Using the iTunes Music Store


This week, we finish our iPod 101 series with a tour of the popular iTunes Music Store.  After this article, you will have graduated into iPod 201, where we’ll discuss some more advanced topics for the iPod and iTunes.

Using the iTunes Music Store

When searching my cliche bank to decide how to begin this article, I first thought of the phrase “last, but not least.”  Immediately, however, I realized that this simply wouldn’t do the Music Store justice; making this the last iPod 101-series article is better described as “saving the best for last.”

The iTunes Music Store has taken the digital music industry by storm.  Before its release, the industry was small.  Selections were bleak.  The user had much less freedom, and rarely owned the music he paid for.  iTunes changed this.  Over the past year and a half, iTunes has grown to a catalog of over 1,000,000 tracks from the 5 “major” record labels and hundreds of smaller ones.  It has sold over 125 million songs, gaining 70% of the online music sales market.  It has expanded to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and by the end of October, the Music Store will provide service to the entire European Union.  The current global iTunes sales rates, if sustained, will yield over 200 million tracks purchased per year.  A dozen or so competitors have risen, and have yet to experience sales anywhere near those of iTunes.  Interested yet?  Let’s take a look.


This is the fun, free part that anyone (in any country!) can complete.  Fire up iTunes 4 or later, and have a look:

The Music Store is found in the Source column to the left of iTunes.  Click it, and the iTunes home page will appear.  In the center column, you’ll see multiple rows of featured albums including New Releases, Exclusives, and items Just Added to the store.  Each of these rows actually contain 16 albums, not only the four that are initially visible.  Use the arrows on the left and right to navigate to the extra sets of albums.

Along the left-hand column, you’ll see the main iTunes navigation box.  From here, you can navigate to genre-specific pages similar to the front page, redeem a gift card (lucky you!), conduct an advanced search, or use any one of iTunes’ “featured” functions (discussed later).

On the right-hand column, you’ll see a live listing of the Music Store’s most popular individual songs and albums.

These main browsing pages, with their easy links, featured items, ratings, and pictures, are very easy to navigate.  However, even with 20 such pages (1 for each genre), you’re not seeing a volume of music anywhere near iTunes’ catalog of 1,000,000 songs.  How does one get to those? 

There are several ways:

  1. Search:  When you switch from your Library to the Music Store, the search bar in the top right that you’ve no doubt become acquainted with slightly changes in its functionality.  Now, instead of a live search throughout your locally-stored music library, this bar searches the Music Store’s catalog.  Its usage is as simple as ever:  enter an item, and hit return.  If your search yields more than 250 results, you can change pages via the bar across the top of the search results.

  2. Browse:  Looking for nothing in particular, but the front pages aren’t “doing it” for you?  While in the Music Store, click the “eye” in the top right labelled “Browse.”  This brings up a Library-style listing of all of the music in iTunes’ catalog, sorted by Genre—> Artist—> Album.  Good luck… it can be a bit daunting!  You can double-click on any item (Genre, Artist, Album) to take you to the “pretty” page associated with it.

    Surely with 1,000,000 songs, it won’t be long until you’ve found a track that you must have.  What now?  Read on.

    Signing up:

    If you don’t yet have an account, let’s get you one.  You can either click “Buy Now” on any song you’d like, or click the “Sign In” button on the top right of the Music Store to begin.  When you create an account, you’ll be prompted for an AppleID, password, credit card, and billing address.  This process is fairly self-explanatory, and very similar to signing up for or purchasing anything online—I’ll leave it to you, except for this:

    Do you have a gift card that you’d like to redeem, but you don’t want to give out any credit card information?  Yes, it’s possible—many have had trouble with this.  Instead of using the “Sign In” button to create an account or creating an account after pressing “Buy Now,” begin by clicking “Redeem” in the left-column navigation menu on the main iTunes home page.  Creating an account when beginning here does not require credit card information.  (And, therefore, is how some users outside officially-supported countries manage to use the iTunes Music Store).

    Once you’re past the initial sign-up process, the iTunes Music Store is dangerously simple to use.

    1-Click, Shopping Cart, and Bookmarks:

    The default method of purchasing music from the iTunes Music Store is what Apple calls “1-Click Ordering.”  Click on a “Buy Now” button, and your song is purchased from the credit card attached to your AppleID account, and the song begins downloading immediately.  It is the ultimate vehicle for “instant gratification.”  As awesome as it is, however, “1-Click” can also be the ultimate vehicle for over-spending and thoughtless purchases.  Apple loves this.  Do you?

