How to Convert iTunes Songs to MP3

convert iTunes to mp3
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Even though they're both digital music, the songs you buy from the iTunes Store or stream from Apple Music aren't MP3s. Those may not be MP3s, but you can use a tool built into iTunes to convert iTunes songs to MP3 in just a few steps. Here's what you need to know.

The iTunes Store Music Format: AAC, Not MP3

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 very specific type of music file.

Songs purchased from iTunes 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 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 out there that promise convert songs from one format to another, including from iTunes to MP3. That's great, but in almost all 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. You can 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 what level of audio quality you want them to have. The quick version of how to do this is: open iTunes > Preferences > General > Import Settings > select MP3 Encoder.

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

  2. With your song-conversion settings in place, find the song or songs you want to convert to MP3 in iTunes 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 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).

    This process actually creates two files: The new MP3 file that you just created appears next to the original AAC version in iTunes.

  6. Now that you've converted iTunes to MP3, you may be done. You may also want to delete the older file, or learn other information about the files. If so, read on.

Converting Songs Can Reduce Sound Quality. Before you convert iTunes to MP3, it's important to know that doing this slightly reduces the song's audio quality. This is because 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 was lost during the compression that created the original AAC or MP3. Converting from AAC to another compressed format like MP3 means there will be even more compression and more loss of quality. While the quality change may be so small that you probably won't notice it, if you convert a song too many times it will eventually start to sound worse.

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 use the AAC format, they're protected by a special kind of DRM. This is done to make sure that you have a valid Apple Music subscription in order to play those songs. 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. So, there's no way to convert Apple Music to MP3 without breaking 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 has information about the song stored in it, such as its artist, length, and file type. To find out which file is the MP3 and which is the AAC, read about How To Change ID3 Tags Like Artist, Genre & Other Song Info in iTunes

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 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.