Mastering Quicksilver: Advanced Control of iTunes

There are two kinds of Mac users: those who use apps like Alfred, LaunchBar or Quicksilver, and those who don’t. If you fall under the second category, I greatly encourage you to try one of those apps: you have not unleashed the full potential of OS X until you get your hands on these gems. And while we’re talking about trying one, why not go for the only one that’s completely free: Quicksilver? If you’re not sure, go read our review first.

Already convinced Quicksilver can help you in your everyday tasks? Perfect! We have crafted in-depth tutorials so as you can get the most of it, either for replacing the Finder or browsing your contacts and sending emails. The series keep on rolling today with some basic — and more interestingly, advanced — ways of controlling iTunes with Quicksilver.

The Basics

First things first, you need to install the iTunes plugin if not already done. Just check the box left to iTunes plugin in Preferences > Preferences > Plugins and you’re good to go.

There are three different catalog entries for iTunes:

  • iTunes Playlists
  • iTunes Controls
  • and iTunes Equalizer Presets

I suggest you go to the Catalog of Quicksilver Preferences, open the info drawer by clicking on the round i button in the bottom right of the window and click on Contents to have a sneak peak at everything listed.

Screenshot showing iTunes Controls in the Catalog.

Keep in mind that the info drawer is useful when you want to know whats stored — thus, actionable — in the Catalog of Quicksilver. Here, the iTunes Controls list contains some self-explanatory actions.

The iTunes plugin comes with some preferences of its own (Preferences > Preferences > iTunes). I won’t describe them here because they are pretty self-explanatory. Moreover, the built-in documentation, which can be accessed for instance by clicking the round ? button in the bottom right of the window, is detailed yet concise enough to get you started.

Screenshot showing iTunes options for Quicksilver.

Clicking the round ? button in the bottom right leads you to an in-depth documentation about controlling iTunes.

I won’t describe in details how to use obvious actions like:

  • searching for tracks/albums/playlists, which is very similar to the way you browse your hard drive
  • controlling the playback or adjusting the volume : Play, Pause, Stop, Next, Previous, as well as Increase Volume, Decrease Volume and Mute are not difficult to understand and use.

Instead, there are some advanced use cases I’d like to show you now.

Advanced Tips

Show Playing Track

If you don’t use something like Bowtie and want to know what the currently playing track is, use the Show Playing Track > Run action. It should be obvious if you’ve scrolled through all available iTunes Controls as seen in the Catalog. What you might not know, however, is that there are — at least — three ways of displaying the result. While the Quicksilver window is displayed, press Command-comma and have a look at Preferences > Preferences > Handlers > Notification. You can choose between Notification Center, Quicksilver (Built-in) or, for the geekiest of you, the good-old Console. If you select the built-in Quicksilver handler, the track info shows up in a nice popup centered on your screen.

Screenshot showing the "Show playing track" built-in notification.

The built-in way of showing the currently playing track might fit your tastes better than Notification Center.

Playing with iTunes Equalizer Presets

Each iTunes equalizer preset included in the Catalog can be directly applied right within Quicksilver. While playing a track, try typing just baboo then hit Enter to run the Bass Booster Equalizer preset > Set EQ Preset command, for instance.

Screenshot showing the iTunes Equalizer Presets in the Catalog

All existing iTunes Equalizer Presets are included in the catalog of Quicksilver by default once youve installed the iTunes plugin. You can check this in the Content tab of the related info drawer.”

If you issue the Toggle iTunes Equalizer > Run command (togg then Enter is enough with my Quicksilver configuration), you won’t see any feedback confirming this worked. But believe me, it works. If you’re playing a track, just give iTunes a few seconds and you’ll start noticing the difference. Even if you’re not playing a track — and even if iTunes is not running — it still works: it will silently launch iTunes in the background and toggle the setting.

What the Toggle iTunes Equalizer > Run command does, from a GUI (Graphical User Interface) point of view, is checking/unchecking the box next to On in the Equalizer window of iTunes. See it for yourself: open iTunes, show the Equalizer window (menu Window > Equalizer or its Alt-Command–2 keyboard shortcut), then issue the Toggle iTunes Equalizer > Run command in Quicksilver.

