Ask the iTunes Guy: iTunes file conversion, album artwork, and more

Your questions about iTunes, answered by Kirk McElhearn.

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My last few columns have mostly dealt with problems with Apple’s iOS 10 Music app. There are plenty of these, and while there are workarounds for some of the changes, many of the missing features are just gone.

This week, it’s time to step back from what’s broken, and answer a few questions about how iTunes works: I look at file conversion, playlists, and album artwork.

Does iTunes convert?

Q: My iTunes library contains a lot of MP3 files that I ripped with software other than iTunes. When I add these files to iTunes, or sync them to my iPhone, does iTunes convert them to AAC files? If so, does this mean that the files take up extra space on my hard drive?

There are two questions here. The first is about the file formats that iTunes supports, and the second is about syncing.

Since iTunes uses AAC as its default format for ripping CDs, and files purchased from the iTunes Store are in that format, many people think that iTunes only handles AAC files. iTunes supports files in the following formats: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. (It also supports Audible audiobooks.) iTunes can store and play files in any of those formats. Also, there seems to be a common belief that AAC is a proprietary audio file format created by Apple. This is not the case. AAC stands for Advanced Audio Coding, and is part of the MP4 specification.

iTunes only converts files in two specific situations. The first is when you add WMA files to an iTunes library on a Windows PC. When you do this, iTunes converts them to the format you’ve set in the Import Settings dialog of the General preferences, because it does not support the WMA format. iTunes does not, however, delete the original WMA files, and it’s up to you to do so if you don’t want to keep them.

The second is when you tell iTunes to convert high bit rate files to lower bit rate versions during a sync to an iOS device. You control this on the Summary pane of your iOS device when syncing.


iTunes can convert higher bit rate tracks to a lower bit rate when syncing to an iOS device.

When iTunes performs this conversion, it doesn’t keep two versions of the files, but converts the files on the fly, putting the lower bit rate versions on the iOS device. This allows you to save space on your iOS device by choosing a lower bit rate for syncing, yet keeping higher bit rate versions of your files in your iTunes library.

Which playlist is a song in?

Q: I have lots of playlists in my iTunes library. Sometimes I want to find which playlist a specific song is in. Is there any way I can do that?

If you right-click or Control-click a song you can choose Show in Playlist to see all the playlists that contain the song.

show in playlist

Choose Show in Playlist to see which playlists contain a given song.

Choose one of the playlists from the sub-menu to go to the selected track in that playlist.

Deleting an artist

Q: Is there any way to remove all of an artist’s music from my iPhone? I only see options to remove songs or albums.

delete artist

Delete all of an artist’s music from the Settings app.

It’s not easy to find how to delete music from the iOS Music app. To delete a song or album, find the item, then tap and hold until a dialog displays. Tap Remove or Delete from Library. This works for music you’ve synced, or for music you’ve download from the cloud. If you try to do this with an artist, the only option available is to start an Apple Music radio station.

You can, however, delete an artist’s music if you know where to look. Go to Settings > Music > Downloaded Music, and you’ll see a list of the music on your iOS device, listed by artist. Swipe to the left on an artist’s name and then tap Delete to remove their music.

Since each entry in the list shows how much space an artist’s music takes up, you may want to do this when you need some free storage on your device.

Artwork in my car

Q: My car system only supports low-resolution album art, but I have lots of artwork in my iTunes library that is very high resolution. Is there a way to reduce the file size of all my artwork? I have a big library so I need a solution that doesn’t require me to do this track by track.

Doug Adams’ $2 Re-Apply Downsized Artwork does exactly what you want. You select some tracks, set the resolution you want, run the app, and it changes the artwork. There are lots of options for the final artwork: size, padding, and more. The only limit is that iTunes won’t let it work on more than about ten or twenty tracks at a time.

Another app from Doug Adams, the $5 M3Unify can export files from your iTunes library while downsizing album artwork. If you only want to prepare some tracks to view in your car, you might want to use this.

Have questions of your own for the iTunes Guy? Send them along for his consideration.

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