The scoop on itunes artwork

I just got off the phone with Applecare, asking a bunch of questions about managing artwork. For those interested, I though I'd post the answers here. Any additional knowledge to add, feel free. Here is a log of my Q/A:

I have a large library, with many missing artwork(s). I've been manually adding artwork for each album, by having the artwork display on (located lower left in itunes), going through my library album by album, and for each album where artwork doesn't show up, dragging a google album cover image into the artwork display area. I should note that my library has a variety of song formats: aiff, alac, mpeg, mp3, wav. Here are my questions:

Q1 - Is this an appropriate method?

A1 - Yes. Better to update artwork on the album level than the song level, so this is appropriate. Another way to associate artwork on the album level is to highlight all album songs, go into “get info”, and add the artwork there. This is more cumbersome and adds no advantage to the method described above.

Q2 - where does the new artwork actually reside with this method? I looked at my "artwork" folder within my "itunes" folder, and its “modified” date was long ago. That makes me think the artwork is being stored somewhere else. Can you tell me specifically where artwork is stored? Might the storage method vary for music files of different format, or processed differently within itunes (e.g. purchased from the store, artwork added automatically during CD ripping, artwork added manually later)

A2 - Music that comes from the apple store is in the album artwork folder, other sources are stored in the library itself or the library xml. The Apple advisor says he thinks that itunes no longer embeds artwork into songs. Beyond the source distinction (itunes store vs. other), the method of storing artwork does not vary with the format of the song file. I asked about wav files, which do not seem to support linking to a graphic file, and he had not heard of that problem.

Q3 - If I assign artwork to just one track, does Itunes assign it to the whole album, or do I need to select the entire album to make this happen? This is a lot of work, so I want to do it right the first time.

A3 - If you select a song and go to “get info”, you can associate an image to just to that song. If you just associate with a song, the rest of the songs on the album will not have associated artwork.

Q4 – Can you advise me on how to properly back things up so that I don't ever have to do this again. For this, I need to understand how itunes associates artwork for a given song. Does it associate artwork entirely within the library (i.e. does the library link song tags to artwork in the itunes artwork folder: so if you lost your library, you'd be in real trouble)? Or, does itunes associate artwork to the tag in each song (i.e. when I add artwork, is each song tag modified with specific artwork information, or with the artwork itself)? I back up my whole music folder (1.3 tb), and my library stuff. Should I be backing up my artwork folder too? Do all these three items need to be backed up to maintain the artwork? If I had to rebuild my library from scratch, is there a way I’d be able to retain the artwork associations?

A4 - When you add artwork, it does not affect the song tag. As noted above, the artwork remains either in the artwork folder (for purchased music) or embedded in the library and library.xml files. He recommends that you back up your entire itunes folder rather than individual files within it, along with your itunes music (mine is separate, so I copy my itunes folder onto my external music hard drive, and then back up that entire hard drive). I asked about the “old libraries” folder and he explained that this is created when you switch (upgrade) versions of itunes. Itunes saves the old library associated with the old version. You can delete the “old libraries” folder without harm.

Q5 – Are there ways to make the management of artwork more secure and invulnerable to future disruptions. I know there are scripts that do things such as embed artwork into song tracks or add an artwork file to each folder, so that each folder contains a jpg with the cover art. (BTW - The Squeezebox system requires one of these two options to "see" artwork, though it does have a new experimental feature to extract artwork from itunes, a friend of mine has not had success with it). If I did this, would my data storage be more invulnerable to losing either the itunes library file or the itunes artwork folder? Is this a wise “insurance” step?

The only way to gain security is to keep a good backup of your entire backup folder along with your itunes music folder (even if it’s in a separate location).

Hope that is helpful. Peter S.
By the way, if anyone has any tips on bringing artwork into the squeeze system software, please let us know!!!
For those interested, there is definitely something different about how itunes handles aiff artwork. For all other formats, I see itunes updating the artwork song by song, and it takes a little while. For aiff it does it immediately, no song-by-song update. Something is different but I don't know what it is.

artwork in the squeeze system is very easily handled with an application that can be downloaded for free called album art downloader. It downloads a file called Folder.jpg and puts in every record folder you have on your drive.
Perrew - thanks for the input. Does the automatically downloaded artwork replace the associations itunes has already made? I've read about some automatic programs replacing higher quality images with low quality or wrong images, without giving the user any option or heads up. Since itunes doesn't manage images within the folder, it sounds like it would not interfere - so this may be a solution for squeeze system users.

