Everything you need to know about the iTunes Music Store

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The original digital music store is still the biggest and most successful of them all.

The world was a very different place back in 2003. DVD players were a luxury, flip phones were all the rage, and 56K was the fastest Internet most Aussies had access to. Things were even wilder in the world of music, with CDs reigning supreme as the form factor of choice for music-lovers across the world. But then along came Napster with its searchable library of millions of songs, all downloadable at the touch of a button. Even with dial-up Internet, the convenience of downloading music was obvious. There was just one little problem: the whole thing was completely illegal.

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What if it wasn't though? What if someone could get all the big record labels that had fought tooth-and-nail against Napster to throw their support behind a legitimate digital music store? Well, someone could and did. In 2002, Steve Jobs convinced Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony Music, BMG and EMI to team up with Apple for the launch of the first legal digital music store to offer a selection on par with bricks-and-mortar stores.

Within 18 hours of its launch, the iTunes Store sold over a quarter of a million tracks, and it hit a full million less than five days later. That's quite a feat considering the store was only available on Mac for the first six months of its life.

iTunes' success sent waves of change through the entire music industry. CDs gave way to MP3s, iPods replaced stereo systems and music slowly got cheaper – though perhaps not as much as it should have, given the lower costs of digital distribution. Nevertheless, the iTunes Music Store redefined how the world purchased and listened to music, becoming the single largest seller of music across the globe in 2010 and retaining that title to this day. With more than 35 billion songs sold to over 800 million users around the world, the iTunes Music Store remains the benchmark by which all music services are judged.

What is Apple Music and how does it work with my iTunes library?

As well as the iTunes Music Store, Apple also offers a music streaming service called Apple Music. Like Spotify, Apple Music lets you stream any song from its vast library to your smartphone or PC over the internet, regardless of whether you're at home or on-the-go. It'll cost you, though, with a standard Apple Music subscription setting you back $11.99 a month.

If you've already built up a sizable music collection through the iTunes Music Store, subscribing to Apple Music will let you stream all those songs just as easily as any in the Apple Music library. Even if your iTunes collection contains songs that aren't normally available on Apple Music, those songs will simply be uploaded from your PC or Mac to Apple's iCloud service and linked to your Apple Music library for you to stream.

What features does the iTunes Music Store offer?

The iTunes Music Store might be the oldest digital storefront on the market, but a steady rollout of new features has kept it from growing stale. The most notable of these are:

Song previews

Heard a great song lately but can't remember its name? Song previews on the iTunes Music Store let you listen to a short snippet of a song before you buy it, helping you hunt down that track that refuses to get out of your head. They're also handy when you're browsing for new music, giving you a taste of what to expect before you part with your cash. Most previews last for 90 seconds but shorter songs and new-release tracks are occasionally limited to 30-second previews.

Wish List

If you're not ready to pull the trigger on a new song or album just yet, you can add it to your iTunes Wish List so you don't forget it. Or if you've got a birthday coming up, you can send your wishlist to family and friends to make sure they get you what you really want instead of yet another value pack of white socks.

DRM-free

When the iTunes Music Store launched, part of Apple's bid to win over the big record labels involved the use of digital rights management (DRM) technology. DRM is like a lock for digital content, preventing it from working when accessed on non-authorised devices. Ostensibly, DRM exists to protect copyrighted content from being copied without permission. Apple's DRM technology, dubbed FairPlay, restricted music purchased from the iTunes Music Store to only play on Apple devices, and even then on only a limited number of them.

Unsurprisingly, this approach rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, prompting Apple to renegotiate with major record labels and eventually offer DRM-free versions of every track in the entire iTunes library. It achieved this in 2009, and all music purchased on the iTunes Music Store can now be downloaded and played without restriction on as many different devices as you please.

Complete My Album

Ever bought a killer single and decided to pick up the whole album? Normally you end up paying for the same song twice, but with iTunes' Complete My Album feature, you receive an automatic discount on full album purchases equal to the cost of the tracks you've already bought. It's a nice way of rewarding customer loyalty, though it's worth mentioning that certain songs such as promotional tracks and those you received as gifts don't count towards the Complete My Album feature.

