When rumours of Apple’s alleged closure of iTunes first hit the tech media, it didn’t take many clicks to stumble across apocalyptic scenarios where your entire music collection would be decimated, and DJ software would be scrambling to support your playlists because of the “death of iTunes” that headlines would have you believe.
I however didn’t believe in such a scenario, believing it to be a media storm in a teacup. Apple has such a colossal global user base invested in the iTunes ecosystem, and simply killing it off and abandoning in one fell swoop would be commercial suicide, even for a company that has a track record of killing off standards, including their own.
So I made the conscious decision to not post anything until a clear picture appeared, because facts are far more important than speculating. And as Apple’s last WWDC confirmed, iTunes is indeed being retired, and the music-specific part is being handled by the new Apple Music software.
But where exactly does it leave DJs and the software that supports iTunes playlists? Rather than aimlessly speculate, I decided to ask an actual active developer in the DJ world what is happening in light of the actual real changes.
So in true keynote style, I’d like to invite Damien Sirkis, creator of music library wrangling software Rekord Buddy to the stage. Damien…
“Thanks Mark. I’m trilled and excited to be here etc etc…”
They say the only thing that is constant is change, and if you’re an Apple user you have felt the effects of change more often than you really want to remember. You see, there are basically two school of thoughts in the computing world. One is best embodied by Microsoft and goes something like this: Everything has to stay compatible at all time, at all cost.
This mantra has led Microsoft through years and years of keeping support for all types of devices or I/O ports in their Windows operating system, but also millions of lines of code in Internet Explorer in order to keep supporting web sites that were coded incorrectly, just so that users would not notice and things would stay compatible. You read that right, they actually spent a tremendous amount of effort hiding other people’s broken code just for the sake of backwards compatibility.
The other school of thought is basically Apple. In that paradigm, when things get old, get in the way of shipping thin devices or just simply because Steve decided so, things get killed off and they get killed off hard. Cue a long list of processors (from PowerPC to Intel and soon to ARM), programming APIs, languages (from Objective C to Swift) and even I/O ports or… gulp… headphone jacks that Apple just decided to get rid off, because that was the way forward in their opinion. They were some of the firsts (if not the firsts) to kill off CD drives and even the aforementioned missing headphone jack is slowly becoming the norm everywhere else too.
Now sometimes, Apple provides a nice transition period when they kill things off (changing over processors starting in 2006 was a massive feat that was done very smoothly over a few years and most users never really noticed) and sometimes, they don’t.
Let’s put aside the conversation (*cough* argument *cough*) over which paradigm it better. The point is, in Apple’s world change is constant.
So every now and then, DJs get affected by this wave of change and the upcoming release of macOS 10.15 Catalina will see DJs probably more affected than in recent memory. No, this is not one of those annual issues with software developers who forget that the new macOS beta has been available (and in near final form) since june, wake up in October with their app not supporting the new OS. This time, it’s a bit more serious as it involves an app dear to a lot of DJs hearts: iTunes.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE
As I’m sure you know by now, iTunes is getting killed off this Fall. What started off as a small/focused application for playing and ripping music, has turned over the years into a bloated monstrosity that tried to handle music, TV, movies, apps, podcasts and making diner. OK, maybe not that last one. So in macOS 10.15 Catalina Apple is replacing it with one app, doing one thing, named Music.
Many DJs use iTunes to organise their music, and while it’s not perfect (you can only store playlists in there, cue points and beat grids only get transferred if the DJ program you use supports writing those to the track file itself) it’s basically the least common denominator and has therefore become a go to app for DJs to store their music.
DJ programs give you access to your iTunes library via a file that iTunes maintains every time you close iTunes. This file is an XML version of your iTunes library and programs like Serato, rekordbox, and Traktor read that file in order to let you see your iTunes playlists in their browsers. The thing is, with the Music app, that file is no longer exported automatically. Apple killed it off.
This is not going to directly affect you right now, at least not until the new macOS ships in the fall (release date has not been announced at the time of writing this, although we developers have had access to the beta for a couple of weeks now). Even when the new OS ships this is not necessarily mean everything will break in your DJ setup. For starters, you can still export this XML file manually (via the File menu, export library) and as long as you put the file in the same spot as the old XML file then your other apps will be able to access it just like before. Of course, you’ll have to do that every time you change something which is a pain and probably not a long term solution.
Another way to get around the issue is a framework (i.e. a programming interface for developers) that Apple released back in macOS 10.13 and which is called ituneslibrary . Using this framework, DJ apps can access the library from your new Music app without requiring the XML file. Of course, this means code will need to be modified in the DJ apps in order top add support for this and, given that it’s been around since 10.13 but still hasn’t been implemented in any DJ app (as far as I know, maybe some of them already take advantage of this), it remains to be seen who does end up supporting this in the long run.
UPDATE: Algoriddim, the creators of djay and djay pro reached out to offer some insight into where they stand with regards to the iTunes to Apple Music transition:
“djay has been using the mentioned “iTunesLibrary” framework for many many years (even before macOS 10.13 when it was still bundled with iTunes), and so it will work out of the box with the new Music app.”
…AND CARRY ON
I think the change is a good one from the average iTunes user’s point of view. The Music app already feels way more focused and it mirrors the app you find on an iOS devices which is a good thing. For DJs though, the transition may be a bit rough. Music collection management has never really been a priority for the DJ apps out there and that’s why so many people fell back on iTunes in order to fill the gap.
I have a vested interest in this and a lot of opinions on the subject given my current day job but I think that in the long run this will be good for DJs too. I think we are better off holding our software future into our own hands and no be dependent on software that may not have our best interest at heart.
The primary job of a DJ will always be curating their music collection so that they can then propose a selection that is unique to them and that educates their listeners while taking them on a journey. This can only be done with you having control over your music and having the right tools to organize it the way you want. As long as this need is there, there will always be solutions available for you to organize your music. Change is good sometimes.