ven though they’re digital music, the songs you buy from the iTunes Store aren’t MP3s. People often use the term “MP3” as a generic name to refer to all digital music files, but that’s not quite right. MP3 actually refers to a very specific type of music file.
The songs you get from iTunes may not be MP3s, but you can use a tool built into iTunes to convert songs from the iTunes Store format to MP3 in just a few steps.
Here’s what you need to know.
The iTunes Music Format: AAC, Not MP3
Songs purchased from the iTunes Store come in the AAC format. While both AAC and MP3 are digital audio files, AAC is a newer format designed to provide better sound from files that take up as much storage as, or even less than, MP3s.
Since music from iTunes comes as AAC, many people believe it is a proprietary Apple format. It’s not. AAC is a standard format available to virtually anyone. AAC files work with all Apple products and products from many, many other companies, too. Still, not every MP3 player supports them, so if you want to play AACs on those devices, you need to convert the iTunes songs to the MP3 format.
There are a lot of audio programs that can perform this conversion, but since you’ve already got iTunes on your computer, using it is easiest. These instructions cover using iTunes to convert songs from the iTunes Store to MP3.
5 Steps to Converting iTunes Songs to MP3
- Begin by making sure your conversion settings are set to create MP3s. Here is a full tutorial on how to do that, but the quick version is: open iTunes Preferences, click Import Settings in the General tab, and select MP3.
- In iTunes, find the iTunes Store song or songs you want to convert to MP3 and click on them. You can highlight one song at a time, groups of song or albums (select the first song, hold the Shift key, and select the last song), or even dis-contiguous songs (hold down the Command key on a Mac or Control on a PC and then click the songs).
- When the songs you want to convert are highlighted, click the File menu in iTunes
- Click on Convert (in some older versions of iTunes, look for Create New Version)
- Click Create MP3 Version. This converts the iTunes songs to MP3 files for use on other kinds of MP3 players (they’ll still work on Apple devices, too). It actually creates two files: The new MP3 file appears next to the AAC version in iTunes.
What About Apple Music Songs?
These instructions apply to songs you buy from the iTunes Store, but who buys music anymore? We all stream it, right? So what about songs you’ve got on your computer from Apple Music? Can they be converted to MP3?
The answer is no. While Apple Music songs are AAC, they’re in a specially protected version of it. This is done to make sure that you have a valid Apple Music subscription in order to use them. Otherwise, you could download a bunch of songs, convert them to MP3, cancel your subscription, and keep the music. Apple (or any streaming-music company) doesn’t want to let you do that.
How to Tell iTunes and MP3 Files Apart
Once you’ve got both the AAC and MP3 versions of a song in iTunes, it’s not easy to tell them apart. They just look like two copies of the same song.
But every file in iTunes has information about the song stored in it, such as its artist, length, size, and file type. To find out which file is the MP3 and which is the AAC, read this article on How To Change ID3 Tags Like Artist, Genre & Other Song Info in iTunes.
What to Do With Unwanted Songs
If you’ve converted your music to MP3, you may not want the AAC version of the song taking up space on your hard drive. If so, you can delete the song from iTunes.
Since the iTunes Store version of the file is the original, make sure it’s backed up before you delete it. All of your iTunes purchases should be available to redownload via iCloud.
Confirm that the song is there if you need it and then you’re free to delete.
Be Aware: Converting Can Reduce Sound Quality
Before you convert from iTunes to MP3, it’s important to know that doing this slightly reduces the audio quality of the song. The reason for this is that both AAC and MP3 are compressed versions of the original song file (raw audio files can be 10 times larger than the MP3 or AAC). Some quality is lost during the compression that created the original AAC or MP3. Converting from AAC or MP3 to another compressed format means there will be even more compression and more loss of quality. While the quality change is so small that you probably won’t notice it if you convert the same song too many times it may eventually start to sound worse.