iTunes Help


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Tutorial Overview

Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. What is iTunes? 4. How Should I Avoid Proprietary File Formats
2. I have decided to use iTunes: what should I do next? 5. Playlists: DJ , Genius and Smart Playlists
3. What is the iTunes Music Store? 6. Competition

What is iTunes?

iTunes is primarily a music management program. It allows you to "rip" the contents of a CD and create a local "library", then create playlists from the library and then synchronise your iPod to the library.

Additionally, iTunes can also be use to download and manage podcast (radio shows in mp3 format), and vodcasts, purchase music from iTunes Music Store and - for iPod Photo and fifth generation iPod hardware versions - synchronise your photos library and view video content.

iTunes is made by Apple. It can however be installed and run on a PC (although its launch is sluggish even on systems with 1GB RAM). Apple users are convinced that Apple has interface and usability issues nailed... but if that is so, they forgot to apply what they know to iTunes. In short, it simply isn't obvious what to do in iTunes... if it were, you wouldn't be reading this iTunes help tutorial!

So why use iTunes? Well, if you have an iPod it is mandatory. So where do you get it...

But before you race off and install iTunes and start copying your CDs to your hard disk, a word of warning. iTunes records your music in its own proprietary file format, that is, it is specific to iTunes and iPod and not portable to other MP3 players. You can however make iTunes record in MP3 (see next section) but this is not the default setting for the software.

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I have decided to use iTunes: what should I do next?

Use third party software to rip all your CDs to MP3 or MP4 files to on your computer's hard drive. Use the 192 kB recording rate to make your MP3s. Or in iTunes, go to the Edit menu and select Preferences, then on the Advanced tab, click Importing and change the Import Using setting to "MP3". Also choose Good Quality (192 kbps).

Similarly in the Preferences > Advanced > Importing dialogue box you can ask iTunes to automatically offer to copy new CDs onto your hard drive. If you do this then iTunes will create a folder at My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music for PC users.

According to Wired Magazine "MP3s ripped with iTunes sound like crap. Don’t think so? Listen closer — with decent headphones. To get more out of your music (with only a small increase in file size), opt for a better MP3 encoder, like LAME. The audio geeks behind LAME continually fine-tune their compression algorithms so cymbals don’t crunch like garbage-can lids, and screaming guitars don’t sound like squeaking Fisher-Price toys. Don’t take our word for it; try it yourself. Download a copy of Exact Audio Copy if you’re a PC."

If you chose to "rip" your files outside iTunes, then in iTunes go to the file menu, then the import menu and to import each folder of MP3s that you have created. As you add folders you will see iTunes build a list of artists, song names and albums in the main iTunes pane.

You can play your songs in iTunes from the library. It is my recommendation that you build playlists and play from your playlists. There are notes on playlists below.

Once you have built a substantial library of songs the next time you connect your iPod and synchronise with iTunes your MP3's will be copied from your PC to your iPod and at the same time converted to iTunes proprietary file format. They will play perfectly fine on your iPod even though they started off life as MP3s

What is the iTunes Music Store?

The iTunes Music Store can be accessed from within the iTunes software. To use it you will need to create and account and give your credit card number up front. Songs purchased in the store cost $1.69 AUD.

Songs purchase in the iTune Music Store carry the following general restrictions on use.

  • Users can make a maximum of seven CD copies of any particular playlist containing songs purchased from the iTunes store.
  • Users can access their purchased songs on a maximum of five computers.

However there are no restrictions on number of iPods to which a purchased song can be transferred nor the number of times any individual song can be burned to CD. Music bought at the iTunes Music Store is controlled by Apple's "Fairplay" digital rights management software. This software places a wrapper around an MP4 file to impose the above limitations.

Songs are encoded using FairPlay-encrypted 128 kbit/s Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) streams in an mp4 wrapper, using the .m4p extension.

