Moving from iTunes to Windows Media Player (and what’s up with album art?)

UPDATE (12/18/06):  By popular demand, I've added an article on how to convert your (unprotected) AAC files in iTunes to MP3s that can be played on any MP3 player or program. 


UPDATE (11/27/06):  This blog entry is about how to get your iTunes library and metadata in sync with Windows Media Player.  This article will not help you move songs you bought on the iTunes Music Store over to Windows Media Player.  This is because of a layer of copy-protection Apple puts on their files called "FairPlay", which they have not licensed for use on a computer outside of their own iTunes software.  I've also been playing with Microsoft's new Zune device, which appears to automatically move your iTunes library over (sans iTunes Music Store purchases.)


In preparation for my big media player move from my iPod Photo to a new Toshiba Gigabeat S Portable Media Center, it was time for me to say goodbye to iTunes and hello to Windows Media Player 11.  Moving a music library between media players can be a painful process, so I thought I’d share how I was able to migrate my library, including my song ratings, to the new player using one awesome app:  MusicBridge.


First of all, it’s important to know that I suggest completely backing up your iTunes library folder before starting any of this, just in case.  By default, your iTunes library should be at c:\<Your Documents Folder>\My Music\iTunes.  (For example, mine is at c:\Documents and Settings\Joe\My Documents\My Music\iTunes.)


Basically, after starting up the Music Bridge application, you’re asked which way you’d like to sync your libraries:  WMPàiTunes, iTunesàWMP, or a two-way sync.  If you haven’t added any music to your WMP library, select the iTunes to WMP sync option.  You are able to select exactly *what* you want to sync—be it just the songs, your playlists, your ratings, etc.  I chose to sync everything, and everything it synced.  I was totally pumped when I opened WMP 11, waited for a couple of minutes while it was updating its library, and then noticed that all my music *and* ratings were preserved.  For some reason, my Smart Playlists did not transfer over, so I recreated them as auto-playlists.  I unfortunately lost my play counts.


One painful limitation, especially given WMP 11’s love of using album art in the interface, is that WMP and iTunes handle album art completely differently—so you’ll album art isn’t going to show up for all of your music.  If you set WMP to “Update Music Files by Retrieving Media Info from the Internet” (ToolsàOptionsàPrivacy), WMP will update your album art automatically in the background using a web service (as long as WMP is open).  To trigger this update automatically, you’ll want to select “ToolsàApply Media Information Changes”, which will bring this process to the foreground (and not allow you to do anything else with WMP until it is done.)


From my experience, this will get you about 2/3 of your albums’ art.  For that remaining third, you either:


1.)    Have incorrect metadata about your music, such as artist and album, or

2.)    You have an album that doesn’t have art in the database (not super common, but common enough)


You’ll need to manually go through your files, one by one, and fix the metadata and album art.  To do this, the best way is to right-click on the song from WMP in question and select “Find Album Info” from the contextual menu.  A window will pop up and it will search for your song.  If it doesn’t find it, you’ll be able to broaden the scope of your search, and hopefully eventually find some album info for it, including the album art.


This stuff isn’t perfect in WMP 11—there are a few bugs in the beta version around applying the newly found album information to a song—but it’s a start.  There’s another program to help fix your metadata (not including album art) that’s media player-agnostic called “Music Brainz” that actually uses a frequency analysis of your song to find appropriate metadata.  Check it out, but be warned that I’ve found that it’s about 90% accurate—I’ve had it re-label some songs completely incorrectly—but it’s unique and constantly improving, and probably worth a shot if you’re trying to fix up your library.

Comments (11)
  1. jeffyjones says:

    My God, why would you ever do this?

  2. MSDN Archive says:

    A few reasons:

    1.)  I’m a true music fan, and I like to listen to lots of different things.  99 cents a song doesn’t work for me, and I’m a *huge* fan of the subscription model.  Using Urge instead of iTunes opens up a whole new style of music listening, focused around trying new things, instead of budgeting a couple dollars here and there for tracks I’m positive I’d like.

    2.)  I want to take TV on the go with me, and I’m not going to pay $1.99/episode for something I already pay the cable company for.  I use my Media Center PC to record television, and the Gigabeat S Portable Media Center automatically syncs your recorded TV shows using WMP–I can watch "The Daily Show" on the bus, and "Scrubs" while I’m working out at the gym.

    3.)  The Gigabeat S, if you follow the link the article above, is actually rated by CNet *higher* than the iPod Video–if you don’t think it’s an awesome device, I highly suggest you watch the video on their website.

