iPod Irritation – An Extended Rant


We have multiple iPods in my house (like Dave) and have registered those iPods to multiple computers over time. So when I got my iPod Shuffle last year, I thought I’d make life easy by setting up a folder in iTunes on our one desktop computer acting as a home media server. I can add and remove songs from that one folder, sync my Shuffle, and voila! I have a brand new workout mix.

Unfortunately yesterday I couldn’t find my Shuffle before my run on the treadmill, so I grabbed my old iPod Mini. The Mini still works great, but it had none of my new favorite workout tunes. I knew I could sync the Mini to the folder I’d dedicated to the Shuffle to grab my newer stuff, but that would mean erasing all of the existing music on the Mini. Worse, the computer that was originally registered to the Mini – holding all of my purchased iTunes music and uploaded CDs – is long gone. Essentially my Mini has been carrying music with no back-up.

In the end, I decided most of my purchased iTunes music had likely been added to our household music library on the dedicated media server computer. There was a decent chance that some of my uploaded CDs weren’t in the library, but if necessary, I still had those CDs packed away somewhere and could find and re-upload them. (Not that that will ever happen…)

Bottom line: I gave up worrying about losing the music on my Mini and synced it to the music I had set aside for my Shuffle.

The situation was irritating at best and infuriating at worst, and I’m betting many, many people have gone through something similar. In fact I’ve heard stories about people losing an entire music collection by unwittingly connecting and syncing an iPod to a new computer. The fault lies in the rigidity of DRM, but I’ve always been surprised that there hasn’t been a backlash against Apple iPods specifically because of their market dominance. Many people have now had iPods for years, which means they’ve likely upgraded computer, iPod or both at least once. I’d have thought by now that there would have been some kind of uproar against iPods as people realized how difficult it can be to maintain a music library with one.

On a positive note, the situation is of course rapidly changing as more and more digital music goes DRM-free. Just this week I bought a bunch more tunes from Amazon MP3 and have moved them around to multiple devices already. (Still waiting on my Slacker player) However, what about the people who built up iTunes music collections and now carry around hundreds or thousands of DRM-protected tunes around? Impressively, it doesn’t seem Apple has alienated many of those folks. For one reason or another, despite being a frontrunner in digital music, the iPod has remained pretty successfully above the DRM fray. Some people might argue differently, but in the population at large, the iPod is still the music player of choice.

16 thoughts on “iPod Irritation – An Extended Rant”

  1. I suspect, as much as Apple (and confused Forbes.com “journalists”) would like to imagine otherwise, the vast majority of iPod users do NOT have iPods full of DRM-encrufted music purchased from the iTunes Store. Most of us have been collecting music for years, and have countless thousands of MP3s or unprotected AAC files that we’ve legitimately created from our own physical collections.

    Sure, some of it has only ever existed electronically. Some downloaded (legally, of course) from the web, some passed around like mix tapes always were, and some purchased. But Apple’s quite good about reminding us to back up our music, especially our purchases. You should never let your iPod hold your only copy of any music, just as you should never let your laptop hold your only copy of any document.

    If through some cascading sequence of cataclysms you find that your iPod IS your only repository of something, don’t let it stay that way! Grab one of the many tools that will let you suck the music off it, and do so before it’s too late!

  2. …and this is one of the 100s of reasons to NOT buy DRM’d music. DRM is a “feature” that does nothing but cause me pain. All of my music is ripped by me from my CDs to MP3 with no DRM. Any purchased digital music is either a) purchased DRM free or b) Immediately burned to a CD-R and reripped as DRM free.

    Any time I’ve violated my rule and purchased something with DRM (either through laziness or lack of choice) it has burned me. Maybe not at first…but eventually. I love my iPod, but will continue to speak with my wallet and not purchase DRM-laden iTunes.

  3. Suggestion – use EAC ( http://www.exactaudiocopy.de )to rip all your physical musical CDs. Then rinse your existing iTunes library clean of DRM. *cough*d00mn1n3*cough*

    When complete store them all on a nice network aware NAS like a Buffalo – but I don’t recommend any one brand name over another.

    Then use your sling box, set to “audio only”, to make your phone your default PMP. I defer to Dave on the specifics on how to set up the Sling box part.

  4. After my first experience like this, I started storing my iTunes library on external drives, and backing up the files that make up the library info nightly in two locations. It;s saved me three times from catastrophic library failure. :)

    As for the DRM? 99% of my stuff is plain MP3, and the very few iTunes-purchased files have been cleansed. The Apple Man ain’t gonna harsh my scene. I could go off the ipod junk any time I want, man.

    I swear.

