iTunes Tips From Hassle-Free PC

Convert Your iTunes Purchases to MP3s

As you've probably heard by now, Apple recently announced plans to ditch DRM for good. That means all songs you purchase from iTunes will arrive on your PC without the usual copy-protection shackles.

However, this doesn't give you carte blanche. Because Apple still encodes songs using the AAC format, your downloads won't play in many phones, PDAs, MP3 players, and so on.

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to convert iTunes Plus purchases (i.e. the DRM-free versions of songs) to the universally compatible MP3 format. Here's how:

  1. In iTunes, go to Edit, Preferences, General.
  2. Click the Import Settings button.
  3. Change the Import Using option to MP3 Encoder.
  4. In the Setting field, choose Custom, and then set Stereo Bit Rate to your desired setting (I recommend 256 kbps or 320 kbps).
  5. Click OK three times to exit the various windows.

Now you're all set to convert any iTunes Plus download to the MP3 format. To do that, right-click the song and choose Create MP3 Version. Wait a minute or so and presto: iTunes plops an MP3 copy of the song into your library.

Note that you'll have now both versions of the song in your library, so you'll have to do a little housekeeping.

The bigger downside is that converting from AAC to MP3 necessarily involves some loss of audio fidelity. Not much, but if you're a purist, you may want to skip iTunes altogether and buy MP3s outright from a store like AmazonMP3.

Add Album Artwork to Your iTunes Library

iTunes does a respectable job of downloading album artwork, but it seems like there's always a few songs or albums that trip it up. In my library, for instance, the software has trouble with various jazz classics.

Fortunately, it's a simple matter to add artwork to any song that needs it. For starters, let iTunes take another crack at it: Right-click the song and choose Get Album Artwork. If the artwork database was updated since iTunes last scanned your library, you might get lucky.

If not, head to Albumart and search for the album in question. When you find it, click the magnifying glass icon to see a larger version. Then right-click the image and choose Copy (or Copy Image if you're using Firefox).

Head back to iTunes, right-click the song, and choose Get Info. Click the Artwork tab, then right-click in the big empty window and choose Paste. Presto! There's your artwork. Click OK and you're done.

Sync iTunes With (Almost) any Player

When your iPod went to that great electronics graveyard in the sky, you may have replaced it with a non-Apple player--say, a Creative Zen. The problem is, your music library still sits inside iTunes, complete with painstakingly crafted playlists that you'd rather not lose. Do you have to switch to another music manager and re-create your playlists from scratch?

Not if you put iTunes Sync to work. True to its name, this Windows utility can sync any iTunes playlist to many different portable players, including some cell phones. After installing iTunes Sync, fire up iTunes and plug in your player. Right-click the iTunes Sync icon in the System Tray, and choose Configure MP3 Players.

Click the Add button, give your player a name, and click the button next to MP3 Player SubFolder to Sync to. Caveat: iTunes Sync currently works only with players that are assigned a drive letter when plugged in--a category that numbers among its members the BlackBerry Pearl, the Creative Zen Stone, and the Motorola Razr V3 (here's a complete list of tested players). If your player shows up as an MTP device, you're out of luck until the program's next release, which the developer says will include MTP support.

After selecting the desired sync folder on your player, choose a folder structure (indicating how you want copied songs to be organized) and the iTunes playlist you want to sync with. If you want more than one, you can use iTunes' smart playlist feature to create a new playlist that includes the ones you want; then choose that playlist to sync with your player.

After making those selections, close the config window, right-click the iTunes Sync icon again, and choose Synchronize MP3 Player. Click the Sync button and sit back while your playlist breaks free of its iTunes shackles.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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