iTunes: It's All About the Music


Apple's first slogan for iTunes was "Rip. Mix. Burn." It succinctly listed the three tasks the software performed: rip audio tracks from CDs into MP3s, store them on a computer where users can create their own mixes, and burn them to a CD. Previous articles about iTunes have explored some of the more advanced features of Apple's powerful and complex software, from managing iOS devices and apps to obtaining iTunes University content. iTunes has been around for 10 years, and most long-time Mac users are familiar with using it to manage their music library. But the tremendous growth of the iOS platform has introduced iTunes to many people for the first time. New iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners might need some help using iTunes to manage their digital music library. This column will guide new iTunes users through the process of acquiring music for their digital music library.

Ripping music from an audio CD

Importing (or "ripping") an audio CD into iTunes is as easy as inserting the CD into your computer's optical disc drive. However, you need to check a few simple settings. Open the iTunes Preference window (iTunes >Preferences on a Mac, Edit >Preferences in Windows) and click the General Tab. Make sure the dropdown tab "When you insert a CD:" is set to "Import CD and Eject" and that "Automatically retrieve CD track names from Internet" is checked. (See the Sidebar "Import Options" for a discussion of file types.)

Purchase music from iTunes

Purchase Music from iTunesiTunes became the biggest music seller in the USA in April 2008. On February 24, 2010, Apple announced that over 10 billion tracks had been downloaded. There are over 13 million songs available for purchase, including songs from The Beatles, who joined iTunes on November 16, 2010. Some popular artists remain unavailable, however, including Garth Brooks, AC/DC, Kid Rock, Tool, Bob Seger, and Def Leppard. You'll need three things to purchase music from the iTunes Store:

After a quick trip to iTunes Preferences, importing audio CDs is as easy as inserting them into your computer.

  1. A version of iTunes installed on your computer. iTunes comes preinstalled on your Mac or iOS device. You can download iTunes for your Mac or PC from Apple's website ( iTunes is built into your iOS device.

  2. An iTunes account.

  3. A means of payment: credit card, gift card, or PayPal account. (For information on how to set up an iTunes account without providing any payment options, read "Creating iTunes account without a credit card" on

Setting up an iTunes account from your Mac or PC

Create new iTunes accountSetting up an account is easy. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and click on the "iTunes Store" link in the left hand Source Pane. Then, click on the "Sign In" link in the upper right hand corner. Note that you can have multiple iTunes accounts for one installation of iTunes.

You can create a new iTunes account through this screen.

Click "Create New Account" or enter your Apple ID or AOL account if you have one. Once you have completed several screens agreeing to iTunes's terms of service, provided a billing address, and a means of payment, you are ready to search the iTunes Music Store. If you don't want to enter your password every time you make a purchase, you can click the "Remember Password" checkbox the next time you are asked to sign in.

Setting up an iTunes account from your iOS device

You can also set up an iTunes account directly from your iOS device. From the Home screen, tap on the Settings icon and select Store in the left column. When a prompt appears, tap on "Create New Account." Follow the screen prompts to create your account.

Find music

List of GenresThe iTunes Store provides an excellent, but sometimes busy interface to help you find music.

Click the Music drop-down menu in the iTunes Store to see a list of genres.

Power SearchBrowse the store's music homepage or select a particular genre from the drop-down menu. If you already know the song or artist you're looking for, use iTunes Search option to find it. The desktop versions of iTunes also have a Power Search option.

The Power Search option on desktop iTunes provides a content-sensitive way to locate iTunes content.


iTunes lets you buy entire albums or individual songs. Click or tap on the "Buy" links and you are asked to enter your password to confirm the purchase. iTunes then downloads your purchase (including album cover art and any additional album extras) into your iTunes Library. Most albums are priced in the $10-$20 range and most individual tracks are $1.29.

You can purchase entire albums or individual tracks from the iTunes Store.

Import Options: MP3, ACC, Apple Lossless Encoder, Compression… What?

When you rip songs from a CD, iTunes creates the resulting files using a separate "encoder" (ACC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, MP3, or WAV) for each format. For each encoder, you can choose from a variety of quality settings (128 or 256 kbps for example). In general, there is a tradeoff between file size and sound quality; the higher the audio quality, the larger the file size. iTunes's default settings (ACC at 128 kbps [kilobits per second]) are perfect for all but the most discerning users. ACC (Advanced Audio Coding) is MPEG-4, the successor to MP3. Generally, it provides better sound quality than an MP3 of similar file size. 

MP3s and ACC are "lossy" encoders. That means some sonic information is lost when iTunes rips a CD. As the name suggests, songs ripped with Apple Lossless do not lose any of their information. But they are on average 2.5 times larger than MP3 or ACC encoded files MP3s or ACC. 

