Anyone reading my site recently knows that I run an Internet radio station called Romance Life Radio on Live365.com. Currently, I have 300 MB of total space for music but only use up about 115 MB. I have lots of room for more songs! Unfortunately, getting new music for the station has required purchasing entire CDs of music for one or two romantic tracks. In general, that is a frustration I think many people have - having to buy a $16 CD for one good song.
Apple opened an online music store called iTunes but until yesterday the store was only available to Mac afficionados. Now they have opened the store to Windows users also and I was one of the first customers. iTunes lets you buy individual tracks of an album for 99 cents. No longer do you have to buy an expensive CD just to listen to the one song you like. You can now just buy and download that one song for the very reasonable price of 99 cents. This is a quantum leap in the whole music buying experience.
Using iTunes is very easy. First you sign up for an iTunes account. You give your personal information and a credit card number for purchases. Then you run the iTunes program which interfaces with Apple’s music servers and makes over 400,000 songs available. You can search for music by genre, artist, and album. When you find a song you like, there is a 30 second preview available for you to listen to. When you are ready to buy, click the Buy Song button and the song is automatically purchased and downloaded to your computer. I’ve already purchased 11 great songs and it cost me $10.89 plus tax.
But here is where we get to the one annoying - and it’s very annoying - hitch in the process. My purpose for buying this music is to listen to it personally and to legally provide it to my Romance Life Radio listeners. The RIAA has set up a special agreement with Internet broadcasters (which I am covered under through Live365.com) that allows them to play music they own online. Apple’s iTunes downloads each song in a special, protected format called AAC, which has an M4P extension. This format is currently only recognizable by the iTunes program and Apple’s iPod player. I need the MP3 format so I can listen to it on my MP3 player and so I can upload it to Live365.
The iTunes player has the ability to convert an AAC file to MP3…BUT…it will not allow you to convert songs purchased from iTunes. If you have ripped a song off of a CD you own and recorded it in AAC format, that song can be converted to MP3 but not a purchased song. Apple’s intention here is not to make it impossible to convert the song to MP3 but to make it cumbersome enough that most people won’t bother. The workaround is to have the iTunes program burn a CD with the purchased songs on it. Then you take the CD and use your ripper to rip the tracks off of the CD into MP3 format. This works fine and I now have MP3 formatted versions of my purchased songs. But what a pain!
Anyway, this will not prevent me from using the service. It is just too cool that you can search for music and buy any song for 99 cents. Apple will have competition from Napster 2.0 when it is released as well as other online music stores, I assume, as they come out. Perhaps one of these will allow downloads of MP3s directly. Then, using Apple’s favorite phrase, I might become a “switcher” to something other than Apple’s iTunes.