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How to convert DRM-protected WMAs to MP3

Check out this tip for step-by-step instructions on converting protected WMAs to MP3 files for playback on your iPhone, iPod, or other MP3 player.

Now that nearly every popular online music store is selling a la carte tracks in the unprotected MP3 format, it's high time to clean house and convert those legally-acquired-yet-unfortunately-DRM-saddled WMAs. Maybe you don't want to depend on the parent company continuing to back up the licenses going forward, or perhaps you shunned the iPod years ago but the appeal of the 3G iPhone is far more alluring...or maybe you just want all your music in one, universally-supported format. No matter what the reasons, conversion from a protected format to an unprotected one takes some effort. There are two ways to go about the process, and while neither is particularly complicated, it's always helpful to have some steps to follow. You'll find both methods outlined below.

One note before we begin: This tip is made to keep additional costs to you as low as possible, but if you have more than $50 worth of tracks to convert, I highly recommend investing in Replay Music. This software costs $40, but it'll be worth every penny if you have a large number of tracks to convert because it automatically splits and tags the songs as you record. It can save you countless hours; plus, you can use it to record audio streams from other sources as well. Incidentally, all scenarios mentioned can be used for converting protected AACs, just use iTunes rather than Windows Media Player.

Option 1: Burn CDs and rerip

Necessary equipment:

  1. Open Windows Media Player
  2. Right-click anywhere on the frame of the WMP window and select Options, then select Rip Music
  3. Select MP3 from the drop down menu, deselect all the boxes below that, adjust the bit rate to your liking, and click OK
  4. Click the Burn tab at the top of the screen
  5. Insert blank CD-R into CD-RW drive
  6. Select the files you want to convert from the library and drag them to the burn list pane
  7. Click start burn
  8. When the disc has finished burning, reinsert it into the drive
  9. Click the Rip tab in WMP
  10. Click Start Rip
  11. Repeat steps 4 through 10 until all necessary files have been converted
    (Note: later versions of WMP will automatically split long track listing into discs based on length, eliminating the need to repeat step 6.)

Option 2: Stream and record

Necessary equipment:

  1. Open WMP and Audacity, but completely close out all other programs and disable any audio alerts on your computer
  2. Create a playlist in WMP of all the files you wish to convert
  3. In Audacity, go to Edit, then Preferences, then Audio/IO, select 2 (Stereo) from the Channels drop-down menu, and click OK
  4. Then, click the Record (red circle) button on the top tool bar
  5. In WMP, start playback for the playlist
  6. Once the tracks have all played, click the Stop (beige square) button in Audacity and close WMP
  7. Under View, play with the Zoom In/Zoom Out/Fit in Window until you find a view where you can clearly see the points of silence, indicated by flat lines for both channels
  8. Using the Select tool, indicated by an "I" in the upper left corner of the toolbar, select the the first track, dragging from one point of silence to the next
  9. Click Edit, then click Copy
  10. Open a new file (File, New) and click Edit, then click Paste
  11. In the new window, select File, then click Export as MP3 and then name the file (selecting the LAME encoder from the desktop when prompted)
  12. In the next window that pops up, fill in as much of the ID3 tag info (Artist, Album, and so on) as you can and click OK
  13. Repeat steps 8 through 12 until each file has been saved separately
    (Note: An alternative method is to start and stop recording for each individual track, saving after each one. This requires less skill in finding track silences, but is much more time consuming.)