Personalised recommendations

Back in the days of physical records and CDs, taking a trip to your local music store was as much about discovering new music as it was about buying it. Chatting with the staff and browsing the end caps was a great way to expand your musical horizons, and when the industry first shifted to the digital era, much of that was lost.

Fortunately, digital music stores have come a long way since those early days. The iTunes Music Store provides numerous ways to discover new music, from top-100 charts of the best-selling songs and albums to trending search results that show you what artists other people are currently obsessed with. Even better, the iTunes Music Store will recommend new music to you based on your previous purchases, tailoring the recommendations to your particular musical tastes.

Shazam

Overheard a rockin' song but have no idea who sings it? With the Shazam mobile app on iOS, you can simply ask Siri what the song is and she'll track down the name, artist and album on the iTunes Music Store so you can buy it then and there. No muss, no fuss and no more earworms.

Buy once, listen everywhere

You shouldn't have to re-purchase a song just to listen to it on a new computer or iPod, which is why the iTunes Music Store lets you download your purchased music to as many of your authorised devices as you wish. Buy a song on your computer, and you can download it on your iPhone, your iPod and your iPad and listen to it no matter what device you have handy.

The iTunes Music Store also remembers every purchase you've ever made and lets you re-download them as often as you like, so you won't have to worry about hunting through attics and wardrobes to find that one album you bought years and years ago.

Family Sharing

Families can share CDs and DVDs, so why shouldn't they be able to share digital music, too? That's the logic behind Apple's Family Sharing feature, which lets you and up to five other iTunes users join a Family Group and share your iTunes libraries with each other. This includes all the music, movies, TV shows and apps you've ever purchased, as well as those you purchase in the future.

The catch is that all future purchases made by any member of the group are charged to the account of the person who created the Family Group, so bear that in mind if you plan on Family Sharing with your kids. If you don't want other members buying up songs on your account willy-nilly, you can turn on Ask to Buy which gives you the final say on any purchase made within the Family Group.

What music is available on the iTunes Music Store?

The iTunes Music Store boasts the largest library of digital music in the world. Over 43 million songs are available to purchase, including the latest tracks from popular artists like Kesha and Lady Gaga, unforgettable classics from Aussie favourites like Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel, and the freshest underground sounds from names you've never heard of before. The library is constantly growing, too, with new tracks added every single week.

As impressive as the iTunes Music Store's library is, it's not without its limitations. Some songs can only be purchased as part of an album rather than individually, for example. This is often the case for movie soundtracks. In contrast, certain albums are only available as partial purchases, with one or more tracks from their physical CD version missing, typically due to licensing issues.

On the technical side of things, all music on the iTunes Music Store is encoded at 256kbit/s in Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format.

What devices are compatible with iTunes?

The iTunes Music Store can only be browsed from Apple devices and computers running Apple's iTunes software. iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches can access the store through their pre-installed iTunes Store app. Mac and PC users can download the iTunes desktop program and peruse the store that way.

Songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store can be played on any device that supports the AAC file format – unfortunately, few devices outside of the Apple family are compatible with the format. Other than iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, you can listen to your iTunes library on PC, Mac and Apple TV.

When accessing your iTunes library from multiple devices, those devices will become tied to your iTunes account. You can have a maximum of 10 devices associated with your account at a time, and no more than five of them can be computers. If you hit the 10-device limit, you can de-authorise individual devices to make room for new ones. After you de-authorise a device, you may need to wait up to 90 days before you can associate it with another iTunes account.

How much does music cost on the iTunes Music Store?

Songs in the iTunes Music Store follow a three-tier pricing model: they are priced at either $1.19, $1.69 or $2.19 each. Which price a song will cost usually depends on how recent and how popular it is. Album pricing varies based on similar factors, as well as how many tracks the album includes. Some albums can be picked up for as little as $9.99, while others sell for $24.99 or more.

Try Apple Music for 3 months for 99c from Apple

New users can take Apple's music streaming service for a whirl at just 99c.

View details

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