Below is another solution, a thread I found on pinkfishmedia. It seems accurate with everything I've learned so far. I haven't calculated how much larger it would be to embed artwork in all of your songs, but will do so sometime soon.


As for album artwork: The solution I've adopted with cover art is to embed the artwork in the song file itself, rather than using the iTunes artwork database.

Normally, iTunes stores artwork in its own little database, independent of the sound files themselves. A lookup-table matches pictures to songs. But when you want to use the sound files elsewhere (e.g. using a different media player, or playing through iTunes on a different computer using the 'sharing' facility) the album covers are often unavailable.

If you embed the album artwork in the sound file, then it's available to anything that uses the sound file. The downside is storage and transmission inefficiency--each sound file from an album will contain a copy of the album cover if an album contains 10 tracks, the picture is stored in 10 places; and when you stream/share/transmit a sound file, you've got to get the picture across first (it's stored in the sound file's header) before the song can start. But since we're talking lossless/raw formats here rather than titchy mp3s, size is clearly not the highest priority.

Another benefit of embedding artwork within a file is that iTunes won't loose it. I've often despaired when I've chosen "Get Album Artwork" only to find that artwork which was available has vanished! Perhaps I've modified the Artist or Album name or some other tag, or perhaps iTunes artwork matching has gone screwy, but it's infuriating. But no more...

Here's how to embed cover art into an album's sound files (assuming the file format permits it):

If you have the cover artwork available for the album within iTunes:
(e.g. iTunes has found matching cover art). Play (or select) a song from the album so that you can see the cover art in the pane in the bottom left corner of the iTunes window. Right click on the artwork and choose 'copy'.
Select all the songs on an album and choose "Get Info" (cmd-I) to bring up the "Multiple Item Information" window.
Paste your copied album cover (or drag an image file) into the 'Artwork' box. Click OK.
And that's it.

The album cover will now be stored in the sound file of each track and will be available to any application on any device that can access and read sound files in that format. Unfortunately iTunes makes it very difficult to distinguish between artwork that's stored within the sound file and artwork that stored in the iTunes artwork database. The way I check if a picture is embedded within the file is to set iTunes up on my main computer to share its library to other computers on the network. Then, run iTunes on a second computer and play the tracks in question from the main computer's shared library. If the artwork shows up on the second computer, it's stored within the sound file. If not, it's stored in the main computer's iTunes database.


I've noticed if iTunes finds the cover art, it tags it very quickly, whereas if you tag it manually, it goes through each track individually. Yet both methods show in info/artwork. Albums that I have manually inserted artwork, where it cycles through individual tracks, do not show artwork on other computers under shared library. I assume I am not embedding the artwork with the separate tracks.
You can pick the size e.g. 300x300 or 600x600 and you get to see suggestions before you pick your wanted picture.
Works great.
Sounds like it should work well for populating artwork for the squeeze system. I looked around on the web - it's not very well documented, so I guess you just have to run it to try it out. I assume that it works independently of itunes, and doesn't really supply itunes with artwork - correct? I assume you can limit the folders that it searches (I have so many, don't want to overwhelm it).
1024 kb per mb
40 kb per 300x300 image
7 mb typical mp3 song
0.6% increase in storage per mp3 song
300 mb per typical alac album
30 mb per typical alac song
0.13% increase in storage per alac song
550 mb per typical aiff album
55 mb per typical aiff song
0.07% increase in storage per aiff song
Good info - thanks for posting.

I've had the Duet for about a year. No artwork came through from my ripped CD's into the MySqueezebox program eventhough it was in Itunes. Also everyone of my album folders in Windows Explorer had a cover.jpg file that showed a thumbnail of the artwork when I clicked on it. Then, I recently saw the new "experimental" Itunes artwork extractor so 1. I deleted my entire squeezbox library along with all preferences and 2. Rescanned after checking the "Use Itunes" and the "experimental" extract Itunes Artwork check boxes. "Et Voila". All the Artwork Itunes had was visible on my Duet controler, but not every CD in my Itunes had the artwork to begin with. So, anyway 90% is better than 1%. Hope this works for everyone.