficial because they make it easy to use and hard to misuse. You plug in the headphones, stick the iPod in your pocket and dance the night away.

And how does it work without buttons? You caress it. I swear. You don’t push, you don’t click (OK, sometimes you do, but don’t quibble). There’s a “wheel” — really a circle on the front of the iPod — that you caress ever so lightly with your finger to scroll through menus. (But it has to be touched by your finger — not the inside of your pants pocket — in order to work.) Kind of like a touch screen, except this is below the iPod’s screen. And unlike many touch screens, this thing really responds to a mere touch. No jabbing needed. In fact jabbing doesn’t work. Ten to one you don’t get it the first time you try it. You’ll try to click, jab, push just a little, before you believe that caressing in clockwise and counterclockwise motions around the circle is the way to make it scroll.

Yes, sometimes you need to click, to select a song or to fast forward or power off the unit, in which case a light press of the right spot on the circle accomplishes your click.

Flat, smooth, buttonless. Click, caress, listen. I’m telling you, feng shui. This is the Zen water-and-rock-garden of MP3 players.


Singing like a kid again

Let’s review:

Sign up with iTunes, collect songs on PC. Transfer songs to CDs, add CDs to your permanent collection. Put same songs on iPod, carry Pod on your person.

And take all the CDs you’ve owned for years, put them in your computer’s CD drive, click the new iTunes icon on your desktop and import (that’s a fancy way of saying “click where it says ‘Import’”) the music onto your PC. From there you can transfer it all onto your iPod just by plugging that into the PC and getting a pedicure. You now have your complete music collection in two places: CDs and iPod (also PC, if the disk space is big enough). And a pedicure. Also a clean closet.

You will find yourself listening to songs you hadn’t bothered to listen to in a long time, and you will remember what you’ve been missing. You will find yourself investigating music you might never have come across and owning music you formerly went without. Because, and don’t try to hide it, you wouldn’t be caught dead with a Marky Mark album in your possession but you love “Good Vibrations” and you can own the MP3 with no physical evidence.

I am at 469 songs to date. They are playing on shuffle as I write. (Note: a good pair of PC speakers makes a difference.)

Do it, already. You need more music in your life.

- Lisa Parsons

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH