The good news: you've received a wonderful holiday gift of an iPod or other digital music player and perhaps a gift card offering musical gems from a library of millions of tracks. The not-so-good news: you're technology-challenged and need some help entering the era of music downloading.
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The reality is downloading and organizing digital music is simple, and can be a great way to augment your old-school listening habits. Here are the basics:
Downloading means that you purchase and load a music file onto your home computer or other devices like smartphones or iPads. It's more like owning a CD than listening to the radio — you can listen to whatever you bought, whenever you want.
You can set up a digital music library in minutes. While Apple's iTunes is the most popular choice to store and buy music digitally, there are several other media players that can store and play music on your computer. Amazon's music player, Windows Media Player and others will all play your MP3 files (that's a technical term for the most common music file format), no matter where you got them. Many media players come pre-loaded on your computer. But if you don't have one, many are free to download. Through the standard set-up process for all of these players, your music files are stored automatically in a folder that is accessed each time you launch your music library.
Most of these media players also ask for your credit card information up front, so when you click to download a song or album, you don't need to go through that process each time. You simply click on what you want to buy, and it loads onto your computer, usually within just a minute or two, depending on the speed of your Internet connection.
Importing and Burning
Another plus: You don't necessarily have to spend money to add music to your digital library. You can also "import" or "rip" CDs that you already own, so you can listen to them anytime you want from your computer or MP3 player. To do this, simply insert a CD in your computer's CD Drive, and click yes when asked if you want to add it to your library. Your media player will transfer all the song titles and album art, along with the songs themselves. Conversely, you can "burn" songs from your digital library onto a blank CD.
One of the great advantages of digital music libraries is the automatic organization — no searching through bins of LPs in the garage, or trying to find the missing disc that goes with the jacket to Pet Sounds that's in your hand. All the music you have loaded can be instantly sorted by artist, album, song or genre — or you can simply type in Pet Sounds in the search function, and the track listing for the Beach Boys classic will appear in your window.
You can also easily build your own playlists, and add to or edit them whenever you want, at the click of a mouse. iTunes, for instance, has a column along the left side of the player for playlists. When you click on File, choose New Playlist, and when it pops up in that column, you can name it "Marc's Classic Rock Tunes," "Summer Driving Songs" — whatever you want. You can also drag songs into and out of the playlist you're managing. It's a simple way to plan ahead for a party, make a friend a birthday mix or just keep your current favorites in one place.