Screenshot showing iTunes Equalizer turned off.

Here Ive just toggled the EQ off. Issue the Toggle iTunes Equalizer > Run command again and it will be back on.

Keep in mind that this command does not change the selected preset itself, just its on/off state. So if the Flat EQ is selected and the Preamp parameter set to zero dB, you won’t hear any difference, of course. But combined with the ability to switch to a different EQ preset by directly typing its name in Quicksilver, you have a pretty fine-tuned control of equalization in iTunes.

The Comma Trick in iTunes

Remember what Merlin Mann calls the Comma trick? I showed you you can use it to select multiple Finder items. Well, the Comma trick lets you select multiple iTunes items (albums, artists, tracks, genres…) as well, so you can play them or add them to playlists.

Change Rating Gradually

In my humble opinion, creating HotKey Triggers for playing/pausing a track, going to the next/previous one or adjusting the volume is not really useful, since you already have dedicated media keys for this on all modern Mac keyboards.

However, if you frequently rate tracks while playing them, I’ve got a trick for you. Because the iTunes Controls Catalog entry gives you six different Set Rating to [x] star(s) actions (where x is a number between 0 and 5), you could of course assign six different HotKey Triggers for each of them. Or… you could benefit from an under-exposed feature: the Repeat every parameter. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Invoke Quicksilver and type Increase Rating or whatever abbreviation matches it
  2. Press Tab to go to the second pane, but instead of hitting Enter, hit Control-Enter: this combines the first two panes into one that reads Execute Increase Rating
  3. You should still be in the second pane. Search for the Add Trigger action, then press Tab to reach the third pane.
  4. Type h in this third pane. This should replace the default Group object by HotKey.
  5. Now, hit Enter. The Triggers pane of the Preferences opens up, with your newly-created Execute Increase Rating HotKey Trigger already selected and the info drawer opened up.

Congrats! You’ve just added a new Quicksilver thing using Quicksilver itself. Let’s call that “Quicksilverception”.

Screenshot showing how to create a HotKey Trigger right from the Quicksilver 3-pane interface.

Control-Enter is the way of combining the first two panes to chain actions.

Now to the second part:

  1. Click in the Hot Key field in the drawer, under the Settings pane, and while the Set Keys text is blinking, press whatever system-wide keyboard shortcut you want to use to increase the rating of the track currently playing in iTunes. I use Control-Alt-Command-Up arrow.
  2. Under Activate, check Repeat every and specify a number of seconds, say 1. Later on, you might experiment to find whatever repeat delay suits best for you. If you also check the Show Window option next to Display, you’ll see the iTunes icon displayed in a Quicksilver popup window each time you press the keyboard shortcut.
Screenshot showing the Repeat every parameter

You can get fine-tune control of your HotKey Triggers within the Settings pane of the info drawer.

You can now press the Esc key to close the Preferences window of Quicksilver and start using this HotKey Trigger. I suggest you repeat the whole procedure with Decrease Rating as well, assigning for instance the Control-Alt-Command-Down arrow HotKey to it.

Now, if you hold Control-Alt-Command-Up arrow for 3 seconds, you’ve just increased the rating of the currently playing track by 3 steps, with just one key combo. The geekiest among you should now see stars in their eyes and think of Keyboard Maestro-like tricks.

What You Can’t Do… or Can You?

I think of two iTunes features Quicksilver can’t do directly for you, i.e with dedicated actions:

  • toggle Repeat
  • create new playlists

However, you can achieve this with the User Interface plugin that I’ll cover in a forthcoming article (or with AppleScript and/or Automator, probably, too). In fact, I’ve yet to find something that can’t be done with Quicksilver!

What Next?

If you’re following our series from the start, now you know how to use Quicksilver for manipulating files and folders, sending emails with attached files, and controlling iTunes. In the forthcoming weeks, you will learn how to control your web browsers, perform web searches, use Quicksilver as a clipboard manager, manipulate text and images, and do some geekier stuff.

In the meantime, should you need more info on some iTunes-related topics, feel free to ask anything in the comments section below.


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