    If you don’t like having a lot of one-dollar purchases on your credit card statement, or if your own impulse-buying habits frighten you, you can use a “Shopping Cart” to purchase many songs at once, or to provide yourself another opportunity to ponder your purchases.  To enable this feature, open iTunes’ preference window.  On the “Store” page, select the feature “Buy Using a Shopping Cart,” and click OK.  You’ll see the shopping cart appear in your Source column, underneath your Music Store item. 


    You’ll also find that as you browse the music store, songs and albums no longer have a “Buy Song” button, but have an “Add Song” button, reflecting the fact that music will not be purchased immediately anymore.  For fun, add a few songs to your shopping cart (these can be deleted later, if you wish).  Click the “Shopping Cart” in your Source column.  You’ll see that iTunes has kept a list of the tracks that you’ve added, and even automatically generated a list of “recommended music” based on what’s in your cart (I’ve found lots of great music this way!). From within this list, you can listen to the track previews one last time before you purchase them for good, and delete any tracks you decide you don’t want anymore by hitting the backspace key while a song is selected.

    Sure, the shopping cart is great, but sometimes it just isn’t enough.  Perhaps you want to bookmark a bunch of songs that you’ll eventually purchase, but you’d rather not get them all at once.  With iTunes 4.5, you can save links to individual tracks on the music store into your local library and playlists.  To do so, drag the song title from anywhere within the iTunes Music Store to any playlist in the Source column of your iTunes window.  Voila!  Instant bookmark.  You can even stream the previews to these bookmarked tracks from within the playlist.

    Let the downloading begin!

    Perhaps one of the major reasons for iTunes’ success is that this stage of the process is extremely simple:  Click Buy Now (either on a song, or in your shopping cart, if you have it enabled), and music starts coming in (while the money goes out!).  Downloaded songs are automatically added to your Purchased Music playlist, and can be immediately synchronized to your iPod, as if they were regular songs.

    The Purchased Music playlist is actually little more than a Manual Playlist with a green icon.  Although tracks purchased from the Music Store are automatically placed there and sorted by “Date Added,” you can re-sort, add, or remove songs just as we did here.

    If your purchased tracks are not fully downloaded immediately due to, perhaps, a lost connection, store outage, or accidental quit out of iTunes, you can use the “Check for Purchased Music” menu item in the Advanced Menu atop iTunes to continue or restart these failed downloads.  However, contrary to many users’ expectations, this feature does not work for tracks that have been successfully downloaded already.  If you lose your library containing your purchased music due to accidental deletion, hard drive failure, or laptop theft, for example, you’re generally out of luck. For this very reason, it is extremely important that you regularly back up, at the very least, your Purchased Music playlist to a Data CD or Data DVD.  Instructions on how are found in a previous iPod 101 article here.  (Several readers have noted that Apple’s iTunes Support Team has, after several eMails, allowed them to re-download lost tracks, but do not count on it!  Backups are better than begging!)

    Restrictions & Privileges:

    Apple was, arguably, the first online music vendor to bring customer-centric DRM (digital rights management) to the masses.  In their initial negotiations with the “Big Five” record labels, Apple campaigned a set of rights that would satisfy both the consumer and the record label.  The result?  The iTunes shopper has a very agreeable set of rights as to how their music can be used.  Here’s a simple explanation of the details of the system:


  3. At any given time for any one AppleID account, up to 5 computers may be authorized to play (locally and/or streamed via Rendezvous) the songs purchased from that AppleID.  Transferring/copying this music is up to the user.  (Network?  Data CD?…).  These 5 computers may be de-authorized from the “Advanced” menu atop iTunes in order to make room for other computers.
  4. Each of these 5 computers may load the authorized songs onto an unlimited number of iPods for authorized play on-the-go.
  5. Each of these 5 computers may burn the songs to an audio CD an unlimited number of times (provided that an identical playlist containing iTMS CDs is not burned more than 7 times without being altered)
  6. Any one computer may be authorized for any number of AppleID’s at once.
  7. Songs NEVER expire.  iTMS songs are purchased, not rented… they’re yours forever.

    Most users will find that this set of usage rights are more than satisfactory.

    Account Management:

    At any time, you can change credit cards, change passwords, view your purchase history, manage authorizations, and more through the Account Management page.  This is hidden by simplicity; to access it, click your AppleID account name in the top right of the Music Store window.