  5. My suggestion: use senuTi to get your music back if you are on a Mac, Double Twist if you are on a PC.

  6. They iTunes purchased songs are in fact they only thing you *can* copy back and forth between your machines and your iPods. If you right-click your iPod in iTunes, there’s an option to Transfer Purchases. So at least they allow you to get things that they *know* you own back off the device.

  7. I just wanted to second what Tara said: If you have purchased iTMS songs on an iPod that are not in the iTunes library then iTunes allows you to pull them off the iPod.

    Not that it’s a defense of DRM, but it is more flexible than what is outlined in the post.

    Personally: Like Spark, I burn all my iTMS songs to audio CD and then re-rip the songs to MP3 format in iTunes. Then I back up the purchased tracks and delete them from my hard drive. Yes, that means I need to maintain the library… but when you’re looking at 70+ GB and 10,000+ songs (none of which, btw, are illegally downloaded) then you’re looking at maintaining the library every few months no matter what.

  8. In all cases, best to manually manage your iPod rather than let it sync to a playlist (my shuffle can’t do this however)… the iPhone just recently “got” this feature. Also, I third Senuti for pulling tracks off, it just works.

    Not sure if this is a DRM issue or that the “manually manage” checkbox is there for some ipods and isn’t there for others. With my other 3 iPods (not my 1st gen shuffle), I can freely add to and delete from the device without syncing anything at all.

  9. Don’t even get me started…

    Melissa’s iPod Mini was originally formatted for a Mac (we no longer own) and we wanted to migrate all her music (purchased and ripped) onto a Windows install of iTunes. The only official way the Mini would talk to the PC was by reformatting it (and losing all the tunes) and there was no official way to just move everything from her old Mini to her new Nano fatty. PITA.

    The next week when testing Ben’s Apple TV, I discovered many of my purchases over the last 4 years were made under davezatz@yahoo.com and another portion were made under davezatz (at) mac.com – so I have a choice of WHICH content I want to authorize, but not all of it even though I legally purchased everything.

    Bottom line, I’m never buying DRM-ed music again. I’ll buy physical CDs to rip and DRM-free tracks from Amazon, and maybe iTunes if they make it easy to filter for it. DRM-ed video is another story and we’re stuck with it… I’d really like to share my copies of Burn Notice (8 purchased via iTunes) with my mom 1,000 miles away, but it’s not going to happen. I’ll end up buying her the DVD set.

  10. I concur. Initially buying from iTunes and later Amazon was nice for convenience or if I had to have a song for something at the moment. Since then, it’s been CD’s ripped, DVD’s ripped and everything else ripped off.

  11. You can’t manually manage an iPhone I believe – it’s all Sync. There are also a few programs out there for about $10 that will let you dump the contents of your Pod to the PC.

  12. “In the end, I decided most of my purchased iTunes music had likely been added to our household music library on the dedicated media server computer.”

    Mari missed the part where we did, in fact, transfer the purchased music back from the Mini to the computer, so that was preserved. The stuff from CDs? Well, hopefully I caught it in one of my fairly frequent let’s vacuum-this-to-the backup computer sweeps.

    As the resident Mac-person in the house, I am aware of all the utilities that can (cough*somewhat legally*cough) pull stuff off the iPod, but we had about 45 minutes left of babysitter time to get the workout in, and I was feeling rushed for time.

    (I’ve also copied iTunes libraries from computer to computer and never had any problem importing them into the new computer.)

    As to why there’s no backlash against Apple, I think it’s because they were clever enough to make the DRM reasonably restrictive, but with easy workarounds for those who really want to figure it out (and those likely to start a backlash): the utilities like Senuti have been around forever, through LOTS of iTunes updates, and Apple’s never broken them, which they could have done easily enough. Contrast that to the iPhone, where every update locks out the earlier jailbreaks.

  13. Mari,

    While I agree with your rant against DRM, Apple does a reasonable job of making this easy. You could have just checked the “manage music and playlists manually” box on the main page for your iPod. And when you plugged your iPod in if it had music on it which wasn’t on the computer you were syncing with, I would have expected you to get a prompt regarding whether you wanted to copy the purhased content off the iPod before syncing. And they prompt you to backup your purchased content. And they allow you to sync the content to your computer by right clicking. Etc.

    Personally I use TuneBite to automatically convert all my iTunes purchases (music anyway, audio books and TV shows I typically don’t bother with, I’m only going to watch/listen to them once anyway) to mp3…

  14. Help – my husband “upgraded” us to a media server (not our pc’s) to store the itunes music and libraries. Now, I can’t get my ipod to synch. I only have the option of erasing my ipod or transfering purchased tunes.

    I’d like to have it all and also be able to manage the music – create new playlists etc.

    Are there any tips out there, links to documentation? I can’t find any.

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