Tag Archives: format

Protected versus unprotected Apple music files

People who use Apple Music run into the inability to edit m4p (protected) files. Here is your guide to understanding what is going on. Apple has has two music file formats:

  • m4p (protected), and
  • m4a (not protected).

If you bought a song on iTunes before 2009, it was in m4p (protected) format. If you bought a song after 2009 on iTunes, or used their sync system to convert m4p into m4a files, then it is in m4a (not protected) format.

However, if you create an offline copy of a song via Apple Music (streaming service), then THAT is m4p (protected) format. So if you have made an “offline” copy of a song via Apple Music, you need to delete that copy (the m4p protected file) before you can download (or re-download) the purchased m4a (not protected) file.

If you don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of figuring out if you have a protected or unprotected version of the song, and don’t want to have to know the difference between m4a and m4p files, I recommend NOT using Apple Music for streaming, and use Spotify instead. That keeps the difference between what you’ve bought and what you are streaming nice and SEPARATE.

How to convert a song to MP3 in iTunes

apple logo with headphonesiTunes is non-intuitive when it comes to converting a song from one format to another.

iTunes can convert audio into any of five different formats, AAC (which has an m4a extension), AIF, Apple Lossless, MP3, and WAV. But right-clicking on a song only shows you one choice to convert to, and your conversion option is only whatever you have your CD import settings set to! (It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it is what it is.) To change it to MP3, just go to Preferences -> General -> Import Settings, and select MP3 Encoder.

When you do, be SURE to set your MP3 import settings to:
• Stereo Bit rate: 256 kbps
• [check] Use variable bit rate encoding (yes)
• Quality: Highest
• Sample Rate: 44.100 kHz
• Channels: Stereo
• Stereo Mode: Normal
• [check] Smart Encoding Adjustments (yes)
• [check] Filter Frequencies Below 10 Hz (yes)

(Click for more information on the proper settings for MP3 files.)

If later, you need to convert music to a different format that iTunes supports, then follow the steps listed above, but select the destination format that you want to convert to. For example, if you need a WAV file, then select WAV in your Import Settings, and once you do that, Convert to WAV will be an option when you right-click on a song.

When saving edits as mp3s, always choose 256k or higher

11882514-ear-and-sound-waves-Stock-Vector-hearingFor all of you fabulous choreographers who edit your own music: When saving your music as an mp3, NEVER save it at anything less than a 256k bit rate. Why is this important? Because when you save it at 128k or lower, you are telling your computer to throw away some of the detail in your music. You may not hear the difference on your laptop or iPad’s speakers, but when played on a good sound system (like in your studio, or at comp or recital), it won’t be as clear. And it just gets worse if you open up that same low-res file and re-edit it again.

Also worth noting: once you save an edit as a low-res mp3, re-saving it at a higher rate later does not fix it. Once you’ve saved it as a low-res file, then it will always be low res.

I know all the “export” or “save as…” options that are presented in most audio processing programs are greek if you don’t know the details or reasons behind the choices. Way too many of the music edit files I get for repair are saved as 128k mp3 files, and it makes me sad to know that dancers are not dancing with the cleanest version of their music possible, for no good reason other than the choreographer was not aware that saving at a 128k rate (or lower) degrades the audio noticeably.

Also, if you are not sure what the quality of an mp3 is, there’s a fairly easy way to tell, by checking the file’s size in Mb. A 2.5 to 3-minute edit saved as an mp3 or m4a should be roughly 5 to 6 Mb in size. If it’s only 2 to 3 Mb in size, then you know it’s low-res, and too much audio quality has been thrown away.

I can easily understand why this is such a problem. While you are working on the file, it sounds fine, because it hasn’t been saved to a low-res format yet. And when you save it as a low-res mp3, you can’t immediately HEAR that it doesn’t sound as good as what you have been working on. In other words, the quality gets reduced when you save it, but you don’t even know that that has happened. So I am very happy to help spread the word. Now you know!

Bottom line: When doing a “Save as” or “Export Audio” to an mp3 file, always choose the 256k rate or higher!