Converting Protected iTunes Audio Files So You Can Play Them Anywhere

Music purchased in iTunes in Mid 2007 and earlier can’t be played on any non-Apple (iOS/MacOS) device. These music files are protected with Digital Rights Management (DRM) and are labeled in iTunes as Protected AAC audio file and have a file suffix of m4p. Apple introduced iTunes Plus in 2007 — a DRM free, higher quality format. These files are labeled as Purchased AAC audio file and have a file suffix of m4a and can be played on (most) any device. By 2009 Apple stopped selling DRM encumbered music and all was iTunes Plus.

Since we were an early iTunes adopter our iTunes library had a lot of protected files. Over a thousand. In the last year or so I’ve started using the Amazon ecosystem more and more. We use Amazon Prime music, we have an Amazon Fire TV Stick and Echo, and I’m considering getting an Amazon Fire tablet. With Amazon Prime I can upload my purchased iTunes music — yeah! — but NOT if it is Protected AAC. Boo! And if I do get that Fire Tablet, those protected iTunes files won’t play. The more recent stuff will — but not most stuff purchased before 2009.

Bottom line is: you do not want any DRM protected music in your music library. So how do you get rid of the iTunes DRM?

There was a period of time where you could upgrade protected files to iTunes Plus for a fee. But that option is no longer available. Fortunately there is still a way — it’s just a little indirect and will cost you $25.

Before doing this process you should check your iTunes library and see how many protected music files you have. One easy way to do that is to create a smart playlist where Kind contains “Protected AAC audio file”. You can then see how many you have and if it is worth the $25 to convert them.

iTunes Match

Apple introduced iTunes Match in early 2013. The concept is simple. iTunes Match scans your iTunes music library. Most of your music files Apple already has sitting on their servers (“in the cloud”). For those that don’t match, iTunes uploads them to your own private corner of the cloud. Once the scanning/uploading is complete your music is available to you on any iOS device. You no longer have to sync the music files from your Mac to your phone. And you don’t even need to keep local copies of the files on your Mac if you don’t want to.

The catch? It costs $25 a year. But for the $25 you get another bonus. Since all the music in Match is iTunes Plus (DRM free) you can convert your m4p files to m4a by simply forcing a re-download of the files. Once you do that you can upload them to Amazon Prime, copy them to your Android tablet, etc.

Here’s How

1) Subscribe to iTunes Match

You can do this in the iTunes store. It will cost you $25.

2) Turn off Auto-Renewal

If you are primarily using iTunes Match to convert your library, then go to your iTunes Account settings and turn off auto-renewal now so you don’t forget. When iTunes Match lapses in a year you won’t get the cloud benefits, but all the converted files you have downloaded will stay converted.

3) Click on the Match tab in iTunes

After subscribing to Match it will go through three phases:

  1. Gathering info about your iTunes library
  2. Matching your music with songs in the iTunes Store
  3. Uploading artwork and remaining songs

I stopped the process after it finished #2. I will likely go back and start it up again to finish #3, but it’s not critical at this point.

4) Examine Your Library

Now click on My Music. Bring up the Songs menu in the upper right corner and make sure “Kind” is checked in the Show Columns menu.

Next click on the Kind column to sort your music by file type. Scroll down to your “Protected AAC audio files”. These are the files you want to upgrade.

5) Delete a protected file and re-download it

First try just one file to make sure things are working as you expect. Do this:

  1. Select one of your Protected AAC audio files
  2. Press the Delete key
  3. Click Move to Trash
  4. In iTunes the song will now be labeled “Purchased AAC audio file”. There will be a ready to download icon next to it: available
  5. Control-Click on the selected song and choose Download off of the menu
  6. The music file will download as an m4a file! Yipee!

6) Repeat for the rest of your library

I did it this way:

  1. Sort by Kind to identify Protected AAC audio files
  2. Some of my protected songs had the Waiting cloud icon: waiting. From what I could tell these are songs that did not match and iTunes wanted to upload them. This seems like a bug, since one would think that any song I purchased in iTunes would match, but for some reason they did not. Less than 1% of my Protected songs had this icon, so I decide just to ignore them for now.
  3. For the other protected songs I selected large chunks of them and hit Delete then Move to Trash.
  4. Once I was done deleting the protected songs I sorted the song list by the cloud icon column, then selected all the “ready to download” songs and downloaded them
  5. It took a couple hours to finish the downloads

7) You iTunes Library is now DRM free!

I then uploaded some Nirvana to my Amazon Prime account and listened to it on my Echo (Alexa! Play Nirvana). Something I could not do before the conversion

References

  1. Subscribe to iTunes Match
  2. iTunes Match: Understanding the iCloud Status icons
  3. About iTunes Plus and Converting DRM music
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