Copying a CD to your computer

By Matt Williamson
Info Guru,

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CD's and a computer
Rip a CD to your hard drive to listen to your favorite tunes on your computer
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In 2001 Apple Computers released a device that changed the way the music industry operates and the way that consumers listen to audio. That device is, of course, the iPod. The device (which began as a simple audio player) can now play MP3s, videos, and games and display photos. With the arrival of iPOD, many people began converting their physical music library (physical meaning CDs, tapes, and vinyls) to digital MP3s and storing them on their hard drives. Many people's digital libraries (including my own) contain thousands of songs. It requires a lot of work to store a library that large on your computer. It takes a lot of patience also because it can be a rather repetitive and boring job. However, the end result is a library that is easy to manage, and you can take your entire music catalog with you in your pocket.

Is it legal?

So, how to copy a CD to your computer? First and foremost, I'd just like to clear up some confusion that is often associated with copying CDs to computers. This is not illegal! Many people think that they are breaking the law by copying CDs, but that is not the case. Let me explain. Burning a CD for a friend is illegal because you are taking something you legally own and making a copy for your friend that your friend does not legally own. You are creating an illegal copy of that CD. By copying a CD to your computer (assuming we are dealing with a CD you purchased and legally own), you are merely archiving it for your own personal use. Essentially you are just changing the format of that CD into a digital one. To simplify a technical legal matter, you are still the only person that is going to use it, so it is legal.

What you will need

Let's get down to it. I'm going to tell you how to copy a CD to your computer using Apple's software, iTunes. No other piece of audio software makes doing this as easy as iTunes does. You'll need four things"

  • A computer (quite an obvious requirement, but I thought I'd mention it nevertheless) with a CD or DVD drive of some type
  • A copy of iTunes, which is available via a free download from Apple's Web site at
  • The CD
  • An Internet connection; this is optional for copying the CD but is required to download iTunes

An easy procedure

First, after downloading and installing iTunes, start iTunes. Next insert the CD. iTunes will bring up the CD on the left side of the program window. If you have a computer that is connected to the Internet, iTunes accesses an online database of CDs called Gracenote. Gracenote is a vast database consisting of hundreds of thousands of CDs. I have copied over 300 CDs to my computer and have only had two instances when Gracenote could not find the title of the CD online. Both of those were very obscure jazz albums. Once iTunes comes up with the name of the album, the CD icon on the left side will change from "Untitled Audio CD" to whatever the album's title is, for example, "Are You Experienced?" It will also display the artist (in this case, The Jimi Hendrix Experience), track names (Purple Haze, Fire, etc....), genre (Classic Rock), and year recorded (1967) on the right side of the screen. Once that data is loaded (which happens automatically), click "Import" on the upper right side of the screen. Let's stop for just a moment and note that, although a lot has happened, the only physical thing you've done so far is insert the CD and click import (pretty easy, huh?). If you do not have a computer that has an Internet connection, iTunes cannot access the Gracenote database, and that makes importing CD's a lot slower and more time consuming. If this is the case, the CD will remain "Untitled," and the track names will too. You'll need to select all the tracks and right click (or command click on a Mac). Then select "Get Info," and you will manually put in the artist, track names, album name, genre, and year recorded. You can see why having an Internet connection is a huge advantage when importing CDs.

Click and play

Depending on the speed of your computer and CD drive, it can take anywhere from two to ten minutes to import a CD. Once that is done, the files are stored on your computer in your music folder. iTunes automatically knows where to look for the folder and creates a database. The only thing you have to do to play that CD that you copied to your computer is open iTunes, find the album you want to play, and click play.

There are many ways to copy a CD to your computer. However, this seems to be the most reliable and easiest way. iTunes makes managing a large database of music very easy, and it can even download the artwork for the album to make it look very professional and polished. One final piece of advice: Computers are computers; once you copy the CD, do not throw it away. Your PC or Mac could crash and you'd lose your entire music collection. Instead think of copying a CD as archiving it. It's a digital copy of something physical. If the worst happens and you do lose your music, you want to be able to rebuild your lost library.

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