Note that these settings do not apply to music purchased in iTunes. In January 2009, Apple changed the default of songs purchased from the iTunes store to ACC and increased the bit rate to 256 Kbps.

Is an iTunes "Digital Locker" in Your Future?

Reports in late April suggested that two of the four major record companies have signed up with Apple's unannounced cloud-based iTunes Streaming Music Service. The service is expected to be announced as part of an enhanced and radically revised MobileMe program. The new version of MobileMe would include a "digital locker" for storing a user's music, photos, and videos. The service would store user's songs on a remote server and stream them to multiple devices as long as they have an Internet connection.

Apple is playing catch up to Amazon, who introduced its Cloud Player in late March ( There are many questions about the new service: How much will it cost? Will you only be able to store music you purchased from iTunes? Will streaming work only over Wi-Fi or also over 3G? Will you be able to stream to a browser? Hopefully, the answers to these questions will come with Apple's announcement.

Purchasing music from the Amazon Music Store

The iTunes Store is not the only online music seller. offers over 15 million songs in MP3 format at prices that are sometimes cheaper than iTunes, and Amazon makes the process of getting songs into iTunes relatively hassle-free.

Assuming you already have an Amazon account, download and install the free Amazon MP3 Downloader ( There are versions for Mac, Windows, and Linux. After installation, the software will open an Amazon page that walks you through downloading a free MP3. The software adds all downloads to iTunes by default. The process is quick, easy, and often cheaper than iTunes. One potential drawback is that music is encoded at MP3 quality, so they might not sound quite as good as what iTunes offers.

Other download sites include eMusic (, Passionato (, and Magnature (

Add music files you already own to iTunes

iTunes Add To LibraryMany people have a variety of music or audio files they've collected over the years from other sources. There are several ways to get audio files stored on your computer into iTunes. 

On the Macintosh, the most direct way is to drag files or folders directly onto the iTunes icon in the Dock. iTunes attempts to play them, converting them if needed, and then adds them to your iTunes Library. This trick works not only for audio but also for other types of content that iTunes manages like videos, movies, ePub books, PDFs, etc.

Both Macs and Windows can import files directly into iTunes by opening iTunes and selecting File>Add to Library (Mac) or File>Add File to Library or Add Folder to Library (Windows). When the dialog box opens, navigate to the file or folder you want to import and click "Choose." If the file format is incompatible with iTunes, iTunes will prompt you to convert the file.

Import audio files and other media content into iTunes by selecting File> Add to Library (Mac) or File> Add File to Library or Add Folder to Library (Windows).

Apple added a folder in iTunes 9 that automatically syncs music files placed in it to iTunes.

On a Mac, this folder is located in the iTunes sub-folder of your Music folder. Once you've opened the iTunes sub-folder, look for another folder named "iTunes Music" or "iTunes Media." Inside this folder you will find a special folder named "Automatically Add to iTunes." Simply place the files you want to add to iTunes in this folder and sync your iOS device.

On a Windows computer, open C:\Documents and Settings\(user ID)\My Music or C:\Users\(user ID)\My Music and look for the iTunes sub-folder. The "Automatically Add to iTunes" folder should be visible. If it's not, look inside one of the other folders within the iTunes sub-folder.

Almost any music file downloaded from the Internet or sent to you as an e-mail attachment can be placed in this folder and synced with your iTunes Library. The only exceptions are file formats that it can't convert. If iTunes is running, the files are processed immediately—you can actually watch as files disappear from the folder one by one. If iTunes is not running, it will process the files the next time it launches. Files that iTunes cannot process are placed in a subfolder called "Not Added."

iTunes: "There's Music in the Air"

iTunes has always been about music. When introduced over 10 years ago as a Mac only application, it could import audio from CDs, allow a user to easily make playlists, and burn those playlists to recordable CDs… and Internet radio was thrown in for good measure. The latest version of iTunes does the heavy lifting needed to acquire, manage, mix, sync, and stream over a dozen different content types on over 150 million Mac and PC computers and 100s of millions of iOS devices. The iTunes store, which was originally named the iTunes Music store, is now available in 90 countries, has a catalog of 13 million songs, and has sold over a billion of them. In Apple's spring quarter, the iTunes store generated $1.4 billion in revenue.

But Apple is not resting on iTunes's past success. Evidence indicates Apple will introduce "cloud" functionality to iTunes (see sidebar "Is an iTunes Digital Locker in Your Future?") and truly put "Music in the Air."

The basics of managing music with iTunes and your iPhone, iPod or iPad
July-August 2011
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