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How to Keep Your iTunes Video Library Organized

How to Keep Your iTunes Video Library Organized

    Sometimes, I think I’m way too anal about some things. According to some of the comments on my previous posts, you agree. But nothing beats how much of a Nazi I am when it comes to my iTunes library.

    Sure, I know the clamor is coming; iTunes sucks, use (insert alternative software here) instead. I’m on a Mac as I write this, I own an iPhone and an Apple TV and a few other Macs are planted here and there around the house. So it just makes plain sense for me to use iTunes.

    But I hate the hoops you have to jump through to keep your iTunes video library in a decent state.

    It used to be that I had to save my AVI movies as “pretend” MP4 files, or create separate reference files that just masqueraded as MP4s when they actually pointed to the original AVI. That was pretty bad, especially since the latter option created a bit of a mess in my folder structure and used up more space.

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    Then I got my iPhone, and then later on my Apple TV, and both of these only run MOVs and MP4s. You can hack the Apple TV and jailbreak the iPhone, but I’m too lazy to play with the iPhone’s innards (“What! You’re a Lifehack writer!” I hear you say) and I tried the Apple TV hacks and didn’t think the system was smooth or integrated enough.

    So, the level of complexity in keeping a workable, networkable iTunes library together just got much greater. And we haven’t even spoken about music, though admittedly that does a much better job of organizing itself and it’s possible to fix simple things without relying on a script.

    There are a few things that are important to having a functional and organized iTunes video library:

    • The files are correctly named.
    • The files are in well-organized folder structures, not straggled around the hard drive.
    • The file metadata is correct; the file actual name and the file’s title in iTunes aren’t the same thing and what works for one doesn’t work for the other.
    • The file works across all devices I want it to work across.

    Before I import television shows in particular, I go into Preferences and tell iTunes not to make a copy of the file when it imports it. I manually go into the iTunes folder structure and create a folder for the show inside the actual iTunes TV Shows folder. Otherwise, when iTunes imports, it’ll make a copy in the movies folder. That’s not a well-organized folder structure! Part of the process we’ll be using actually fixes this automatically, but as I said, I can be strange about maintaining my library and you might want to skip this step (if you’re following along the whole way).

    When it comes to movies, though, this isn’t so important, and if you like the way iTunes organizes music in folders you’ll want to turn it back on when you’re done (at the end of the whole process, that is, not just after you’ve created the new folder).

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    Before adding the files to iTunes, I go through and check the file names. For movies, I just want the title, nothing more or less. But for TV shows, I usually adopt a structure such as this:

    Show – Episode Name – Season/Episode

    So, that might be:

    The Office – An American Workplace – S01E01

    It can be hard to keep a TV series in order, especially when they’re long (like Stargate!). So if your iTunes database corrupts, you’re going to want a clear title that tells you everything.

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    Once your television show is in the right folder, drag the file into iTunes. The iTunes Movies pane is pretty shocking at handling TV Shows, which is why there’s a separate pane for them. But Apple doesn’t let you change the video type from movie to TV show manually. You have to use the Set Video Kind of Selected AppleScript for iTunes.

    This AppleScript lets you set four things:

    • Whether the video is a movie, television show, or music video,
    • The show name,
    • Season number,
    • Episode number start.

    This is great because you can import a whole season of television shows at once, select them in the movies pane, set them as a TV show, set the show name and season number, and then you just enter the episode number of the earliest episode in the series and it orders the rest for you.

    When you set the file as a TV show, it will move that file into the TV Shows folder structure automatically.

    But what do you do when the file is not an iTunes compatible file? You’ve got a few options.

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    1. Go into QuickTime, go to File > Save As, and save a reference movie. It will point to the original video, but iTunes will treat it as though it’s an MOV or MP4 file. However, your Apple TV will not play it, and nor will your iPhone.
    2. Use the Drop to Make M4V Movies AppleScript. You can drop a bunch of videos onto this droplet and it’ll convert them all to M4V format, save them to your Movies folder, and then add them to iTunes. It requires QuickTime Pro, though.
    3. Get Handbrake, convert your stuff manually, and drop it into iTunes.

    Once the file is converted and in iTunes, it’s a matter of using the Set Video Kind AppleScript to sort them into the right places.

    And finally, I like to have metadata filled out nicely, mainly for the sake of my Apple TV—if I’m flicking through all ten seasons of Stargate SG-1 I want to have the description of each episode there, as it’s easy to get lost! There was an app I once tried that automatically converted videos in a “drop box” folder to an iTunes compatible format, put it in your library, and then automatically searched IMDB for all the metadata and filled it in. I didn’t like the app, but that was a great idea.

    Now, I just make a quick trip to IMDB and fill in the episode descriptions—it’s quick and easy since they provide them in the season listing—but I’m definitely looking out for a quick way to fill these fields in automatically without using that conversion software!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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