Using iTunes to Grab That Audio Clip

If you need to rip a track from a CD to edit for use in a project, you may already have a good tool for doing that: iTunes. This page should provide all the directions you’ll need.itunes_icon.jpg

However, before starting, let’s talk about copyright and fair use, keeping in mind that I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice in any way, shape or form.

The fair use provisions of US copyright law generally allow you to use small parts of a coprighted work for very specific purposes: criticism, comment (which includes parody), news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

But how the selection is used is only one part of determining fair use. It also depends on the amount used and how the use will impact the value of the original work.

There is much more to this than can be covered here. For more information, I strongly suggest you read the article on fair use in Wikipedia and watch the video A Fair(y) Use Tale by Eric Faden, a professor at Bucknell University.

So, assuming you are confident your use of the sounds from this CD falls under fair use provisions, here are the mechanics of making it work in iTunes.

Importing Tracks

By default, iTunes imports CD tracks in the AAC format, which is a high quality variation on mp4. However, most free editors (like Audacity) and other software don’t know how to use that format. Instead, you will need the audio in the mp3 or WAV format. Use mp3 if you need the smallest file size possible. Use WAV if you plan to use the clip in PowerPoint or other programs that don’t know how to use anything else (check the manual).

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To change the default format, open the Preferences (under the iTunes menu on a Mac, under the Edit menu in Windows). Click on the General icon, then on Import Settings.

In the popup menu next to Import Using: change the setting to either MP3 Encoder or WAV Encoder. Click OK.

Insert the CD and drag the tracks you want to import to your library or any playlist to convert them to the format you’ve chosen.

If you have already imported tracks from a CD and they are in the AAC format (you can tell the format used by right-clicking on the track, choosing Get Info, and clicking on Summary), you can convert them by right-clicking on the track and choosing Convert Selection to MP3.

Finding the Files

Once you’ve imported or converted the tracks, you’ll need to find the actual file in order to used them in other programs. iTunes maintains it’s own organizational structure so the files may be buried several folders deep. Fortunately, there’s a quick way to find locate them.


Right-click on the track and choose Show in Finder (Mac) or Show in Explorer (Windows). You’ll get a window showing the contents of the folder in which the file is located. It’s a good idea to copy this file instead of moving it so that you’ll still be able to use it in iTunes.

If you converted a track that was already in iTunes, the second of the two listings with the same name is the one you want.

It Won’t Work

If you try to convert a track that was downloaded from the iTunes Music Store prior to 2009 when Apple dropped using digital right management (DRM) on many of the tracks they sold, you may find the program telling you it’s protected and can’t be modified.

That’s not quite true but it takes a little bit more work to do it. On top of that, you may also be violating another US law, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

First, make a playlist with the protected tracks you want to convert, then burn a CD of that playlist. Finally, import the tracks from that CD back into the library.

You’ll now find two copies of each of the titles in the library and generally the second is the one in the unprotected format of your choice.