    4.)  I like to stream music to my Xbox 360 (while I play games.)  iTunes music doesn’t stream–WMP does.  ‘Nuff said.

    5.)  iTunes is still a great application–especially on OS X.  It’s Podcasting support is still great, it’s a nice, clean user interface, and the syncing with the iPod is perfect–too bad nothing else works with it (unless you buy it from Apple.)

    If you’re really interested in maximizing your media experience, I’d suggest checking out WMP11.  It’s in beta, there are bugs, but coupling a Media Center PC, an Xbox 360, URGE, and WMP11 with a Gigabeat S is a killer stack that offers me more than my old iPod/iTunes combo.  Trust me–I still think the iPod/iTunes stack is the one to beat, but I’m a technology addict, and this new stuff is awesome.

  3. Randy says:

    Why isn’t it a priority to make WMP work with our iTunes libraries? I have an enormous amount of music on my computer which is my Ipod backup. No my album art is not displayed when played with WMP or WMC, but you would have to do a lot more than "display album art" with Media Center and WMP to get most people to switch from iTunes.

    It’s hard enough for the average Joe to keep a perfectly tagged library for their Ipods let alone deal with the switch. I guarantee that if WMP/WMC at least supported iTunes album art you will see people swarming to WMP/WMC.

    Right now you can’t beat the Ipod. I thought this day and age was supposedly all about compatibility. When it comes to Ipods its all about “I’m stuck with iTunes because WMP and WMC doesn’t work with my Ipod”.

  4. I think the very reason why no other music jukebox has done anywhere near as well as ipod lies not in the actual player itself but in the media player it syncs with. when you buy an i-pod you are commited to using itunes and it is actually a lot simpler to use than windows media player. it also has little hooks to carry on using itunes and ipod such as if you buy music from the itunes store it does not automatically come in mp3 format it comes in AAC format that not many other jukeboxes will play this and they are locked to be played only by the person who bought it…

    It is because of this it makes it really hard to change from one device such as an i-pod (which is shoddy, constantly breaks and is purely good looking) to another hopefully better quality product. This is why itunes will only sync with ipod. If Mac opened up itunes to sync with other devices  there would be a very much significant drop in ipod sales similary if windows made media player less cluttered (there is like 2 or 3 screens where you can choose to play music from…) and allowed easy transfer of music bought in the itunes store e.g. a converter from AAC to Mp3 or WMA. this is how itunes made the change from windows media player to itunes easier by having an automatic wma conversion. I would have never bought an ipod in the first place if i had known how rubbish their hard drives were or how long it takes for an ipod to sync with itunes (PC) but it is hard to change now 🙁 maybe when my ipod breaks next and i send it back to apple (I have done it 6 times) i’ll get a different player and i’ll use that software to make the change.

  5. MSDN Archive says:

    Randy–Well, I don’t work for the WMP team, but I have a feeling that if they could legally add support for the iPod and iTunes libraries to WMP, they’d do it in a heartbeat.  There are several products that actually allow iPods to sync with WMP, such as XPlay, but they are third party add-ons.  Apple’s protected AAC file format (using the FairPlay DRM) is locked down–only iPods and iTunes can read and play back those files, and they don’t license the technology to competing players or applications, so things you buy in the iTMS will never be playable anywhere else.

    Jonathan–I completely agree with you, especially after my experiences getting my Gigabeat to sync correctly with WMP.  It’s just not as seamless as the iPod/iTunes experience.  There are way more options, and adding in the ability to sync recorded television complicates the process.  WMP 11 really has made strides towards being a way simpler player, but the truth is that iTunes is made to sync with one, and only one device–the iPod–whereas WMP supports an array of devices, from Portable Media Centers like my Gigabeat all the way to cell phones and memory cards.  It’s powerful, but also a bit confusing.

  6. Travis says:

    hey joe   i am not that knowledgable about computers, files and the such, but tried the music bridge with some music already on my WMP and it just put a dozen of song names over ones that were still the old songs  weird    how would i best transfer just the songs, titles, albums, lenghts…etc correctly

  7. In my previous post about migrating from iTunes to Windows Media Player, I mentioned a small applet called…

  8. MSDN Archive says:

    Check out my clarification on how to get MusicBridge to work:

  9. andy says:

    i to want to stream music from my pc to my 360 but you cant with itunes

  10. About six months ago I tried as best as I could to document my experiences moving from iTunes to Windows

  11. Audio says:

    In preparation for my big media player move from my iPod Photo to a new Toshiba Gigabeat S Portable Media Center, it was time for me to say goodbye to iTunes and hello to Windows Media Player 11. Moving a music library between media players can be a painfu

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