There's a lot to look at in the iTunes interfacebut perhaps the best way to get familiar with it is simply by putting a CD into your drive and seeing what happens. You can follow along with your own CD as you watch Christopher begin the process of making a CD for the birthday party.
When you insert an audio disc into your Mac's ComboDrive (or SuperDrive; it works for both CDs and DVDs), your CD will show up as a "source" in the left column, and details about ita list of songs and their durations, among other thingswill appear on the right if you're connected to the Internet. Christopher begins with a little Sheryl Crow.
Playing Songs and CDs
Once your CD is onscreen, you can use iTunes as a simple CD player. You don't have to do anything fancy with iTunes in order to listen to it. The fast way to play a song is to double-click a line item in the song list. But if you want to see what you're doing, follow these steps.
As the song plays, look around at the iTunes window. At the top of the window is the album and song information, along with a bar representing the length of the song. A little black diamond shows what part of the song is playing. You can grab this diamond and scan backward or forward in the song.
There are also forward and reverse buttons alongside the Play/Pause button. Click either of these to skip to the next (or previous) track. Click and hold to scan through the track you're listening to.
When the song you initially selected is done playing, iTunes moves on to the CD's next track. Notice, however, that the blue selection bar stays where you started, although the speaker icon hops to the next song. This can be confusing at times.
If you want to know what song you're listening to, look for the speaker icon and ignore the blue bar.
The checkmark next to each song title indicates that you want iTunes to play that song (if the opportunity arises) or import that song (in the event that you're pulling music into your Mac). Unselect a title, and iTunes will ignore the songeither skipping it when you import or, if it's already in your computer, skipping it when you're playing a list of tunes.
Using Automatic CD Album Information
What if you insert a CD and it shows up on your Desktop merely as "Audio CD?" What if your CD shows up in iTunes but is clearly devoid of key informationnamely, song and album titles? It surprises many people to learn that the song info you see in iTunes doesn't come from the CD. It comes from somewhere external to your Mac.
Here's the deal: Although your Mac can certainly tell that this is a music CD, and one that has, say, 11 songs of varying lengths, it doesn't know anything more specific about the album and its contents. And that is why you want to be connected to the Internet. Your Mac alone can't tell you this information, but a wonderful online database (called the Gracenote Compact Disc Database, or CDDB) is available to help. iTunes can gather this information automatically if you set it up to do so (which you did when you went through the Setup Assistant the first time you launched iTunes). If you loaded your favorite CD and the screen looked too blank for you, make sure you are connected to the Internet, and then do the following.
Once the process is complete, the iTunes window should look similar to before, but with lots of useful data on the screen.
Now that you can play the CD in your Mac using iTunes, it's a good time to take a closer look at other sources in iTunes and how you work with them.
Understanding iTunes Sources
When you open iTunes the first time, you'll see a big, empty table that you'll use to organize and ultimately play your music.
The organizational structure of iTunes is similar to that of iPhoto; you may even recognize it as similar to that of the Mac OS. On the left side of the window is a Source column. Your CD is a source. Choose a source, and details about its contents appear on the right side (although your other iTunes sources may not yet have any contents to reveal).
And just as the Mac OS offers a handful of different kinds of sources (hard disks, CDs and DVDs, connected servers, and so on), each with its own distinct icon, iTunes has a few of its own sources as well.
There are, of course, other sources, although you can ignore them for the time being. Radio uses your Internet connection to bring you online music channels for your listening pleasure. 60's Music, My Top Rated, Recently Played, Top 25 Most Played, and Party Shuffle (which selects songs from your Library or chosen playlist) are special sources that are built for you. These automatically generated playlists are signified by a small round gear in the Source icon. It's easy to explore them on your own, but you can disregard them for this book.
Selecting and Importing Songs and Entire CDs
Getting music from a CD into your Mac is pretty simple. In the parlance of hipsters everywhere, the act of importing songs is called ripping.
The time it takes to import an album (or song) depends on a few factorsnotably the speed of your Mac (a dual-gigahertz G5 will import an album faster than an 800 MHz G3, for instance). Import speed is measured by how much faster it is to import a song than to play it. A 10X import, for instance, will rip a five-minute song in 30 seconds, or a 60-minute album in six minutes.
Casual observation indicates that a 300 MHz G3 rips at around four times faster than real time; a dual-gigahertz G4 rips at around 10X; and a dual-gigahertz G5 at 20X. For one or two songs, those differences are relatively small. But if you're moving 300 CDs into your music collection, the difference between ripping four albums per hour and ripping 20 per hour is significant and will radically impact your productivityand probably your enjoyment of this experience.
Now that you've ripped your first CD, eject it and insert another. Rip a few more CDs, and then move on to the next section.
By default, iTunes creates AAC audio files, which are considered an excellent audio format with good sound quality and small file size. Unfortunately, some MP3 players don't support it, and you might want to have MP3 audio files instead. You have control over the method and quality of compression that iTunes uses to copy a song. To adjust the settings, go to Preferences > Importing. From there, you can adjust the Import Using pop-up menu and select an audio format.
AAC is also known as MP4 (the successor to the MP3 format). You might recognize it as the format of the songs that you purchase from the Apple Music Store as well as from streaming music providers such as XM and Sirius. Other formats include AIFF and WAV, which are standard audio formats that provide very high sound quality but generate large files. Commercial CDs tend to contain AIFF sound files.