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iTunes Tune-up 13: Crossfade and pick up the pace

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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As I listened to my iPod the other day, it occured to me that there was something wrong. The song selection was excellent, of course -- after all, I'd hand-picked every tune loaded into the library -- but there wasn't much excitement. Was I *gasp* getting tired of my iPod? No, the problem was the silence between selections. Sometimes songs would fade out and there would be a brief pause before the next tune started.

Back when I worked for a Hot AC station (basically, Top 40 for adults), the cardinal rule was "no dead air." And in order to keep the energy level high, not only couldn't there be any silence, but the ending of one element had to overlap the other. It's the same trick club DJs use. Although I didn't have to worry about beat matching, I still had to crossfade songs, talk over song intros, start commercials as a song faded and so on to keep things moving along (this was all before automation took over -- but after dinosaurs roamed the earth, thank you very much).

iTunes has a crossfade option that serves as a quick and dirty fix for my pacing problem. I went to the "Preferences" menu and selected "Playback." In that menu was the Crossfade Playback option with a slider control. I could set the crossfade to occur anywhere from one to twelve seconds. After experimenting, I found twelve seconds best suited to my personal taste. I hit "OK" to make the change, and that was that.

With the songs now overlapping, there's no more "dead air," and the energy level's decidedly higher. It especially made a difference on the AM Radio smart playlist I set up.

The only downside is that Playback menu settings are global and apply to all my songs in all my playlists. Since I still want clean breaks between selections when I'm listening to classical music, I have to go in and deselect the crossfade option. I also have to do it if I'm listening to more than one podcast in a row.

It's pretty simple to change, though. And it really made a difference with my Party smart playlist. With crossfading, the music went from drab to fab. Just like the old days at Z 96.7...

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