Thursday, April 21, 2005

RealPlayer versus iTunes

I do not use a personal stereo.

I had a spiritual awakening about fifteen years ago and afterwards I realized that I was using my Sony DiscMan to build a barrier between me and the world. I had all kinds of explanations about why I used it: "I like to hear my own music." "People have nothing interesting to say." "Other people are playing their music so loud it is the only way to get privacy." I had a whole string of reasons why it was appropriate for me to shut myself off from my fellow man. Truth was, I couldn't be bothered dealing with other people, and today I look back and know how sad that really was.

Learning that my excuses were all lies was a liberating experience. Now, I actually have interactions with other human beings and the experiences span the whole range of possibilities from joyous to dreadful: but they are part of what make a life a life.

I still listen to music. A lot. I like the digital revolution and I have been listening to MP3s since long before the advent of iTunes and iPods. I have actually owned licensed copies of RealPlayer for many years. Yup! I actually paid for it!

Still do!

I don't purchase any music from Real, because they have the suckiest of all the digital formats, so I am also an iTunes user for purchasing individual files. I would buy a song in M4P format and convert it to MP3 and everything was fine.

Then iTunes encoded and locked their file format and I didn't purchase any songs for a long time. The major problem is that I could no longer burn iTunes songs to CD using RealPlayer. RealPlayer has a rather good, if somewhat unstable, database engine, and iTunes has a solid, but really lame database engine. So I like to use Real for burning mixed CDs. When iTunes locked their file format I could no longer do what I wanted with the songs I owned, so I stopped purchasing from them.

Then I found a program that lets me use the music I have purchased in the manner I choose. JHymn strips the iTunes encoding from the M4P file and converts it to MP3 so I can use it with RealPlayer! This makes me very happy and I have started purchasing songs from iTunes again.

My reason for wanting decoded files is so that I can use the files the way I want, in RealPlayer. I am not interested in piracy, even though iTunes treats me like a criminal; I am only interested in fair use. The right to fairly use the product that I have purchased in the (legal) manner in which I choose.

The iTunes encoding has encouraged me to become a pirate; and after years of refusing to do so I now happily give away MP3s of the songs I own and accept MP3s from others. I give away my MP3s because the RIAA, the musicians, iTunes and the rest of them are treating me unfairly. And I will win this battle.

But, that is not the reason I want to unlock iTunes songs. I have purchased thousands of CDs, records and tapes in my life. I have been a faithful consumer of recorded products and I am insulted that after having purchased three LPs, one cassette, and two CDs of "The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart," the single cut I might download from iTunes is locked! How much of my friggin' money do you thieves want? I should be allowed to burn my purchased cut to CD using any program I choose!

I will win this battle! If they continue to lockdown individual cuts purchased online, I will eventually return to purchasing CDs and rip them to MP3s myself. It means I will make fewer music purchases, so the industry loses again!

The industry may have made it harder for people to swap cuts online, but we can simply burn them to CD-RW, or send them via email, and trade them back and forth. Surely it's not as instant as something like the old Napster, but if I am willing to do it, when I was unwilling to use the old Napster, then the industry has clearly failed.

Back to JHymn! It's simple to use (well, I can use it so it must be simple to use) and it really works and the price is right! Check it out.

Click here to download the JHymn program and start unlocking your encoded files!

Back to RealPlayer! I use the AutoPlaylist feature to generate a random list of songs I have not burned to CD, totaling about 80 minutes. I then mark those songs as used so they will not appear on a future mixed CD. I burn the CD and I have mixed music! Hooray!

The one drawback to the feature is that you cannot limit the list to include only one cut from each artist. It is possible that an eighty minute mix could yield three Frank Sinatra cuts and no P.I.L. cuts. I have been writing them for years about this, and have received some email responses from developers that this is a great idea. Still, it is not included in the current version of the software.

So I wrote again:
Dear RealPlayer:

I have been a licensed RealPlayer user for a very long time. I prefer your product over all the others!

There are two improvements I would like to see:

1. An autoplaylist tool that will prevent multiple cuts from one artist. That is, I want to burn an 80-minute CD, but I do not want an artist to appear more than once in the mix. There could be a tick-box on the Clip Selection Rule page for "Artist" (along with the NOT box) that says "ONE cut per artist" or the such.

2. An export feature that allows me to collect a list of songs I have in my RealPlayer.

Thank you,
Dick Mac

I doubt I will hear from them, but I think it is a great idea.

Back to iTunes. They suck. I hate them. I always thought Apple was outside the mainstream, but they are clearly just an arm of the law trying to restrict the fair use of music by people who pay their bills. They want your money, but they don't care that their service is (at best) immoral.

I encourage everyone to share their MP3s with friends. It's easy to find my list of available songs, and if there is one you want, maybe I can oblige!

Dick Mac Recommends:

MP3 for Dummies
Andy Rathbone

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