Windows Media Player hijacked my MP3 files and converted them all to WMA. I want to change them back easily in one sweep—but am not the most savvy user. Help?
Gimme My Beats Back
Original photo by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary
Microsoft has made some, ahem, interesting decisions over the years regarding the Windows Media Player user experience (and Apple is no saint in this regard, either). First, we'll take a look at how you can keep this from happening in the first place, and then we'll explain how you can fix the problem as cheaply and easily as possible.
Friends Don't Let Friends Use Default Settings
Open Windows Media Player. Click the Library tab at the top, then click on the Layout Options drop-down menu and select Show Classic Menus. Now click Tools > Options...
The first Options tab to note is Player. You might want to deselect "Add media files to library when played" — it will save you disk space (and format headaches) in the long run. Click the Apply button to save your changes.
Rip Music is the most important tab. Under Rip settings, the default format is WMA, which is how our reader got messed up in the first place. At least you can select mp3 now — in version 9, only WMA was supported. Even more insidious is that Copy protect music is also checked by default.
Why someone would want to add DRM to music they already own on a CD is beyond me, especially since it means that the files won't play back on non-approved devices and any machine you copy the files to will have to be online to download permissions. Switching to mp3 will automatically turn this off.
Finally, to get Windows Media Player out of your life, go to the File Types tab. De-select everything except for Windows Media File (ASF), Windows Media Audio file (WMA) and Windows Media Video file (WMV). That way double-clicking an MP3 file won't automatically open in Windows Media Player (which, if you didn't turn off the add media to library option, would also create a duplicate copy on your hard drive).
What's frustrating about this is that in writing this post, I turned off the file type associations once in the initial Windows Media Player setup wizard. But when I opened Options to make the above changes, all the file types had been re-selected — because unless you've installed another program to handle those file types (such as iTunes or Winamp), the Windows operating system will restore the defaults to Windows Media Player.
Format Conversion is Your Library's Salvation
Now at least you can use Windows Media Player to rip CDs without having to worry about your library being trapped in Windows Media Audio format with DRM. But your existing library is still trapped. What do to?
If your WMA files aren't copy protected, iTunes will allow you to import your Windows Media Player library. However, by default it will convert them into Apple's proprietary AAC format. So after installing iTunes, don't choose to convert your existing library during the setup wizard.
Instead, go to Edit > Preferences. On the General tab, click the Import Settings button. Now select MP3 as your preferred format.
To import your Windows Media Player library, to to File > Library > Import Folder. Select the My Documents > My Music folder, and click OK. If you have a large library, this could take a while.
Open source music player Songbird will also import and convert your non-DRM Windows Media Player library into MP3 files. Or you can batch convert files with WinFF, a graphical interface for open source conversion tool FFMPEG — Jake Ludington has a guide, with video, on using WinFF. Once iTunes, Songbird or WinFF has converted your library, you can play, copy and share files any way you like — even with Windows Media Player
Ding, Dong, DRM is Dead
If your WMA files did end up with DRM thanks to the Windows Media Player defaults, try not to spend too much time cursing the powers that be at Microsoft. The folks at unDRM.info have assembled a list of shareware tools. For Windows Soundtaxi, Tunebite and freeTunes all offer free demonstration downloads with full versions under $US30.
If you have a small library, or there are a few files that just refuse to cooperate with the above DRM-removal and format conversion tools, you could burn the tracks to CD and then re-rip as MP3s. Or try AnalogWhole — it's slow because it basically plays back the protected file, records the output, and then converts that to MP3. But it's free and it will defeat DRM on anything that plays back in Windows Media Player. You'll lose a little bit of quality in the conversion, but you'll gain back the freedom to play your music when, where and how you like.
The most important thing to remember is that you're not alone. Any readers out there care to commiserate in the comments and share some experiences and tips? In the meantime, we hope this helps.
Love, hugs, and MP3s,