How Should I Avoid Proprietary File Formats

My suggestion to you is to avoid either Apple or Microsoft's proprietary file formats by staying with MP3 (and now MP4). There are many, many programs capable of ripping MP3s off your favourite CDs. It's worth noting at this point that in some countries the very act of copying and MP3 files off your CDs is a breach of copyright.

In the future Australia's copyright laws will move more towards those of the United States as result of the Free Trade Agreement signed in 2006. Few people realised this at the time of signing the agreement, but we will be laboured with it from the here on in.

When you are "ripping" your CD collection to MP3 for use on the your iPod or favourite MP3 player, you may encounter some CDs that your music program cannot play or recognise. Some of these include disks distributed by the music company EMI. The CDs have their own little music player on them and encryption that means that your standard music program such as iTunes and the windows media player are unable to play the CDs nor will you be able to rip music of them.

In the personal opinion of the author I believe that this is a dead-end road for the music company. Many people for example do not listened to CDs on their lounge stereo anymore; they listen to music on the move with their iPod. They can tune their iPod to their car radio with Griffin's iTrip, take it to the gym, connect it to their Trivoli Audio iPal radio ... in other words their iPod or MP3 player is at the centre of their music listening experience. If they cannot convert the music to work on that device then they will become very cautious about buying music from such labels. Interestingly in Australia there are such copy protected disks but not across the Tasman in New Zealand.

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In the view of the author, iTunes playlists are really the end game of the software. "Playlist" is essentially a fancy word for making your own music compilations. On the left-hand pain of iTunes you can right mouse click and create a playlist at any time. You can call your playlists whatever you like. For example, you could have a playlists calls "workout" or "nostalgia" or "female contemporary". Whatever you like. Once you have created a playlists you can the drag and drop songs from the library (right hand side) on the playlists (left hand side). You can also drag the songs up and down to give your playlists the order you prefer. There are no limits on the number of songs you can put in a playlists.

In more recent versions of iTunes, Apple has introduced:

1. iTUnes DJ - iTunes DJ playlist continually updates itself - no more for you to do. However check out the two buttons bottom right: "Refresh" and "Settings". The refresh button gives you a complete new list while the settings button allows you to alter the ratio of frequently played songs to upcoming songs.

2. Genius - the Genius function in iTunes does two things. First you can select a single song in your library, right mouse click on it and choose "Start Genius". Immediately a song list is created in the centre column. You can play this, or move it to a iPod or shuffle. Looking closely at these you will see they follow a theme - maybe similar genres, or similar artists, or release dates. You can increase the number of songs in the list top right or "refresh" the list to get different songs. Second, in the right hand side pane, Genius is making recommendations of songs that match the one your chose from your library. You can buy these if something takes your interest.

3. Smart playlist - smart playlist is also a great way to build interesting and related song list. Go File > New Smart Playlist. Complete your options by picking off the drop down menus. Your new playlist will be added to your Playlists in the left hand pane. It can then be added to any iPod, shuffle or iPhone as you normally do. Both the Genius and the Smart Playlist come into their own when and if you have a large library. It wont really be clear how they are useful until you have many, many songs and albums.

More on digital music players, iTunes and iPod.


The iPod isn't the only music player in town. Microsoft recently released the Zune. Reviews of the Zune have not exactly been glowing. But the Zune does have some never-before-seen features built into it. For example it has built-in wifi.

Also, interestingly Microsoft did a deal with Universal Music Group to settle copyright breaches in advance. This of course but the pressure on Apple to do likewise. To date Apple has resisted such an arrangement with the music industry. Detail of the Microsoft/Universal deal here.

Sony also has a range of MP3 players that port the old "Walkman" brand into the twentieth century. They appear more like USB memory sticks than a hand help MP3 player. There approach appears to be an interim solution as Sony Ericsson has the Walkman Phone which is a very complete and usable device.

Samsung has the YP-K3, Creative has the Zen, and Toshiba has the Gigabeat.

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