Q: I am considering buying an iPod for my daughter. Can I use any music download site or do I have to buy all of my music from iTunes?
A: You can most definitely purchase music from many sources other than the iTunes Store. The iTunes software application and the iPod itself support any music file in the MP3 or AAC format. The only restriction you will run into with the iPod is that you will not be able to purchase music from commercial services that use the protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which is common among a few online stores and subscription services that are designed for other media players.
Keep in mind that the first and most common source of music for the iPod is your own CD collection—iTunes can easily import any CD you already own or purchase into an iPod-ready format, and even look up the CD information automatically so the tracks are correctly labelled on your iPod. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Filling your iPod for more information.
For many years online music from major labels was sold online only in protected formats to meet the demands of the recording industry. In this case, if you were an iPod user and wanted to purchase music from a major label online you were pretty much limited to the iTunes Store, as all of the other online services sold their music in a digitally-protected format incompatible with the iPod. This led many users to simply buy CDs and transfer those onto their iPod instead.
The good news, however, is that the industry has finally been changing for the better, and a number of new online stores have been popping up which offer music for sale in a completely unprotected MP3 format which can be played on any device. In fact, if you are in the U.S. your best alternative to the iTunes Store is Amazon.com, which now offers a comparable catalog in MP3 format with even lower prices than iTunes in many cases.
There are also a number of sources where free, legal music can be obtained for your iPod. Our article Free Music for your iPod highlights some of the many available sites for this.