iTunes...Your Personal Music Library

iTunes PreferencesMy original intention was to use my iPhone for business purposes, but since getting it I’ve purchased 1,752 songs, movies, and music videos from iTunes, Apple’s online music store. You can access the store via the iTunes app on your iPhone or iPod touch, or via the iTunes application for your PC or Mac, which you can download for free from Apple. The iTunes application is the only way you can access the store.

Fig. 1: The iTunes Preferences screen lets you customize import, playback, and other features. (PC version shown here; Mac version similar.)

iTunesPreferences2MacOnce installed, the iTunes application lets you download and manage media content you purchase from the store. It also lets you import content from other sources and includes a music player so you can listen to the content. The iTunes store itself houses a massive collection of music, videos, movies, television shows, and podcasts.

Fig. 2: Select the quality of the music you download using the Import Settings screen (Mac version).

If you haven’t already done this, install the iTunes app on your PC or Mac. Open your Web browser, go to Apple’s iTunes download page (, click on the “Download Now” link, and follow the onscreen instructions. After iTunes has been installed, you’ll be asked to establish an iTunes Store account. You will need a major credit card and valid e-mail address to open an account.

Rip your CDs to your iTunes library

Before you start purchasing music from iTunes, you might want to take advantage of the music you already have on CDs. To rip these to your iTunes library, follow these steps:

  1. Insert an audio CD into your computer’s internal CD or DVD drive.
  2. When the list of songs appears in the iTunes window, deselect any songs you don’t want to import.
  3. To add the selected songs to your library, click the Import CD button at the bottom of the iTunes window. (To cancel importing, click the small X next to the progress bar at the top.)
  4. When the songs are finished importing, click the Eject symbol to the right of the CD.

By default, the music you rip from a CD is translated using AAC encoding, the default audio format for the iPhone and iPod touch. You can change this to MP3 or WMA encoding by clicking on the iTunes Edit menu and selecting the Preferences option. Then click on the “Import Settings” button in the middle of the screen. The iTunes Preferences page (Fig. 1) lets you customize the playback of music, sharing of content, device synchronization, parental controls, and more.

All iTunes music is now DRM free

Originally, the iTunes store sold two kinds of music tracks. Most songs were priced at $0.99, were recorded at a bit rate of 128 kilobits per second (kbps), and were protected by digital rights management (DRM). For $0.30 more per item, you could purchase a single song without DRM, recorded at 256 kbps. DRM placed limits on how a consumer could use the music track. A song recorded at 256 kbps has higher audio quality but is almost twice the file size of a 128 kbps song.

Earlier this year, Apple dropped the lower bit rate/DRM protected option. Now, all music tracks sold in the iTunes Store are DRM free and by default download at 256 kbps. This means that music you purchase from the iTunes Store will take up more space on your iPod touch or iPhone. However, since there are no longer any DRM restrictions, you can copy this music to other devices.

The truth is that you may not be able to notice the difference between a song recorded at 128 kbps and one recorded at 256 kbps. If you want to conserve file storage space, you can download your iTunes tracks at 128 kbps. To do this, go to the Edit menu, select Preferences, and click on the “Import Settings” button (see Fig. 2). Leave “Import Using” set to “AAC Encoder” and Select “High Quality (128 kbps)” from the Setting drop-down menu. I would also make sure the box labeled “Use error correction…” is checked, especially if you experience problems with the audio quality of the CDs you rip. From this point on, any music you download from iTunes will be imported at the 128 kbps rate.

iTunes acts as your all-inclusive library for your music, podcasts, videos, music videos, movies, and television shows. The next step is to move some or all of that content to your iPhone or iPod touch. You do this via syncing.

Syncing content to your iPhone

Syncing your iPod touch and iPhone is the only way to get media onto your devices. You can do this manually or set iTunes to auto sync every time you connect your device. During sync, iTunes will identify any media purchased in iTunes that needs to be added to your library or iPhone. Additionally, if you purchased any media using the iTunes app on your iPhone or iPod touch, this content will be transferred into your iTunes library.

iTunesSummaryTabOnce your device is connected to your computer, you will see the following tabs: Summary, Info, Ringtones, Music, Photos, Podcasts, Videos, and Applications (depending on device). The Summary tab (Fig. 3) is the most important tab because it displays vital information about your iPhone or iPod touch. The information tab is also important and has choices for MobileMe, Calendar, Contacts, etc. Music is probably the tab you will use the most next to Applications. Under the Music tab, you can select what music you want to sync onto your iPhone from your iTunes library. The Ringtones, Photos, Podcasts, and Videos tabs are self explanatory—you manage these media types under those tabs.

Fig. 3 (above): The iTunes Summary tab displays vital info about your device.

Organize music into playlists

Playlists are one of the most important and most frequent tools you will use in your iTunes library. A playlist is a group of chosen songs or music videos placed under a heading that you have the ability to select or deselect on your iPhone during synchronization. You can create a playlist for an album, an artist, a genre, a time period (like the 80’s), etc. One tip: The name you give your playlist should tell you what type of music is in it.

Creating and naming playlists

iTunesNewPlaylistTo create a new playlist, open iTunes, click on the File menu in the upper left corner of the screen, and select “New Playlist” from the menu (Fig. 4). The new “untitled playlist” will appear on the left side of the screen, under the Playlists heading; give it a name.

Fig. 4: Create a new playlist from the iTunes File menu (Mac version)


Populating playlists

Once you’ve created and named your playlist, you need to populate it with songs and/or videos. The easiest way to do this is to drag and drop it from one folder to another. Simply open your main music or movie library, right-click on the desired song or video, and drag it into the playlist.

A second, more time consuming way to do this is to right-click on the desired song or video, select “Add to playlist” from the pop-up menu, and select the desired playlist.

View settings

Since we’re visual creatures, the view setting is important. To access your options, click on the View menu in the top left corner of iTunes. The first three options in this menu are “as List” (a simple text list of music), “as Grid” (a grid of album covers and titles), and “as Cover Flow” (a combination of grid and list views). The other important choice in the View menu is the “View Options” selection, which can only be accessed when you are in the “as List” view. View Options allows you to specify the information you want displayed about each song. Use this option if you want to display more detailed information about your songs.

iTunes DJ and Genius

These two options are included with more recent versions of iTunes and show up under the Playlists heading on the left side of the screen.

When selected, iTunes DJ takes you to a song it considers a good match to the music genre you are currently listening to. iTunes Genius takes this a step further. Simply select any song from your library and press the Genius button; Genius creates a playlist populated with songs selected from your music library that Genius “feels” will go well with the song you originally selected. Note that you have to activate Genius before you can use it.

iTunes Store; final tips

You access the iTunes Store by clicking on its link in the left column of the iTunes app. There are a number of different menus in the store, but finding what you want is pretty easy. If you know the name of the song, album, or artist, you can use the Power Search option in the right column to find it. Once you’ve found the song or album, click on the “Buy Album” or “Buy Song” link to purchase it. Once you confirm this, it will begin to download into your iTunes library and appear in the left column.

If you ever become totally confused, click on Help at the top of the screen. The Help menu has a number of options and should be able to answer most of your questions. You can also go to and do a search on your question. Be as specific as you can with either option.

Ripping CDs; Syncing content; Organizing music into playlists; more.
Summer 2009
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