    In iTunes 4.5, Apple gave users the ability to publish their own playlists to the iTunes Music Store.  Called “iMixes,” these playlists can be viewed, rated, and listened to by any iTMS customer.  (If they can find it, that is… iTunes currently does not have the ability to search its 100,000 iMixes… Browse-and-stumble-upon only!).  Because the content creators are individual users, the possibilities are endless… Mixes may include:  Beatles Covers, music from RIAA-free artists, a record of iTunes’ weekly free songs, music from Apple TV commercials, and more.  Some users step up to address a deficiency in the iTunes Music Store:  When I wanted to browse and buy songs from the “Garden State” movie soundtrack, I found that iTunes didn’t carry it as an album;  I turned to the iMix page, and was pleasantly met with this iMix collecting nearly all of the songs on the album in one spot.

    Enough discussion… Let’s create one!

    iMixes are created directly from your existing playlists.  To create an iMix to be published, simply create a manual or smart playlist as you would normally.  You can include songs that did not originally come from the music store (imported or downloaded elsewhere), and iTunes will do its best to match them up to tracks in its catalog. 

    Assuming you have iTunes 4.5 or later (and that you have “Show Links to the Music Store” enabled in iTunes’ general preferences window), simply select a playlist in iTunes’ Source column on the left.  Click the arrow to the right of the playlist title:


    Next, the iTunes Music Store attempts to build an iMix from your playlist.  It also creates a Mosaic-style image for your iMix.  Any songs in your playlist that could not be matched up to a Music Store song will not be included in the listing here.

    From this page, you can enter a brief description or change the iMix’s title.  Unfortunately, you cannot alter the track order from this page… you’ll need to back up to your playlist to make changes.

    Once you’re done, click “Submit.”  iTunes will give you a direct link to your iMix and an opportunity to announce your iMix to your friends via eMail (just as they do for .Mac webpages).  Here is an iMix that I quickly published from my “Smooth Mix” Playlist:


    iLounge Demo iMix

    Here is an iMix tip:  If you’d like to create an iMix from songs that are on the music store, but that you don’t necessarily own, you can publish a playlist containing links to iTMS songs as were discussed above.  (Summary:  drag a song title from anywhere in the store into a playlist)

    Spreading the Wealth:

    So… the iTunes Music Store is great, right?!  Tell your friends!  You can easily eMail a friend a nicely-formatted link to any album or iMix on the Music Store via the “Tell a Friend” links.

    eMail too slow?  How about Instant Message.  Any song, album, or page in iTunes can easily become a link that can be accessed from any PC or Mac with iTunes.  How can you get a link?  Dragging is often the easiest way.  Drag any song, album, link, or even heading (the bubbles atop the page) out of iTunes.  When they land, they’ll create a shortcut file, or, if dragged onto iChat (or any text field), they will create a text link.  You can also right-click on most items in iTunes to copy a link to the clipboard.

    Links are nice, but what if your friends need a more convincing than mere suggestion?  Money talks.  Be a bud… Send a gift certificate.  Available from within iTunes or at the Apple Store (Online or Retail), iTunes Gift Certificates come in $10 increments and are a great way to introduce someone to the Music Store, because they don’t require a credit card.  They also happen to be a great way to tip online authors!  ;-D

    Additional Features:

    iTunes offers several new, interesting features that make the Music Store unique and very fun to use.  View embedded quicktime Music Videos and Movie Trailers.  See what the celebrities are listening to with Celebrity Playlists.  Browse either the Billboard Charts or playlists from America’s radio stations to see what’s hot (see the left-column navigation area on the Music Store home page).

    Notes and tips:

    • Finding great stuff at the music store, but find yourself wondering whether or not you already own a track that you’re considering buying?  Trust me, it happens.  I find it helpful to browse the Music Store in a different window than my iTunes Library, as having them both open facilitates these quick inventory checks.  To do so, double-click on the Music Store icon in iTunes’ Source column.
    • Having problems?  Apple has an iTunes Music Store Support Page with lots of useful info, and a facility to contact a support representative.


      You’ve done it!  You’ve made it through our iPod 101 series… congratulations!  You now have the skills required to fully enjoy iTunes’ basic features.  Don’t worry, however… We’re nowhere near being finished.  Next week, iLounge begins the next phase of our curriculum:  iPod 201!  This course will include more advanced topics concerning both the iPod and iTunes… We think you’ll enjoy it even more than iPod 101!  Stay Tuned!

      Jerrod H. is a Forum Administrator and Contributing Editor for iLounge.

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Jerrod H.

Jerrod was a contributing editor at iLounge. He mostly wrote articles about iTunes and iPod accessories. He was known for his in-depth knowledge of both topics and was often able to provide readers with unique insights into the world of Apple products.