How to Convert iTunes Songs to MP3

Even though they're digital music, the songs you buy from the iTunes Store or download from Apple Music aren't MP3s. While those songs aren't MP3s, you can convert them to MP3 if that's the format you prefer. In fact, it only takes a few step using a tool built into iTunes to convert iTunes songs to MP3.

These instructions apply to iTunes 12 for Windows and Mac, but the process should be similar in older versions.

iTunes and Apple Music Use AAC not MP3

Conversion of iTunes AAC to MP3
Alex Dos Diaz / Lifewire

People use "MP3" as a generic name to refer to all digital music files, but that's not quite right. MP3 actually refers to a specific type of music file.

Songs bought from iTunes and downloaded from Apple Music come in the AAC format. While both AAC and MP3 are digital audio files, AAC is a next-generation format designed to provide better sound and take up as much or less storage than MP3s.

Since music from iTunes comes as AAC, many people believe it is a proprietary Apple format. It's not. AAC is available to virtually anyone. AAC files work with Apple products and products from many other companies, too. Still, not every MP3 player supports them, so if you want to play your music on those devices, you need to convert the iTunes songs to MP3.

There are a lot of audio programs that can perform this conversion, but you don't necessarily need them. You've already got iTunes on your computer, so using it is probably easiest. The instructions in this article show you how to use iTunes to convert songs from iTunes format to MP3.

There are lots of programs that can convert songs from one format to another, including from iTunes to MP3. That's great, but in most cases, you don't need them. Unless you have very specific needs (such as FLAC; if you don't know that is, chances are you don't need it), don't spend the money on audio-conversion software. Just use iTunes.

How to Convert iTunes to MP3

  1. The audio converter built into iTunes lets you control your conversion settings, including what sort of files you want to create, and audio quality you want them to have.

    To change your settings for this task on Mac, go to iTunes > Preferences > General > Import Settings > select MP3 Encoder.

    On Windows, go to Edit > Preferences > General > Import Settings, and choose MP3 Encoder for the Import Using option. Select OK, and then OK again to return to your library.

    An iTunes screenshot showing file conversion options and settings

    For detailed, step-by-step instructions and information, check out How to Use iTunes to Create MP3s, AACs, and More.

  2. Find the song or songs you want to convert to MP3 in iTunes and single click them.

    You can highlight one song at a time, groups of songs or albums (select the first song, hold the Shift key, and select the last song), or even discontiguous songs (hold down the Command key on a Mac or Control on a PC and then click the songs).

  3. When the songs you want to convert are highlighted, click the File menu in iTunes.

  4. Click Convert (in some older versions of iTunes, look for Create New Version instead).

    Create MP3 Version menu item in File menu in iTunes on macOS
  5. 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).

The new MP3 file that you just created appears in iTunes next to the original AAC version.

What to Do With Unwanted or Duplicate Songs

If you've converted iTunes 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. You can even use features in iTunes to find all duplicate versions of songs to make the cleaning-up process easier.

Since the iTunes 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.

Can you Convert Apple Music Songs to MP3?

These instructions apply to songs you buy from the iTunes Store, but what about songs you've got on your computer from Apple Music? Can they be converted to MP3?

Converting songs can degrade sound quality. Before you convert iTunes to MP3, it's important to know that doing this slightly lessens the music's sound quality. This is because both AAC and MP3 are compressed versions of the original song file and thus already lower quality. Converting from AAC to another compressed format like MP3 means there will be even more compression and loss of quality.

While Apple Music songs use the AAC format, they're protected by a special kind of DRM so you can't convert them to MP3. The DRM verifies that you have a valid Apple Music subscription. Apple (or any streaming-music company) doesn't want you to download a bunch of songs, convert them to MP3, and cancel your subscription, and keep the music. So, there's no way to convert Apple Music to MP3 unless you can break the DRM.

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 stores information about the song, such as its artist, length, and file type. To find out which file is the MP3 and which is the AAC, you can access ID3 Tags like artist, genre, and other song Info in iTunes.