Seeking Silence

I solved a tricky little problem today and want to document it in case anyone else encounters it. But first, some background.

Our ballroom dance club is trying something different at our March dance. Up to now, we’ve always had live music, and that tradition will continue. But, for a variety of reasons, we’re going to try some prerecorded music, sort of DJ-style…without the DJ.

I’ve created a play list in iTunes of about 50 songs for the evening, providing a wide variety of music for the most popular steps (foxtrot, waltz, swing, rumba, cha cha, tango, and salsa), and we’re going to stream the music through a sound system via an iPad. The music is outstanding, but when Debbie and I gave the play list a run-through (well, a dance-through, to be exact), we discovered an unanticipated problem. There’s not enough time between the songs.

Now, you would typically want the DJ to keep the music going in a continuous stream, but this isn’t a nightclub or mosh pit. Well, sometimes it does resemble a mosh pit, but that’s mostly unintentional. Anyway, ballroom dancing is a bit more formal, and we want to give people some time to get on and off the floor.

Here’s the problem. iTunes, by default, puts two seconds between each song in a play list, and there’s no preference or option to change that. There is an option to cross-fade songs (one fades out while the next fades in), but that doesn’t help us a bit.

I tried googling a solution and found that this situation is not a problem for the vast majority of folks. In fact, most people want to know how to shorten the gap between songs. I did find one suggestion to put a short recording of, well, nothing in between each song but that seemed inelegant and tedious. Surely Apple, in its ubër-elegant and ultra-non-tedious design, had a better solution.

Uh, nope. I posted my dilemma on the discussion board on the  Apple website and the only workable solution that was suggested was – you guessed it – an “empty” audio file used as a spacer between songs. (This approach is reminiscent of a staple of website design back in the 90s, before CSS, when we used 1 pixel transparent GIFs to provide the desired spacing around various elements on the website. Can you say “inelegant” and “tedious”? And, uh, “effective”?)

So, I found a 15-second “empty” mp3 and downloaded it (it was advertised as a free download; I just hope the creators actually cleared the copyright issues around that bit of silence). I then imported it into iTunes, and dragged it into my play list.

Once in the play list, I copied-and-pasted the mp3 as many times as was needed to separate the songs, and then dragged the instances of the mp3 through the play list to provide the inter-song gaps. That’s when I realized again the genius of Apple’s iTunes music database approach. The actual “song” resides in one place; the duplicates are simply pointers to that one song.

Why is this important? Well, I discovered that 15 seconds was too long. That pause borders on uncomfortable. Ten seconds would be just about right. But that means I have to delete all those 15-second gaps, find a 10-second mp3, and repeat the import/copy/paste/drag process, right? Wrong.

If you select “Get Info” under the “File” menu in iTunes for a highlighted song, it provides an option (under the Option tab – go figure) for specifying a start and end time for the selected song. This allows a sort of on-the-fly cropping of an audio file, and it was the perfect solution for my “got 15 seconds of nothing but need only 10” problem. I simply selected one of the instances of the silent mp3 and set the end time to 10 seconds. As if by magick, all the other copies of the mp3 took on that same setting throughout the play list.

Now, this is where the elegance finally appears. Since I haven’t physically edited the sound file, there are still 15 seconds of silence contained therein, and if I decide I want a larger gap, I can restore up to the full amount with that single setting. (There is a complication if I want to use, say, a 10 second gap on one play list and 15 seconds on another. In that case, I’ll need to physically duplicate the original mp3, rename it, and import it to iTunes.)

So, there’s a pretty detailed solution to a rather obscure problem. But if someone out there needs a way to increase the gap between songs in iTunes (that’s a little trick to help Google find this post) then I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, and my job here is finished. Heck, I’ll even provide a link so you can download your own slice of silence.

I’ll let you know how the dance turns out. We’re a little nervous. Ballroom dancers are such traditionalists, and they’re like a pack of rabid hyenas under a full moon if things don’t suit them.


  1. Hey, thanks for being a careful reader! I wondered if anyone would pick up on that detail.
    I still have some old client sites that have spacer gifs. I suppose that’s a testament to both the efficacy of the solution and the cheapness of some of my clients who don’t want to spring for a design update. 😉

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