Joining existing audio tracks for sequential playback
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Q: I’ve seen questions and answers regarding how to join tracks with respect to CD downloads, however, I have not seen any responses regarding how to join tracks from iTunes purchases. As an example, I purchased the Beatles Abbey Road album from iTunes. Multiple songs on that album need to be played sequentially to sound correct. If I play songs by artist or by album, great, however if I have shuffle turned on, which is most of the time, those particular songs are always out of sequence. Is there any way to link these songs?
A: Unfortunately, iTunes by itself only provides the ability to join tracks during import from CD; once a track is in your library, your only option is to either reimport it from CD or look to third-party tools.
Note that if you’re using an iPod classic or an older iPod nano (prior to the 6th generation), you can actually set these devices to shuffle by album, which will ensure that your tracks are played in the proper sequence from each album before moving on to the next album. When enabled, this setting applies even when listening to playlists in shuffle order; a playlist containing two or more tracks from a given album will always be played together whenever the shuffle mode is set to “Album” mode.
Sadly, Apple decided to remove Album Shuffle mode in the sixth- and seventh-generation iPod nano and all iOS devices. For an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, there are third-party apps that can accomplish the same thing, such as Euphony (iTunes link), although you’ll need to be playing your music through these third-party apps to use this feature, bypassing the built-in iOS Music app entirely.
Joining your purchased tracks together is definitely the best way to ensure that they always play together, although of course you’ll lose the ability to play them individually unless you also keep the original, unjoined files around as well. While iTunes can’t do this for you directly, there are several third-party tools that can certainly help you out here. Note that in order to accomplish this, you must be using non-DRM-protected AAC files—there are no third-party solutions that will join DRM-protected tracks together; all music sold on the iTunes Store since 2009 is unprotected, however, so this should only be an issue if you have an older library of purchased content.
If you’re a Mac user, the simplest—and free—option is join together from Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes. This is an AppleScript that uses QuickTime to automate the process of joining two or more tracks together into a single, AAC file.
There are a number of Windows utilities specifically designed to join AAC files as well, but these tend to be priced in the $25-$30 range. A Google search should turn up several options, however we have not specifically reviewed or tested any of these and are therefore hesitant to recommend any specific tools. Further, these tend to be costly for an app designed for such a single-purpose task—after all an AAC file is simply an audio file, and therefore any audio track editor that can provide support for this format, such as the free and open source Audacity should be able to merge these files for you. This will generally involve the slightly more manual process of loading the tracks in and merging them in the editor interface, but is not really a difficult process unless you’re planning to merge large numbers of tracks in a single operation.
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